Future-Proof Yourself, with Scott Steinberg
Recently named “Master of Innovation” by Chase Bank and Fortune magazine, bestselling leadership and innovation speaker Scott Steinberg is one of the world’s most celebrated business speakers, futurists, and strategic innovation consultants, as seen in 600+ outlets from CNN to TIME and The Wall St. Journal. The author of recent bestseller Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate and Succeed Despite Uncertainty, the Fortune 500 calls him a “defining figure in business and technology” and “top trendsetter to follow.”
SPEAKING.COM: Your latest book, Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, opens with a look at self-defeating behaviors. What are some of the most common self-defeating behaviors people struggle with?
STEINBERG: Assuming they’re “unqualified:” As more and more self-made successes and start-ups are proving, today’s leaders are simply defined by their ability to spot problems and solve them – talents we can all practice and bring to bear. Likewise, people often try to avoid taking risks at all costs, when in fact taking more risks (albeit smarter ones) is in fact the only way to get ahead in life and business, especially in today’s hugely fast-moving and wildly unpredictable environments.
We also tend to look at the concept of courage (which really is just a willingness to take action) all wrong: to be “brave,” you just have to be willing to put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing so, even in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges. (Bravery, by the way, is a muscle we can all exercise like any other – the secret to building it is to start by practicing and taking small steps that extend your comfort zone.)
Finally, as much as we think we know sometimes, we forget that if you want to be successful in a world changing faster than most can imagine, it’s important to assume we know nothing and always be learning. In fact, learning how to learn is the most crucial skill needed for success today.
SPEAKING.COM: Are self-defeating behaviors rooted in human nature or are they something we learn?
STEINBERG: They’re both. On one hand, the brain likes to conserve energy, and the way it does this is by lumping things we observe or hear into simple categories – many of which we respond to in preconditioned ways. Here’s a simple example: Let’s say you walk into work and find a pink slip of paper on your desk, and immediately begin to sweat. Who’s to say it’s a notice you’ve been laid off vs. compliment from your boss?
Likewise, it’s in human nature to want to minimize risk, seek routine, and avoid change, especially the more successful and comfortable we feel. The trouble is that times, trends, and the competitive landscape around us are constantly changing – which means that in order to keep up with them and stay relevant, we’ve got to take purposeful steps to change, disrupt ourselves before others do, and reinvent ourselves.
But perhaps most distressingly, despite what we may think, we’re often teaching and institutionalizing bravery and creativity out of people, especially the older we get. More fear comes into play, and the more certain we become that there’s “only one right way to do something” as we’re often told. Put a six year-old in a room full of random objects, give them a task, and they’ll readily go about completing it any which way you can imagine. Do the same with a roomful of middle schoolers or executives – worried they’ll make mistakes, embarrass themselves, fail, etc. – and you’ll find they’ll often do so less adroitly, or will simply just come up with reasons why the objective can’t be met.
SPEAKING.COM: What is your response to the classic mantra, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?”
STEINBERG: If it ain’t broke, you should be fixing it anyway instead. The time to change, innovate, and plan for the future (pack a proverbial fire extinguisher as we say) is before the roof starts burning down around your ears. While you’re doing well is when you should most be seeking new ways to do things and shake up the status quo. Keep in mind: If the world is constantly changing around you, and at a faster pace than ever before, the “way it’s always been done” probably still isn’t the best way to do it.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some ways to make yourself “future-proof?”
STEINBERG: Be courageous. Rather than wait for opportunities to find you, seek them out. Instead of exercising the same skills every day at work, specifically seek out the education, training and experience today that you’ll need to succeed in the future. Speak up, volunteer, and take action – constantly push your creative thinking abilities and comfort zone.
Encourage yourself to learn, grow and take on more leadership and responsibility. Look for opportunities to pounce on, problems to fix, and promising projects to volunteer for. Think about what you need to do right here, right now today to get to where you’d like to be tomorrow. Then do it. The more promising new options and avenues you pursue, the more chances you’ll create to put yourself in fortune’s sights.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some specific actions you’ve taken in your own life to make yourself “future-proof?”
