10 ways to craft a career that will stand the test of time

No readers like this yet.
Lots of people in a crowd.


What does it take to craft a career that is likely to stand the test of time? In my new book The Shift: the future of work is already here, I talk a great deal about the five forces that will shape work and careers:

  • ever greater globalization of innovation and talent;
  • the development of ever more sophisticated connective technologies;
  • profound changes in demography and longevity which will see many live until they are 100 and others live in regions where 40% of the population are over 50;
  • broad societal forces that will see trust in institutions decrease and families become ever more re-arranged; and finally,
  • the impact that carbon use and Co2 will have on how we think about our own consumption patterns.

Taking this rich cocktail of forces into consideration here are my 10 tips about skills, networks and choices.

This article was originally posted on the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century.

1. Don't be fooled into walking into the future blindfolded. The more you know what's in store, the better able you will be to meet the challenges and really capitalize on your options. So keep abreast of the forces that are shaping work and careers in your part of the world and think about how they will impact on you and those you care for. Making wise choices will in the end come from your capacity to understand – don’t rely on governments of big business to make the choices for you.

2. Learn to be virtual. We are entering a period of hyper technological advancements - avatars, holographs and telepresence are all just around the corner. If you are a young ‘digital native’ you are already connected to this – but if you are over 30 the chances are you are already behind on your understanding. Work will become more global and that means that increasingly you will be working with people in a virtual way – its crucial that you learn to embrace these developments and don't let yourself become obsolete through lack of technical savvy.

3. Search for the valuable skills. Think hard about the skill areas that are likely to be important in the future - for example sustainability, health and wellness, and design and social media are all likely to be areas where work will be created over the next decade. Also remember that jobs that involve working closely with people (chef, hairdresser, coach, physiotherapist) are unlikely to move to another country.

4. Become a Master. Don't be fooled into spread your talents too thinly. Being a 'jack of all trades' will mean you are competing with millions of others around the world who are similar. Separate yourself from the crowd by really learning to master a skill or talent that you can develop with real depth. Be prepared to put your time and effort into honing these skills and talents.

5. Be prepared to strike out on your own. There will always be work with big companies - but increasingly the real fun will come from setting up your own company. We are entering the age of the 'micro-entrepreneur' when ever decreasing costs of technology will significantly reduce the barriers to getting off the ground, and when talented people across the world will be connected and keen to work with each other.

6. Find your posse. To create valuable skills and knowledge you will need to quickly reach out to others who can help and advise you. This small  'posse' of like-minded and skilled people is a network that will be central to your really building speed and agility in your career. Don’t leave it too long to find and cultivate it.

7. Build the Big Ideas Crowd. The future is about innovation, and sometime your best, most innovative ideas will come as you talk and work with people who are completely different from you - perhaps they have a different mindset, or come from a different country - or are younger. It is this wide network, the 'big ideas crowd' that will be a crucial source of inspiration. Make sure that you don’t limit yourself to working only with those who are just like you.

8. Go beyond the family. Your career success will depend in part on your emotional well being and resilience. In a world of ever shifting relationships, it's important that you invest in developing deep restorative relationships with a couple of people - this is your 'regenerative community' and they are crucial to your well being and happiness. Make the investment as soon as you can and make an effort to maintain and build these relationships over decades.

9. Have the courage to make the hard choices.
Your working life will be shaped by the shifting patterns of longevity (you are likely to live considerably longer than your parents) and demography (in many regions there will be a much higher proportion of people over 50). So you need a strategy for the long term. You have three hard choices:  1. Build a career that enables you to work longer (at least into your late 60's or early 70’s), 2. Be prepared (like the Chinese who save around 40% of their income) to save a significant proportion of your income throughout your working life, 3. Consider ways to reduce your consumption and live more simply. It does not matter which hard choice you make – but you are going to have to make at least one of them.

10. Become a producer rather than a simple consumer. And finally... the old deal at work:  'I work, to earn money, to buy stuff, that makes me happy' is rapidly becoming obsolete. Engaging in meaningful work where you can rapidly learn will become a priority (although fair pay will always be important). So think hard about sharing and great experiences rather than simply building your working life around consuming.

User profile image.
Lynda Gratton is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and is the founder of the Hot Spots Movement. She has written six books, including The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here and numerous academic articles and is considered one of the world's authorities on people in organizations.

Comments are closed.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.