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Surviving disruption

Surviving disruption

Right now in some virtual office, basement, garage or coffee shop, someone is sitting at a computer trying to figure out how to automate your industry, turn it on its ear and walk away with a boatload full of money. Make no mistake about it, if you have not felt the pain disruption yet, you will. There are no safety nets and no industry is safe. So what can you do to try and protect yourself? Unfortunately, there is no way to fully protect yourself, innovation touches us all and what supports us today may not tomorrow but the one thing I’ve found through it all is that a flexible mindset vs a rigid mindset is what separates those who move forward with those who find themselves trapped and left behind. I’ve been on both sides of that fence more than once and being flexible is what saved me. 

I’m an artist and you would think that makes my job unique and uneasy to replicate, I have yet to meet a computer that can do what I do but unfortunately I have found myself at the forefront of disruption more than most and as a result, have reinvented myself more times than I can count. Sometimes with great success, other times not so much. The two biggest changes were at the beginning of my career when desktop publishing shook my industry to its core and then again more recently when the print industry made way for the web. Both were monumental changes and both affected me and my career decisions deeply.

When I was 25 and at the beginning of my career the world of design was turned on its ear. Desktop publishing was just starting to kick into high gear and the industry was rapidly changing. Suddenly thousands of highly skilled workers and the industries that supported them found themselves becoming obsolete. One person sitting at a desk could now do more in one hour than what it might have taken an entire team of people to complete in a week. The repercussions were staggering. The world viewed it as progress, those who were losing their jobs did not. I was a young person looking for work at the time. The competition was intense because all those highly skilled workers were also looking for work. They were hungry, desperate and willing to take on whatever they could find, including entry-level positions. The one thing many of them did not have was flexibility. At that time in my life that was pretty much ALL I had and fortunately for me, it was enough. I looked around saw where the opportunities were and positioned myself so I could take advantage of them. To my great surprise, I was quite successful.

 As my career advanced the computer became a flashpoint. Over and over again advancements in software and computing power changed the landscape. Those who were flexible and embraced change enjoyed the success that came with it. Those that dug in and resisted were left behind. I did my best to stay ahead of the curve and bend with the changes but what happens to many people also happened to me. As we advance in our careers we begin to specialize. We become good at what we do so we specialize even more. As we climb the ladder of success we cast off what we don’t need and focus on what makes us better. We grow bigger and stronger and like the mighty oak tree, we become powerful, we become a force, we become immovable. This was my life and career in the world of publishing. I was at the top of my game when, in the distance, came the rumblings of disruption only this time I wasn’t flexible. This time I was dug in, immovable and I did what those before me did. I did not bend. 

The world of publishing died a painful agonizing death. Many, many highly skilled workers and the industries that supported them felt the pain. I saw it, recognized it but for some reason did not fully embrace the idea that I was as vulnerable as I was. I was that mighty oak. I was going to weather this storm and for a time I did. I held on longer than most but eventually, I felt the same pain as those before me. I wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to recognize that my industry could no longer support me. The difference between now and the first time it happened was I had forgotten how to be flexible, so when the storm came for me I toppled rather than bent with the wind. 

I’d like to say that I practiced my flexible mindset and quickly reinvented myself once again but I hung on much too long and tried to make it work far too hard until I finally realized that it was my rigidity that was causing me to miss the solution that was right in front of me all along. I had all the skills I needed but I wasn’t applying them in the way I needed to. I was stuck in the mindset that I had spent so many years specializing my craft that there wasn’t any other way. When I finally accepted the idea that I needed to change course it almost felt like it was too late for me. I finally realized theat I didn’t need to start from the beginning and completely reinvent myself I needed to look back at my younger self and learn the lesson I had learned then. Be flexible, find and create opportunity. 

I’m happy to say that I found my path out. It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t painless but I’m happier now in my career than I have been in many years and as I climb the ladder again I will try my best to rememberer the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Remain flexible, seek and create opportunity. We all experience disruption at some point in our careers, it is inevitable. You can not hide from progress it marches forward at an ever more rapid pace. Have you been disrupted in your industry? What was your experience like and what lessons did you learn that you might be able to share with those that are beginning to feel the rumblings in theirs?



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