How to avoid becoming obsolete

Embrace solutions over stop-gaps and brush up on your networking skills to future-proof your career.

by Rebecca Alexander
Last Updated: 17 Jul 2017

I live in China, where it's almost impossible to be unaware of the future. Online giants such as Alibaba and Taobao (once considered the latest thing themselves) are now investing in disruptive industries of the future, from taxi and bike sharing apps to driverless deliveries and humanoid robots. High-speed train lines go from blueprint to reality in a few short years, and entire cities are planned or redesigned to cope with anticipated demand.

It's in sharp contrast to our ordinary human focus on the short or medium term. I can't have been alone in feeling the jolt from an Oxford University 2013 report, which stated that a little under half of existing jobs have a high likelihood of becoming obsolete. Suddenly we started to talk of future-proofing our jobs.

I'd argue that future-proofing yourself is just as important as future-proofing your job. We can't all become STEM or healthcare experts (two of the industries most often cited as future-proof). But we can adapt our own approach for added longevity.

Lifelong learning: John Donovan, chief strategy officer at AT&T says: 'You can be a lifelong employee if you are ready to be a lifelong learner.' Sign up to workplace training and other courses. Read widely and be willing to learn entirely new skills. Don't limit your ambitions - universities and online providers are increasingly offering courses tailored to specific interests or business sectors.

Predict the next passion: In a society that increasingly caters to all interests - however small - it's a great time to pursue a passion or skill that could be monetised and marketed to others. Blogs and apps mean you can test out your ideas in your own time, without sacrificing your day job. And your experiences will add to your overall knowledge.

Embrace solutions over stopgaps: Quick fixes are great. But so is challenging yourself to consider longer-term answers and decisions. A great rubric is '10-10-10', courtesy of author Suzy Welch. What will this situation look like in 10 minutes, 10 months, or 10 years? Will your actions today stand the test of time? And if not, what other actions would?

Understand your business: You may know your company's objectives for the next 12 months. What about the next 24? What challenges or opportunities are coming? What can you or your team do now to stay ahead? Stay creative and curious and look out for trends and patterns.

Focus on relationships: Your network is more important than ever. Stay in touch with old colleagues and friends, seek out opportunities to meet new people. Your personal relationships will go with you wherever you work, providing support and inspiration.

Ask yourself difficult questions: Ari Wallach, a self-described futurist and adjunct associate professor at Colombia University, says that we have lost the habit of asking ourselves, 'to what end?' when we pursue anything. Whatever you're doing, what's the ultimate aim? Knowing this lets you see further ahead and ensures your actions fit future intentions as well as current goals.

Rebecca Alexander is an executive coach at The Coaching Studio. Please email comments or questions to or tweet @_coachingstudio.


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