Sometimes we make bad assumptions that can have a negative impact on our careers, especially during times of rapid or discontinuous change. Here are 7 common assumptions about work today, and the new realities that you need to be aware of:
1. Assumption: I’m not naturally creative, so I don’t need to develop that skill. I’m fine just the way I am.
Reality: Creativity is no longer the purview of a small, elite “skunkworks” or task force. The days of checking your brain at the door and just doing what you’re told are a relic of the past. Employers expect much more today, as they struggle to stay in business. They desperately need the creative energy and contributions of their creative workers in order to fuel new growth and to leverage new, emerging opportunities.
Like any other talent, creativity can be learned and cultivated. By developing a more creative mindset, you can add significant value to your job, differentiate yourself from your peers and be more satisfied and fulfilled in your work. Why not choose to be at the forefront of change and innovation in your organization, rather than getting whipped around by its tail?
2. Assumption: To anticipate the future, all I have to do is extrapolate the recent past forward a few years.
Reality: These are discontinuous times. Many of the tried-and-true strategies that have served managers and leaders well for over a century are less effective today. New work practices, structures and processes are still emerging, driven by accelerating advances in technology and harsh, global economic and competitive pressures. But we can reach one conclusion fairly safely: It’s no longer enough to take last year’s numbers, add 5 percent to them and think our planning process is done.
To anticipate the future, you need to be aware of and assess the short- and long-term threat potentials of numerous trends. You need to play through the scenarios in your head or with a small group of planners, trying to discern which may have the biggest impacts – positive or negative – on your business.
The practice of developing 3-5 year plans, and expecting to be able to carry them out as the marketplace follows a linear direction is no longer practical. Change is coming at us too fast to plan on such a long time horizon. To succeed, we must make plans but keep them flexible, open to being updated as new information becomes available. And they need to be re-assessed on at least a quarterly basis.
3. Assumption: I had a very successful project a few years ago. My reputation is excellent.
Reality: Senior management expects and demands results today – and on an ongoing basis. You can’t hope to ride the momentum of your past successes any more. Your bosses want to know, “What have you done for me lately?”
If you generate a home run once, that’s commendable, but it’s not enough any more. The expectation of senior management is that you’re going to continue to contribute at that level, continually creating new value in order to justify your salary. If you’re not creating ongoing value in your current job, you could be walking around with a big target on your back.
4. Assumption: I’m overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated in my job. Why should I contribute any more effort to my work?
Reality: If you’re not adding sufficient value to your work, on an ongoing basis, your job could be at risk. During a prolonged economic downturn like the one we’re experiencing, companies are continuing to analyze their cost and profit centers; many firms are still periodically jettisoning or spinning off their under-performing assets – including people.
A case in point: Best Buy, the once-innovative consumer electronics retailer, recently announced that it plans to close 50 of its big box stores in the U.S., cut 400 corporate jobs and trim $800 million in costs. Apparently, this is being caused by customers window-shopping its products in stores, and then going home and ordering them from cheaper online retailers.
So are you a cost center or a profit center for your employer or your customers? If you want to increase your job stability and employability, make it your goal to generate multiple times what it costs them to have you as a worker.
5. Assumption: It’s not my job to be creative, so I won’t contribute any ideas to help grow the business.
Reality: Many companies have come to the realization that having elite skunk works or innovation SWAT teams, developing new ideas to grow the business, is not sustainable. Lose a few key people and the momentum of these small, specialized teams completely evaporates. Instead, they are looking to have all employees contribute ideas via innovation management systems, which enable the company to capture and evaluate ideas based on a specific set of criteria.They are also discovering that game-changing ideas can come from just about anyone – even the lowly janitor, as Frito-Lay recently discovered.
The reality is that your company or client needs your ideas more than ever before. If you are able to contribute solutions that cut expenses or waste, and increase productivity or sales, you’ll be respected as someone who is an asset to the firm, not an expensive liability.
6. Assumption: Adding value to your job isn’t that hard.
Reality: Adding value to your job is often an ongoing process that requires tremendous discipline and dedication. That’s why you need to be motivated by a deeper purpose, because sometimes it’s going to feel like three steps forward, two back – and you’re just going to have to dig deep and continue to push forward toward your goals.
Not everyone is going to be a big fan of your new-found focus on creativity and value creation. Some people could feel threatened by it, especially your boss. He or she may view your efforts as an attempt to gain power, upset the status quo or add unnecessary risk and uncertainty to his or her part of the operations. What if it steals manpower and resources from our other key projects? What if it fails? His or her reputation may suffer. That’s why managers often decide it’s best to play it safe and reject the scary idea with all of it’s ambiguity and uncertainty.
In addition to your boss, coworkers and managers in other departments may feel threatened by your big idea. It could change or eliminate their role. It could give you more clout – at their expense. Why should you get all the attention? Also, your idea could affect your colleagues in your department as well as in ther areas of the company. People’s livelihoods could potentially be affected by it. So don’t expect them to openly embrace it. In fact, they may resist it very strongly. People tend to hate change. Period.
7. Assumption: I spent enough years in school. I’m done learning, except for the training that they make me have on the job.
Reality: Most people in industrialized countries are heavily scripted in the “inoculation theory of education.” In other words, after you complete high school or secondary education, you’re done for life. Sort of like a flu shot – once you have it, you’re somehow “safe.” That may have been true in the Industrial Age, but it no longer applies in today’s era of accelerating change, in which knowledge is being obsoleted faster and faster.
We need to become lifelong learners to be able to continually add value to our work in the years ahead.