This post was written by Geoffrey Colon. It originally appeared at Futurist Lab.
Let’s face some harsh facts about the modern work world. The calendar is no longer in the 20th century and neither is the way we conduct business or plot careers. Much of the professional world is moving at a rapid rate of accelerative thrust and it’s almost impossible to keep up. Those who try to “control” all of this will simply lose this game. Business is not so much about being 100% art or 100% science as it is about being 50/50 of both. It takes both a 50% right brained and 50% left brained approach to truly plot a successful course.
I recently relocated to Seattle to take a position with Microsoft. This was after two years at Ogilvy, one year at a small agency, one year at 360i and three years at Bond Strategy and Influence (a digital boutique agency). Prior to that I ran my own company for four years. And prior to all of this I was in the music industry for six years doing international and digital marketing. One headhunter who reached out to me recently for a gig (geez, um, I just started this Microsoft gig but thanks for thinking highly of me to “consider” even contacting me) said, “Geoff, people don’t care about how long you stay at a company anymore, it’s all about thinking about yourself first in this economy even if that means six to eight month tenures.”
Obviously I don’t agree with her assessment. I don’t think you want to zig zag around in short spurts in full time gigs without really putting an algorithm together on why you are making strategic moves that make sense. Though project-based work on small teams will be the dominant way of working in the future, showing faith and value to your employer is still important in this day and age. It’s just that instead of eight to ten years of faith and devotion, it will be more in the one to two year range. Here are five tips on what to do to to help growth hack your career in the DIY economy:
1. Connect with people and build your own network of specialists.
I have an arsenal of people in my social and professional life I’ve met over the years that I stay connected with on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. They all have a skill or a craft suitable in the new economy (creative, digital, video, audio, analytics, etc.). These people are in New York, Seattle, Pittsburgh, London, Bali, Australia, Singapore, you name it. They all have specialist backgrounds that can be tapped into for a variety of possible projects. When I need someone to produce video, I message my friend Matthew in Brooklyn. When I need someone to product manage that video project I ask my wife Allison who knows people in that world. When I need someone to put together an event with sponsorship I call my friend Jonathan in Los Angeles.
I stay connected with all of those in which I can send work to or could be part of a project that I am involved. It’s why you meet with lots of different people, in person and in different fields. Everyone is a potential part of a current or future project. Think that person who is in medicine isn’t because you don’t work in medicine? Think again. Why? Because many fields cross over each other and one can learn from the success and failures of other industries. Plus, when you throw business one way to a person most likely in the world of the social contract they will reciprocate. That’s how work is now.
That boss from a few years ago who stepped over everyone to help his personal worth? He’s toast. Why? Because everyone still hates him and when he does come knocking to be part of a project no one will let him be part of it because of that attitude. The corner office with the VP title is going to evaporate. Along with it will be people who only wanted to attain that title so they could control people within their team and make a fat paycheck telling others what to do. There are now many teams in many different industries all interconnected. We all live and work in the matrix.
2. Never burn bridges and if you have, admit fault and make amends.
The world of work is shrinking. Certain industries are so inbred you might work with the same people in six degrees of separation. If you have made people upset in the past, just admit you screwed up and try to make amends. When I left 360i, there were some bad rumblings. I didn’t leave on a bad note, but the job I wanted to go to was not the one that was supposed to exist and thus I ended up hightailing it to a competitor.
It was awkward now competing against your old agency but at the end of the day, I buried the hatchet when I sent them a good candidate for an open position. I didn’t want anything to get in the way down the line if I ever worked again with people from that company. It wasn’t worth keeping them upset with me. Now that I’m at Microsoft I’d like to work with them again. Even if we don’t, them knowing that I think highly of them counts.
3. Realize the full-time employee position only remains full-time if you keep it that way.
Jobs of today are all entrepreneurial. When I hear people say, “oh, I work here and the company is doing great and I don’t have to really deliver,” I wonder what alternate universe they are living in. Big corporations lay off sometimes even when the stock price is high and the company is doing well. Maybe a product line they launched is failing or they need to reallocate funds to another part of the company for new research. However, most people who are asked to step away don’t realize that they simply didn’t want to own the business. They wanted to be part of the hierarchy without influencing the outcome.
Everyone must own the business they work on even if it’s part of a larger corporation funding it. You must approach your job like you’re working at your own startup. This keeps your attitude lean and agile and hungry to make an impact. Companies only grow through innovation and trying new things. If you can’t push that envelope, the business you work at will find another way to spend the money it uses to pay your salary.
4. Stay up to date on the companies in which you ultimately would like to work.
There is nothing worse than speaking with people who talk about a company and how much they want to work at it but don’t really know what that company does or plans to do. Who don’t know how the stock is performing. Who can’t name a recent product. Who can’t name where the company is performing well and where it needs help and how they can help in that area. They simply think they can just show up and get paid. I studied Microsoft starting in 2011 because the Windows Phone was of interest to me as a disruptive innovation. Same with Bing as they did more integration with Facebook. I also studied Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Google knowing if Microsoft did hire me, what was the competition going to be like on a day-to-day basis?
As a result, when I went for the interviews, I could tell Microsoft where they needed to go and where they needed to alter their current direction. When the reorg happened recently, it didn’t surprise me because I knew where the company was strong, where it was weak, where it had been and most importantly where it wants to go. Too many people float around at a company not realizing what effect they could have. By knowing more of what a company is doing, you can figure out how you will fit into that organization and what effect you can have on their goals. Companies are much more transparent in this day and age of social media and social business. There is no excuse anymore to say you don’t know what a company is up to or what it is trying to attain.
5. Be first in something or figure out another area to own.
When you are going for a position or working on a project for a company try to be first in a particular area. The world of business is so different now that you can’t start from behind in some areas and think you can simply outspend to catch up. The whole meaning of accelerative thrust is that if you get on something too late in the game, you may be simply left behind. People get picked to be at companies not because they run business as usual. That was commonplace in the industrial era when you were shipping physical product at scale.
But in the new “knowledge based” economy things are about speed and positioning. It’s important to try to push to be first in one area even if your product isn’t 100% the best. We’ve seen this with Facebook’s “fail fast” approach. People remember the first in a space, not necessarily the best product in that space in this day and age. Sure, I’m positive some reading this will say, “being first doesn’t help you all the time.” True, but it certainly helps you get ahead of the competition (just ask Apple if they didn’t like being first in smartphone technology). I always use analogies from the world of music to explain this reasoning. Everyone knows who AC/DC is, but do they remember Keel? Everyone knows who Green Day is, but do they remember Weston?
People don’t remember #2 or #3, they remember #1.
Be that but if you can’t, find where the world is evolving so you an own a particular space before others. Remember this quote from the great Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Geoffrey Colon is Group Marketing Manager of Social Media and Community for @Microsoft and @BingAds and editor of the Futurist Lab on Tumblr. He also tweets @djgeoffe. His SXSW panel submission is based on this article, and we think you should go vote for him.