Sunday, January 1, 2012

Are you doing enough for free in 2012?

About a year ago, I wrote a post about do'ers vs. did'ers, where I highlight that the most important people to identify during an industry transition are those that are doing new things. The people taking chances, learning new things and sharing them back with communities. 

Throughout the year, the #1 non-CloudComputing conversation I had with people was centered around them asking for advice about the next steps in their career. While most of these people were associated with the IT industry (various types of skills), the conversations also include people from other industries. I try not to give advice, but rather use discussions like that as an opportunity to teach or present a different point-of-view. In most cases, I would highlight a few things to consider:
  • In roughly a five year period - Google became #1 in search; Facebook became #1 in social networking; VMware gained #1 market-share in virtualization; both iOS and Android took over the smartphone OS and App markets; PC's are no longer the #1 "computing device". Bottomline - technology shifts are happening faster than ever.
  • Low-cost (or free) technology is available to let you create an online presence; fund an idea; start a company; create your own media and marketing brand; learn new languages; do in-depth research or start a global revolution. Almost everybody in the world has access to this technology and will be competing against you sooner or later. Bottomline - the barrier to entry is much lower than it was in the past.
  • If you're in the age-range of 35-45 years, it's very likely that you have only been working 15-20 years and still have 20-30 years of productive (salary-earning) years left. So even if you think you've accomplished something at this point, you have at least another half of your career left (and then some...). Do you still have the passion and energy to learn and get ahead like you did when you were just starting in the workforce? Bottomline - there's still a lot of mountain left to climb.
At this point I typically ask them how they are getting better? What new things are they learning, and what new people are they meeting that could potentially help them in the future? How are they giving back to the communities that support them today or in the future?

This is often where the "other obligations" portion of the conversation comes up. Work deadlines, family demands, personal finances, kids, health and the other trappings of life always seem to be on the list. 

Instead of asking why they are or aren't focused on certain new areas, I ask them, "What are you doing for free?" This may seem like a strange question to someone that works for a salary, but think about it slightly differently:
  • We've come to expect many new things in our life to initially be free (especially software applications).
  • Memberships to many new communities are free (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, GitHub, etc.), but the benefits to users come from putting in the time to learn how to give and take.
Ultimately, change in our industry happens extremely fast and everybody is looking for a way to survive, sustain or get ahead. While it may not be conventional thinking, I would suggest that most people could benefit by adding some "free activities" to their plans and goals in 2012.

If you're doing something interesting "for free", I'd love to hear more about it. Please post a comment with some details.

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