STEINBERG: I make a point to assume that for everything I know, I know nothing: I try to be an eternal student, and always be learning. (Simple tip: To find time to learn one new thing a day, try listening to audiobooks while riding the subway or exercising on the treadmill at the gym.) When asked to volunteer – even for completely unfamiliar activities or challenges – I also make a point to say “Yes,” because it extends my capabilities and comfort zone, allows me to get fresh perspective, and introduces me so to many incredible people, plus it often provides a good opportunity to give back to the community.
In addition, I do my best to start and work on new projects wherever feasible and as time permits (sometimes personal, sometimes new business ventures) which allows me to not only pursue interests, but also pick up new talents and training as I go. Additionally, I try to spend as much time as humanly possible with both young children and senior executives, because these are the types of individuals who most often stay in the right frame of mind: they’re optimistic, they believe anything is possible, and they firmly believe that they have the ability to effect positive change.
SPEAKING.COM: How does age affect your ability to manage change?
STEINBERG: It doesn’t. Your frame of mind is what matters most. I’ve met or interviewed dozens of individuals of every age and background who’ve done the most amazing things – things like starting second, third, or even fourth act careers at the latest stage of life. It’s not about age – it’s about making sure you don’t get too set in your ways. Flexibility is the essence of future-proofing and the more open and receptive you are to new ideas, the more readily and successfully you can change. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re “too old” for anything.
SPEAKING.COM: You suggest that people should think like a start-up. Can you give us some examples of what you mean by that and why those approaches might be helpful to people navigating change?
STEINBERG: If you want to succeed in today’s increasingly fast-moving and challenging business environment, you’ve got to find the courage to take chances. In uncertain times, everyone wants to be risk-free. Instead, to get ahead and/or create competitive advantage, you should be risk-averse—i.e. recognize that change is coming, and make smart, calculated, and cost-affordable bets that can help you gain the insights, talents or capabilities today that will be in-demand tomorrow.
So as noted above, take a tip from startups: whatever your goal is, pick a portfolio of promising growth opportunities to pursue and start pursuing them immediately. Launch a new product line or re-launch an existing one. Attend night school or take online computer programming courses. Just don’t sit still while times, trends and competitors are also evolving. Staying ahead of the curve is easier than it sounds, as long as you’re staying in constant motion.
The trouble is that most people and businesses wait for epiphany or emergency to strike before they make a change. Instead, do like start-ups do and disrupt yourself before someone or something else does. Rather than get a random (and rude) wake-up call one day, it’s better to program your alarm clock to provide those wake-up calls in advance of real trouble on a regular basis.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you know when it’s time to make a career change?
STEINBERG: When you consider what your time is worth – time being our most valuable asset – and feel that it could be spent far better elsewhere, especially when you consider whether you’re spending that time to your own benefit or making someone else’s dreams come true instead.
It’s also important that you love what you do, doubly so because someone, somewhere out there does. In an increasingly crowded and competitive world that person is increasingly gunning for your position.
But more to the point, you’ll know in your heart when you set aside the financial component of the equation and look at other potential risks (e.g. opportunity costs) and discover that the cost of doing nothing has become far higher than that of making a change.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some changes the education system could make to better equip youth for today’s fluctuating world?
STEINBERG: Teaching entrepreneurial skills, promoting more hands-on learning in real-world environments, offering more exercises that celebrate creativity, and utilizing multiple approaches to arrive at multiple solutions would be a great start. Here’s the funny part if you think about it: we live in a world that celebrates entrepreneurs and risk-takers like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, yet very few schools seem to be training future generations to practice the qualities they possess, or providing education in vital modern life skills like dynamic decision making, entrepreneurship, and problem-solving.
This is happening even as the traditional system for professional advancement is crumbling and competitive environment getting tougher. I often tell folks who want to get ahead: To succeed today, you don’t need an MBA, you don’t need a PhD, but rather you need a GSD (Get S**t Done) degree (i.e. a knack for figuring things out).
To bring Scott Steinberg to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com
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