Years ago, business disruption was only a concern every decade or so. A significant development might upend operations, technology, or industry trends once in a generation. However, business disruption has become so widely prevalent in recent years that one could say it’s almost predictable now. The experiences of 2020, while extreme, serve to highlight how disruption can impact organizations and employees in the blink of an eye. It’s time to rethink how we approach disruption.
We sat down (virtually of course) with Alex Mitchell, the author of “Disrupting Yourself: How to Succeed in the New Economy,” to get his thoughts on the current business climate. In “Disrupting Yourself,” Mitchell outlines some of the key factors disrupting the business world today and provides readers with tools they need to preemptively “disrupt” their lives so they can reap the benefits of inevitable change. While the factors causing change aren’t constant, Mitchell aims to help readers be proactive and stay ahead of the game so they are better positioned when disruption occurs.
The experiences of 2020 highlight how disruption can impact organizations and employees in the blink of an eye.
No matter how you look at it, the traditional path of having one job or even a single type of job over your lifetime is becoming a thing of the past. Whereas someone might have once spent three decades at a single company, comprising what some called a “career,” workers are now focusing on developing different skill sets. A comparison within “Disrupting Yourself” looked at current skills much like you would a poker hand.
“Your current skills have mixed levels of relevancy, needs in the market, and degrees of talent of proficiency.” One should “keep acquiring new cards, upgrading the ones you have, and making sure they match to what the market needs.” In developing these different skill sets, an individual might now spend two to five years at many companies. This trend is very apparent within the millennial generation, and it’s important to realize the benefits of this strategy when it comes to staying ahead of the game.
This is an essential trend for business leaders to consider as well. If employers do not provide opportunities for individuals to expand or acquire new skill sets, they may lose valuable talent to other organizations.
Several years ago, Mitchell made some predictions about how the evolution of technology would result in significant changes by the year 2026. These predictions ranged from “highway autonomous miles will exceed human-driven miles,” to “drones will deliver >25% of all packages in the US.” While some of his predictions might still be on track for 2026, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many lives, the economy, and the world over the past year. It has also fast-tracked the development and adoption of technology and tech trends.
Mitchell notes that in light of successful shifts to remote work during the pandemic, “business travel and even the way we do business will be fundamentally changed. Businesses aren’t going to subsidize the expensive business travel budgets of their salespeople and executives to the degree they historically have.”
Businesses aren’t going to subsidize expensive business travel budgets [...] to the degree they historically have.
The decrease in travel expenses has allowed some companies to redirect these funds toward new or upgraded technology to increase the capacity for remote work. Companies can also reallocate these travel expenses toward hiring and retaining top talent that previously wasn’t considered due to geographic constraints that are now eliminated through remote work.
In relation to successful remote work, there is potential for a shift in the commercial real estate market. As more companies consider increasing the number of permanently-remote workers, the need for high-price-tag office space could dwindle. Tenant retention may become a rising issue that results in new commercial real estate trends.
Additional changes might occur at the local and small business level as consumers have leaned into online shopping more than ever. “Small businesses will have to fundamentally reinvent themselves (perhaps several times) to deliver amazing in-person experiences that potential customers can’t simply buy from Amazon,” says Mitchell.
It’s also possible that we will see disruption in higher education over the next decade. While many people have long called for an overhaul to higher education pricing, it’s hard to validate some of the high tuition prices when the in-person and connection-oriented aspects of schools are less prevalent with remote education.
While recognizing trends or potential disruptions is an important first step, Mitchell also outlined some actionable steps to better position yourself in an ever-changing world.
One key principle Mitchell discussed centers around the idea of life planning—identifying where and how you should spend your time. As more employees have been working from home, and as virtual schooling continues for many children, the need to balance one’s available time has been heightened. Businesses should ensure there is an open dialogue between employee and employer concerning drivers of happiness. Keep in mind, there is no one size fits all. One employee may seek flexibility in working hours while another seeks more employee engagement activities or bonus incentives.
In the past, it may have been enough to engage in life planning and reassessment every few years. But, with the rate of disruption we experience today, Mitchell suggests committing to this process annually. Make sure you are checking in each year and have identified sources of happiness and satisfaction. As the drivers of happiness change, career paths might also need to adjust.
Pandemics, stock market crashes, and other major disruptions provide great opportunities to reevaluate the ‘plan’ you had before and to adjust it.
Mitchell says, “100%. Pandemics, stock market crashes, and other major disruptions provide great opportunities to reevaluate the ‘plan’ you had before and to adjust it. The world has changed, the rules of the game have changed, you need to adapt to thrive.”
A second key principle Mitchell covered in “Disrupting Yourself” is the need to develop a deep and wide network. It is more important than ever to devote significant energy into relationships not only inside your organization, but outside of your organization as well. Simply having a lot of connections is not the same as having meaningful relationships. Much like friendships, these professional connections take time and effort.
While it may not come easily, it is vital you don’t skimp on the amount of energy you dedicate to networking. Mitchell notes these relationships can help you collaborate, connect you with other people, and maybe one day land you a new job. Mitchell and his wife recently moved from Washington, DC to Chicago, IL. During this time, he assisted some of his close connections in finding new positions while he adjusted to completely remote job interviewing.
But, in developing and keeping these relationships, face-to-face meetings provide an important benefit. Even casual chats over coffee help build and maintain these critical connections. With the limited potential for in-person meetings due to COVID-19, are virtual connections going to leave us wanting more?
Companies could seek out and even encourage employees that are working to build their network by offering to “gift” coffee or lunch for the employee and their connection through one of the many restaurant apps available. Additionally, LinkedIn will continue to be a widely-used platform for virtual connection. Holding workshops to help employees create or enhance their LinkedIn profiles could go a long way in increasing an employee’s network.
Mitchell says, “One way to accelerate this connection-building in a remote-first world is to find something you can collaborate on. Whether it’s a podcast or a blog post, it doesn’t need to be huge to start building the trust that leads to a deep connection.”
As we concluded our discussion, Mitchell left us with this parting advice, “Don’t wait for someone to give you permission or to show you the way. I have an expression I include in many of my blog posts and sign off my newsletters with: ‘Never stop building.’ Be a creator, not just a consumer. Create the content and the things that people want to consume. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, just get started. The path will become more clear as you invest more time in creating and you start to get feedback from others.”