I’ve never been someone who takes things for granted. For many reasons I’ve felt like the most fortunate person in the world, meet my beautiful pregnant wife and you’ll soon start to see what I’m talking about. One of the biggest blessings I’ve had is from being a shy Yorkshire lad, 21 years old with a degree in Business IT, somehow stumbling into the crazy extroverted world of Digital media. I’ve met and worked with some of the most talented people in the industry who have always had the time to teach and inspire me. I’ve spent ten years working within both digital media and marketing and feel like the industry has evolved so much since back when we were sticking banners on MySpace & Lycos. The measurement has gained new ground, the publisher landscape is completely changed; I’ve been through FIVE organisational restructures! That’s one every two years.
The biggest thing I realised during this time is if your world resembles a giant tumble dryer then you’re going to have to keep moving if you want to stay on your feet. The secret to being motivated, happy in your surroundings and confident in your skill set is to embrace change and force it upon yourself before it’s forced on you.
If you work like a machine then you’ll soon be replaced by one
I don’t need to stress the point of Artificial Intelligence, or scare anyone into thinking their job is soon under threat. But rather than look upon this as a threat to my job I see it more as a wake up call. If someone really thinks their job could be replaced by a machine then they’re probably not thinking enough within the day-to-day, or talking to people enough, or mentoring people enough. There are things machines currently struggle to do which are arguably the most interesting parts of our days at work:
- Emotional intelligence – Being great at reading situations, compromising with stakeholders and making something happen. Machines tend to be quite binary in their objectives
- Connect the incompatible – Can you take what you learnt from one meeting and translate it to be relevant in another? It would take a pretty impressive computer program to be able to do this effectively
- Draw abstract parallels – Stitching experiences together and taking abstract learnings for other purposes is a hugely undervalued human attribute, and one that needs an attitude of lifetime learning to be effective
“If you’re in the tech industry and everyone else is just reading tech publications, but you also know a lot about biology, you have the ability to come up with ideas that almost no one else could”
Michael Simmons from the Observer, theorising on why Elon Musk is such a fast learner
Be more than a cog
In keeping with my tumble dryer analogy, the reality really hit me when one day my washing machine broke and it turned out the problem was this tiny valve that needed replacing. This tiny insignificant valve that took five minutes to replace and discarded even quicker, with no other value to me. It suddenly made me realise (whilst likely daydreaming/procrastinating as my washing machine was fixed) how fragile our employability is if we allow ourselves to be specific cogs within a machine.
Most organisations love cogs and are more than happy for you to be institutionalised and become one. Cogs are easy to train, fit nicely and neatly into an organisation chart and are easily replaceable. Have you ever wondered why your company has so many processes? Well one of the reasons is a continuity plan, if you fit a defined shape then if you ever leave your role is commoditised, put to market, filled and the world moves on – How else can media agencies cope with such high staff turnover? We all know that ex-colleague who thought they were irreplaceable….
No one is going to stop you from becoming an institutionalised cog apart from yourself. Insist that your role gives you the runway to learn new experiences as part of your day-to-day and if work is more physically challenging (with crazy hours and ridiculous deadlines) than mentally challenging then it’s time to take a stand.
A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources. A specialist species can thrive only in a narrow range of environmental conditions.
Keep moving, keep learning
The best advice I can give to anyone is to keep learning. There’s a wealth of information freely available on any topic we just need a motivation to take it in. If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity then there’s no better way to get out of your comfort zone than trying a different job. As I said at the beginning, I’m hugely fortunate as I’ve been thrown the opportunity a few times. I’ve lived in London, Sydney and now Singapore, and was lucky to be given the opportunity with Telstra to broaden my media knowledge to more marketing. And recently I’ve switched again, working within Product marketing.
I’ve made many mistakes, oversimplified challenges, overvalued my work’s significance and generally showed naivety to the bigger picture. Mainly due to the fact that I felt like I got Digital, until I moved into a different role and found a new dimension to the Digital ecosystem that completely blows my mind. Uncomfortably, I’ve met people who say they don’t understand digital that have a much more rounded grasp than I did coming from my media silo. The more I learn the less I realise I know, and I’m still in a marketing silo! Moving into marketing with Telstra has been a very humbling experience. There will never be a time to stop learning new things, things that re-wire and enhance the way I’ve thought in the past.
The two sides to jumping into a new role:
- The stuff you don’t know – Leave your ego at home and be prepared to feel like the stupidest person in the room. Cling to every word and read whatever is suggested to you. Be as respectful as humanly possible to anyone willing to teach you new things, it’s a rare gift so grab it with both hands. They want to meet at 7:30AM? Be there. And repay them tenfold with whatever you can do in return to make their life easier. Pedal like CRAZY to get up to speed with what everyone’s talking about as being ‘the new guy’ has an expiry date.
- The stuff you know – It’s hardly likely that there won’t be some overlap in what you know, otherwise there’s no logical reason why you’d be given the job. For the things you know this is your time to shine and you need to smash this out of the park. Put yourself under great scrutiny, more than your peers and manager can and make yourself useful.
Push the boundaries of your role
Whilst searching for opportunities to jump out of your comfort zone be on the lookout for new experiences in your role that can provide an extension. Find people you want to learn from and look for ways to make it happen. Perhaps there are projects you can ask to be a part of, or initiatives you can suggest that benefit the company.
If all else fails then learn something outside of work and then try to apply it to your work. If you’re a media buyer who wants to be the analytics guy? Try subscribing to Lynda courses on Google Analytics and start integrating it into your reports. Do it long enough and people will start asking you to do it for them, it won’t be long till it will make sense for the company to make this part of your role.
There’s nothing stopping you from embracing change and becoming a lifetime learner. Stop being bored at work and grab every opportunity you can to feel stupid again as it’s the only way to grow.