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Reinvent Yourself

by Paula Thornton
Published: January 1, 2000

Reflection is a typical activity for this season. Take a quick inventory of yourself: height, weight, appearance, demeanor, career direction and velocity. With the advent of the turn of a millennium, many people (in spite of their age) are mentally asking deep personal questions typical of someone encountering a "mid-life crisis".

Their introspect is not without motivating factors. We change jobs far more often than our progenitors, either by choice or by choices made for us. Even internal reorganizations make us rethink our direction. But change in direction is not the same as the rate of change: velocity. Perhaps it's time to broaden the parameters we consider as we envision our future.

A New Focus: Velocity

Potential of the 20th Century was measured by change: how "new and improved" can you make it? Potential of the 21st Century is clearly measured by velocity: how fast new value can be created. The high-flyers in the stock market reflect this: how fast they can reinvent an existing market, how quickly they create new markets, or how much perceived potential they possess, which can drive stock prices up 3000% (ala Qualcomm). Even Mr. Gates saw the focus on velocity, but he labeled it with the phrase "Business @ the Speed of Thought" (I'll skip, for now, the philosophical argument that suggests that speed is "point in time" and velocity is a continuum). Key to the digital vision that Bill introduced is a transition to solving problems quicker and closer to the point of interest: self-service by the customer.

Everyone has a non-digital story of disgust; one scenario that makes the hair on the back of your neck raise up and the muscles in your face tense up. Mine is the medical industry — the grossly inefficient service delivery mechanism. The Clintons missed their opportunity for securing cross-party success when they got the nation focused on the medical industry. The real potential for ROI on our tax dollar investment was not in "socializing" medicine but in simply creating a standardized system of data exchange. Everyone would be issued a digital medical ID that would be scanned, recognized, and accepted by any doctor's office. The ID itself would not have our whole medical history, as some have suggested, but would have our name and other general personal information (with keys to our history that can be reassembled from various servers). This would eliminate the need for us to enter the same information manually, on several stupid forms, for EACH member of our family, for each doctor we establish relationships with. The only thing missing from this vision is a huge dose of collaboration.

The opportunity for such collaboration is now gaining velocity —fueled by the Internet. While many of my colleagues will argue that the delivery of a digital economy was technically feasible without the Internet, there is a huge chasm that we often face; it bears the title "getting it". Many viable projects have been shelved for months or forever (only to be resurrected under a new "sheepskin"), until someone caught the vision and finally "got it". The Internet provides a context for people to "get it" and get it quickly.

The dot.com Phe-nom

There are definitely dot.com phenomena occurring. Aside from the impact on Wall Street, the job market is being seriously impacted. We've been hearing of all sorts of shortages in the hiring community, consequently forcing up salaries. "Kids" coming out of good programs with JAVA skills can land great jobs in short order with new dot.coms.

In a report, oddly enough, recently put out by our government, it is suggested that there is no labor shortage. The report indicates that there are plenty of people willing and able to work, but that there is a skills shortage. This phenomenon is strong enough that the stoic halls of our educational institutions are slowly changing their models to move to a client focus and deliver products that better meet customer needs (see related BusinessWeek article, http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rightindex.C.html).

I would also argue that there is an understanding shortage: an inability for two parties to understand how they can mutually address each other's needs. Having just gone through a project where I was researching the whole hiring model — how it is evolving and what it can become — it became very obvious to me that the largest untapped potential in the model is the ability to match needs and abilities. Don't assume that this refers to the point in the middle of the continuum where the match can be made. It includes reinventing the points at both ends of the continuum: "employers" look beyond their simplistic view of what they think needs to be done; "candidates" are willing to offer and know there is value in attributes such as their improvisational skills as a weekend jazz musician. Only then can we start to address the technological requirements to build engines that make intelligent matches (what's available today is FAR from ideal); otherwise we will have created solutions for the wrong requirements.

How's This Relevant to You?

Remember the health food trend? What used to be more of a "fad" has become more mainstream. As I've alluded to in earlier articles, the goal is not to radically move from one extreme to another, but to find a way to create a holistic synergism. There is a way to "reinvent" yourself simply by identifying your unique attributes: not just the ones currently on your resume, and not just the ones you've been able to apply on the job as part of your "normal" functions. Using a model intended to help businesses identify an appropriate online persona for their company, you may want to identify and communicate your own persona. With this continuum, identify attributes and actions you can take which incorporate the entire range: target — be precise, be personal, be creative, be memorable — differentiate.

Ask yourself: are you one persona at work and another "after hours"? If the answer is "yes", you may be in denial about needing therapy (the same would be true if you work for a company that says they're "this" and you experience "that"). If the environment you work in "forces" you to modify your beliefs, or doesn't readily facilitate change... get up from your desk and walk away...now. Many times I've given this exact advice to a voice on the on the other end of the line that insisted on arguing with me about services I needed from them (usually to correct a mistake they made)...sadly enough, they usually hang up on me. They don't "get it".

There are companies out there that are becoming more "whole" in their environments. Find them. The new dot.coms and companies helping to create dot.com environments, if they're good, are bringing together a mix of skillsets to create new kinetic energy. They need good technologists, and you need to use all of the "other" skills you have to truly tap your creative velocity. While career velocity can be exhausting, there should be compensating invigoration to fuel the demand.

Don't be fooled. There are a lot of wannabes out there. A technology group cannot suddenly become Internet-savvy, even though they may use the right words. Besides, the real goal is not to focus on Internet abilities, but on velocity potential. There are simple measures you can use to assess an environment, but they will be personal. There are measures you may not be used to: how much "energy" can you feel from the environment itself — does it feel creative, is it flexible? Find the stories of the people who work there: why are they there; what unique talents can they exercise in this environment? Does the compensation model measure contributions made "outside" of product deliverables?

Why focus on any of this? It turns out that there was something to be learned from trends in the predictions for the last millennium. They focused on cold, hard facts: nuclear warfare, space colonization, etc. In reality, the real "hits" of the decade of decades were more of the warm fuzzy variety: baby monitors, the life-saving focus of nuclear medicine, furbies. As pointed out by Virginia Postrel, in the New Year's Day edition of the Wall Street Journal (http://interactive.wsj.com/millennium/articles/SB944517208522468175.htm), the futurists of the past didn't "get it" either: "They didn't factor in the power of vanity, self-expression, chance, novelty, or fun. Theirs was a future without surprise." Does your current situation (from both career and personal perspective) factor in the power of vanity, self-expression, chance, novelty, AND fun?

Prologue

A badly produced, made-for-TV-movie about Charles Manson, had a profound impact on me during one scene. The prosecutor in the case was physically quite ill as the jury deliberated the verdict. When the verdict was in, his wife took the call and hesitated to tell her husband because she didn't want him getting out of bed. He admonished her and said quite seriously: "Don't you understand? I have spent the last 18 months preparing for this day." For some reason, that line translated to me the following meaning: I've spent the last 18 months preparing for this day. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, you've spent the last 18 months getting there — you are exactly where you planned to be.

If you decide to change your plan and eventually end up getting somewhere else, drop me a line: I'd love to add your story to my collection.

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Recent articles by Paula Thornton

Paula Thornton - Most recently serving as the Information Architect for warehouseMCI - http://www.dbpd.com/9712Grim.htm, Paula Thornton works to act as an "industry facilitator," directed by an irreverent but respectful attitude toward progress in the industry.