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Are You a Quick Change Artist?

April 29, 2012


Do you like the status quo? Where you can maintain your routine at work, keep the co-workers you like, as well as a boss? If you answered yes then I have a surprise for you: you’re living on some distant planet.

Stability in the workplace was more a feature of when my late dad worked for Canadian National Railways and later the Government of Canada, from the late 1930s to late 1980s. I entered the job market in 1978 after college, and for the next two decades things were pretty stable. I’m not talking about recessions, stagflation, oil embargoes and other more global events, but about how people worked for the same employer for many years, and had benefits and pensions.

The past decade has seen the final nail in the coffin of the employment contract: the reciprocal relationship between employers and workers. Simply stated, this was where employers provided lifelong employment with benefits, while employees were loyal to the organization, putting in a hard day’s work. That was the world of my dad and his peers. And, being an ageing Baby Boomer, that has been my world along with my cohorts. However, the winds are changing.

This artificial world began to change in the nineties, picking up steam into the 2000s. Baby Boomers at the top end (currently from about age 60 to 66) still had it pretty good. As you move down the age ladder, more of us faced forced early retirement or the boots from employers who were downsizing and outsourcing. I was fortunate, having built a career in government and bailing a year before the cuts started.

Gen X (early thirties to late forties), despite living in the Boomers’ shadow for far too long is now moving into management positions, though they are having to adapt to numerous issues, including rapid technology change, virtual teams and brutal global competition.

Gen Y is the generation that’s getting hammered. Society has undergone an abrupt paradigm shift in the past few years: from the view that young people would be pampered by employers who would be climbing over one another to hire replacements for retiring Boomers, to today’s reality of highly indebted, well-educated college grads who work for minimum wage, living in mom and dad’s basement.

This scenario was certainly not part of the movie trailer scene that was being played out in the early 2000s by “experts.” Employers would have to bend over backwards to recruit and retain Gen Y. Someone please rewind that bad movie.

Now we increasingly see young people battling it out with older workers, who now seem to extend to their late seventies. There’s nothing like a lengthening life expectancy to broaden the labor force, while simultaneously economically hungry emerging economies are asserting themselves, giving companies more opportunities where to set up operations.

Work is outsourced, offshored and of temporary nature, paying lower wages with no benefits.

Rest in Peace, employment contract.

So where does that leave all of us as citizens who want to lead productive lives and to contribute to our countries’ economic outputs?

Learn to control what you are able to within your sphere of influence. And perhaps the most important skill you can develop in an age of whitewater turbulence is becoming a quick change artist.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you suddenly decide to peel off your clothes in the middle of downtown; that could bring you problems. I’m talking about learning how to watch emerging trends, synthesizing the information you’re collecting, and then reacting quickly to stay ahead of the pack.

For example, the past few years have seen the masses flock to social media, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or a myriad of websites where people are expressing themselves. Many are also trying to make a buck from social media.

Keep in mind that social media is in its infancy, likened to when the telephone or radio were first introduced. Excitement, confusion, resistance are some of the reactions people had to these “new” technologies–the same with social media. There are many other examples one can use in today’s changing world.

Embracing change is critical. However, it’s equally important to do so in a focused way.

Take time regularly to think and reflect on what it is you want to accomplish in the short and longer term. Soak in what you experience around you, read up on global trends and try to learn something new every day. Yes, each and every day.

You’ll find over time that you’ll be among the first to recognize and act on new opportunities. Break off that rearview mirror; it’s not helping you position yourself for the future.

Don’t delay!


A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.

– John Le Caré


Click here to download my complimentary e-white paper Leading in a Multipolar World: Four Forces Shaping Society.


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Take a moment to meet Jim.

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