The terrible truth of work is that almost anyone can do anything. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but open up the UCLA Extension course catalog, a MOOC or watch a few “how-to” YouTube videos, and you get my drift. Education and skills are the easiest things to acquire.
Leaving out advanced neurosurgery, the super-tasking executive producer of major live sports events on television, and maybe engineering stem cell regeneration of body parts: it doesn’t take long to come up to speed on most job requirements. That’s why this quote from Carnegie Institute of Technology rings so true:
85% of your financial success is due to your personal traits and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical ability.
When you consider how you are spending your time in preparation for a career or the advancement of your career, do your priorities make sense?
It may occur to you that you know less about your excellent personal traits than you know how to use Excel. You probably have spent more time setting margins of documents and unjamming your printer than you have working on the type of traits that actually matter to success.
You never regret a day of education; it’s simply the type of education that I am cautioning you about. Communication, negotiation and leadership flow from personal intelligence, which is the ability to self-regulate. That is, manage yourself and manage your interactions with others.
Part of self-management is gaining or polishing the one-of-a-kind traits you possess, so you can express them to the people around you. Of course, that is largely what personal branding is, although there’s a bit more to it.
Visibility and promotions largely come from being more of yourself, or as I said to Claire my teaching assistant: get bigger. You be you, just be more of the best of yourself. Become formidable, a force, and a monument to what your most valuable traits are. She is an elegant and intelligent person with a sharp wit, on her way to becoming a commander-in-charge.
That is the extraordinary magnitude of expression that you must exert for us to see you and respect you; then feel compelled to ask you to ascend over others in an area of your expertise, function, or team. That outsized version of yourself is what puts our trust into you. That’s how you create a positive reputation, really an uproar about how valuable you are to our organization.
If you know nothing else about yourself, consider that anyone can be a force of innovative ideas. Innovation is a process, more than it is an ability or knack. It takes external stimuli, which isn’t hard to get given the world at your fingertips via the web. Harvard Business Review recently added its seven ways to innovate, and any one of them will set you apart from your co-workers or other job candidates.
- Look for differences. Before you interview or attend a meeting, contrast what a competitor’s product does that is remarkably different from the company’s offering.
- Trend spot. Look at Instagram or Pinterest and see what colors, images, words, attitudes and photos are beginning to dominate the consciousness of the people who matter.
- Assess angry words. Read the hashtags, comments, and blogs for what is going wrong. In every problem of reasonable size, there are great opportunities.
- Question everything. Most businesses are way past the NIH (not-invented-here) mentality, and are actively seeking ways to modify the way people work, the way products are developed or distributed and the way messages are crafted.
- Look at the deviants. There are always “outliers,” as Malcolm Gladwell calls the fringe elements. What workarounds, avoidance behavior or personalized adjustments are people making?
- Go away. Take a field trip or informational interview to a place that does nothing like anything you are familiar with. The natural history museum, planetarium, or Bloomingdales can refresh your brain and ignite your creativity.
- See what’s working in other industries. Are hardware companies selling spare parts with new machines, so there can be on-the-spot repairs? Is deflating a football by the weight of a paperclip the key to winning the big game? How can you apply that in your field?
If you have not a thing to offer that is so much more magnificent than other candidates or competitors: these are seven ways to use your brain in a novel way. Think new. Think innovation. Think for yourself.