Succeeding in today’s topsy-turvy, endlessly-disruptive business world can be a challenge for even the best of us. Change is constant, and this means that as both working professionals and enterprises, we’ve got to constantly change as well. With value and relevancy constantly shifting in the eyes of employers, colleagues, and customers, staying relevant can be a challenge – but the good news is that it’s one any of us has the potential to rise to as well. As discovered while researching new book Make Change Work For You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty, following are 10 tips that can help you stay ahead of the competition in any environment – and stay ahead of the curve.
Be Courageous – Being courageous does not equal being without fear. It means finding the willpower to relentlessly push forward and make practical business decisions, even in the face of setbacks, while understanding and utilizing your fear as a motivator to keep putting one foot forward in front of the other. Fear is a useful emotion that can signal the emergence of potential areas of concern or uncertainty, all of which you have the power to address (e.g. actively making a point to seek out capabilities or resources your business may currently be lacking). Using logic, we can learn to see fear for what it is – commonly, a warning signal that something needs to change. When we overcome it in this way, we find ourselves motivated and encouraged, and our fear mitigated. Building on this feeling and surveying the competitive landscape in a practical way informs our decision to act. The more we practice making firm and practical decisions, regardless of our circumstances, the more we build our capacity for courage. By understanding the mechanisms behind our emotions, and choosing to be courageous (read: keep making one smart decision after another, regardless of the discomfort that may accompany them), we can handle anything the future has to throw at us.
Make Fear Your Friend – Fear is not a pleasant emotional experience. We all know that. But fear is an important emotion, and without it we’d be in a lot of trouble. It alerts us to potential threats and dangers, promotes dynamic decisionmaking and entrepreneurial behavior, and makes us more attuned to our environment, just to name a few benefits. Instead of thinking of fear as an enemy, realize that fear is actually a builtin personal warning system, alerting you to business or career opportunities and threats around you. Consider it your personal radar system: When a flashing warning blip appears on it, take heed, and change your actions or decisions to produce more positive results accordingly.
Turn Anxiety and Paranoia into Awareness – Anxiety and paranoia are feelings that must be dealt with in a specific way in order to convert them into insight and action. We can’t face them headon because they live in our own mind. The way to engage is to actually disengage… but not entirely. Rise above these feelings and observe them objectively. Pick up the warning signals they’re putting out. Use the information they’re sending you to come up with a plan and move forward in a practical, actionoriented way. Think of paranoia and anxiety as tripwires – once tripped, stay attuned to the signals they’re sending, and use this information to stay alert, active, and focused on producing positive results.
Transform Failure into Success – Failure is a fact of life and business – but it’s far easier to accept when you look at failure as the price of a learning opportunity, as it helps educate us on which strategies aren’t working, and ways we can improve the going forward. The initial key to turning failure into success is orienting yourself correctly in relation to failure. You cannot hide, ignore, or avoid failure. You can only study it, learn from it, and apply the lessons to your next effort. The more you failure you experience, the more knowledgeable you become and the likelier you are to succeed at your next attempt – precisely the reason today’s most successful businesses like Google, Amazon, and Apple are always experimenting with new strategies and solutions. The more you start experimenting and playing a portfolio of strategic bets, the more successful you’ll be as well.
Master the Art of Improvisation – Key emphasis on the word ‘art:’ Learning how to think, act, and react in the moment is crucial. Unless you’ve got a crystal ball that works, becoming more flexible is as close to future-proof as we can get. The key as a business owner or operator is to have strong, but weakly-held opinions. Do your homework and gather as much business intelligence as possible, then make a firm decision and act on it. Then react based on the results of your choices as more information is gained and you can make more informed choices. As long as you’re objectively considering and assessing the challenges before you, take steps to address them, and constantly readjusting your strategies to be more effective in turn, you’ll always be in good stead.
Play the Odds – The future belongs to those who take smart risks, again and again – after all, doing the same things over and over in a rapidly-changing business world is a recipe for diminishing returns, not ongoing success. Get in touch with your inner maverick, but temper it with a healthy dose of logical and practical decisionmaking: Don’t be risk-free, but rather risk-averse, and make intelligent bents. You can isolate your fear of risk by being merciless in calculating the odds of success and surveying your environment for all threats, then making the best choice based on your situation. The more you understand the value of your potential payoff in relation to what is at stake, aka the costbenefit ratio, the smarter you will be when risk taking.
Experiment Constantly – If you want to stay futureproof, you’ve got to be able to reposition and restructure your skill sets, education, and experiences and position yourself to create opportunities today that can pay off tomorrow. Picture yourself as a scientist, mixing and matching and reorganizing different components in order to find a successful result. That’s the experimental mindset required to stay ahead and achieve meaningful success, whether you’re exploring new products, services and solutions, or simply looking at the talents that will be in-demand tomorrow today and expanding your toolkit of professional capabilities accordingly.
Pick Your Battles – You can’t win every battle. That is an inescapable truth of life and business. But the good news is that you can win more often, and win the battles that count most, by being more strategic. Be objective and intelligent in defining the challenges in front of you. Know your endgoal and line up every battle that can get you closer to it – and pick the most advantageous way to approach these battles. Hint: Local retailers don’t compete with Wal-Mart on prices, but rather more personalized customer service, just as technology start-ups don’t compete with Microsoft by engaging in pricey TV advertising wars, but rather pleading their case to online influencers.
Keep Forging Ahead – Success is a marathon, not a race. It doesn’t matter how hard you fall, or how many times, as long as you get back up. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Handling setbacks and adversity with the courage to get back in the game is the key to finding success. No one achieves all their goals on the first try, and for many of us it takes a long and winding road. But as simple as it sounds, very few of us stay on that road for all its twists and turns. That’s why so few make it to the top – the rest quit. Keep moving forward and know that you can outlast and outsmart the rest with willpower.
Stay Relevant – Like all other organisms on the planet, over time people and enterprises must adapt not just to stay alive, but to thrive. In business and your career, it is no different. Stasis equals death. If we don’t change, we become irrelevant and we fade out of the picture. Fight for relevancy every day by pushing yourself to find innovative and creative ways to create constant value for those you work with. Be ready to shift, readjust, or even completely reinvent yourself in the face of a changing environment. If you allow yourself this flexibility, then you will face the future and its uncertainties with an advantage over everyone else. That edge will be the difference between going the way of the Dodo bird and maintaining relevance.
Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation, and the author of Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty. Among today’s leading providers of keynote speeches, workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 firms, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.