IBM has predicted that by 2022 human knowledge will be doubling every 12 hours because of the cloud, big data, AI, machine learning, IOT, AR, VR, robotics, social networks and other radical new technologies that are changing the world. This is the discussion I was having with a friend, how these ideas terrify most senior executives; they often say “I’m glad I’ll be gone before this happens.” And how that contrasts with the young professionals I mentor; who say they can’t wait to see this happen. “Forget tomorrow,” my friend told me, today’s reality is that my kids struggle to find “meaningful” work after completing their degrees and they are really scared about their future and their careers. After further discussion, finally he asked me if I would write an article on the advice I’d give his kids (or anyone for that matter) to best prepare them for this crazy future. I agreed, so Mike, here’s my advice for your and my kids (and anyone else) to “future-proof” their careers.

My first advice is to “get real”; you need to reset your expectations based on understanding the “Future of Work”. MIT has been a thought leader in this area and has published great material to help us understand what’s coming. The future of work thought leaders such as MIT and Forbes predicts is that “jobs”, as we know them, are going away.

Based on my research some of the specific predicted changes include:

  • By 2022 we will be dealing with a pace of change; and types of problems no other generation has ever faced.
  • Companies are moving to an agile, just in time, workforce and minimizing fixed costs and overhead (employees vs. GIG contractors)
  • Nearly 30% of workers in the US are now contingent (contract or part time, not full time employees); these workers in the “Gig economy” are expected to be 50% of the workforce by 2023.
  • Technology, automation and robotics are eliminating traditional jobs at record levels and this trend is growing
  • Companies are sourcing talent globally, even for traditional white collar career jobs, like engineers, accountants, lawyers, etc.
  • The “sharing economy” is displacing jobs
  • The internet is making work transparent (ie. what it is, who can do it, how to do it, virtual staff, etc.)
  • Social networks are the new talent marketplaces, where organizations will both find and qualify talent
  • Millennial’s are the largest generation in human history
  • Millennial’s change jobs every two years or less
  • Income inequality is rapidly getting worse

This harsh reality is being predicted by thought leaders, but young people aren’t being prepared for this by their parents or schools. Personally, I’m quite frustrated in how schools are training young people for the future. My Alma mater surveyed students coming in and found that 19% had entrepreneurial interests. Then they surveyed them graduating and found the interest dropped to 3%. This tells me schools are training students to be good “employees” and they are coming out looking for “jobs”; which is completely contrary to the “Gig Economy” and the future of work being predicted.

To correct this, my advice to you is to reset your paradigmand take ownership in preparing yourself for this future. You must think of yourself as an entrepreneur whose product is YOU. Regardless of whether targeting a job or gig, you have to own your career. As Jim Collins describes, you need to develop your own personal “hedgehog” strategy; what is your “target market” that will drive your economic engine, that you feel passionate about and that you can be excellent at? Once you have a target market, then tailor yourself, your marketing and your services to be invaluable to that market.

To be successful in marketing yourself, you’ll need to have the right knowledge, skills and attitude that your target market wants. A recent Forbes article, “Screw Emotional Intelligence…” outlines three key criteria (and based on my research I have added a fourth), which organizations should be using to guide their hiring. These 4 criteria are where you will have to develop and demonstrate your abilities to be highly desirable and successful in obtaining work in the future.

The Four Q’s that will drive your future success are:

1) AQ – this is adaptability quotient; a measure of the ability to grow and change. As Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. The Forbes article proposes that this will be THE most crucial characteristic for success in the future. To me this is your ability to pivot and grow and the tenacity to last through the change. Both of which are key characteristics used to describe successful entrepreneurs today.

2) EQ – this is emotional intelligence; a measure of self-awareness and interpersonal soft skills which have been popularized in the last decade as the most determinant factor in succeeding in leadership and management. These people skills are often what older generations have built up with experience and are their primary strength. It is also an area where I find millennials are highly motivated to learn and gain experience and where mentoring is most often focused. This also reflect the fact that business is a team sport, my advice is that it isn’t how well you play, its how well you play with the team that will determine your success.


3) DQ – this is the digital intelligence quotient; meaning how much of a digital native or digital immigrant are you? This doesn’t mean can you write software code, it means are you comfortable and capable in quickly adopting new digital technologies. Having worked with innovation and technology for most of my career it is not creating the technology that businesses need, it is the ability to apply it to solve real problems. New technology is most often a cure looking for a disease; you need to be the person who can match the digital cure to the business disease and cure the problem. . This is becoming a big generational and social gap that is already a barrier to opportunities. Personally, I find it very difficult to hire older sales people because CRM is essential to any modern sales job and they really struggle with using a CRM; whereas younger people can jump in and be competent in days.

4) IQ – this is traditional intellectual intelligence; are you smart? We don’t need genius’ in business, we need creative problem solvers. IQ tests have been found to be highly cultural and not a very effective indicator of intelligence. As an employer the intelligence I’m looking for is learning capacity, creativity, common sense analysis, problem solving and the ability to self-teach.

Forbes prioritized AQ as most important and I have listed the other Qs in order of importance based on my experience and research. This is a lot to read and every one of these points is worthy of an extensive discussion, but your and my kids would want me to get to the few points that matter in as few words as possible

4 Keys to Future-Proof Your Career

Considering everything above and some relevant points from another article I wrote on “how to make yourself promotable” here are my 4 keys to future-proof your career:

1) ATTITUDE – Own your career – think of yourself as a career-entrepreneur, selling yourself as the “Product” (job or Gig). Own your attitude, it sets you up for success – your attitude is the biggest factor in being promoted, as Zig Ziggler says “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”. In the book the OZ principal, Connors, Smith & Hickman talk about above-the-line (solution focused) people and below-the-line (problem focused) people. Make sure you are seen as a solution focused above-the-line person. Alternately, think of the attitude of a person you love working with, then adopt that attitude and others will feel that way toward you.

2) STRATEGY – Be strategic – identify a target “work” market that has opportunities that fit with your values, fits your economic needs, and where your strengths enable you to perform with excellence. Understand your target employer – they are your customer; as Peter Drucker tells us, “Whoever understands the customer best usually wins the business”.


3) GROWING MY 4Qs – Continuously develop YOUR 4Qs – always be learning and building your 4Q knowledge, skills and experience for your job today and anticipating your next job. It’s not about collecting more degrees. It’s about AQ, being agile; so get really good at “just in time learning”, finding the content you need and building a mentor-network to help you apply the learning to succeed. Another reason AQ is going to be most important is you must be ready to pivot; expect to have not one but many careers.

4) SELL YOURSELF ONLINE- Proactively build your network, your brand and image online – use online networking and marketing to differentiate yourself and find opportunities. Show your unique value with value-added content – you need to share content that shows how you are a thought leader, an “A” performer, an SME in the area you are targeting and how you are truly of value to your target market.”. Build your brand and communicate your goals – be aware of and manage your personal brand online and share your goals, because no one can help if they don’t know you and where you want to go.

I’ve seen an example of this with a young engineer I know who was able to grow his career as an engineer and pivot to a different career all in an economy where most people were struggling and in fear of just holding onto their jobs. When we first met he had a couple of years of experience in design engineer but he wanted to shift to project management as he saw it as being more versatile and leading to more opportunities. He networked and social networked himself into a job with bigger engineering firm where he was able to gain experience and build skills in project management. After advancing his career through 3 positions in less than 5 years, he felt that engineering was too vulnerable and with an ongoing industry slowdown the opportunities would be limited. So next he pivoted his career and decided to take his energy, enthusiasm and great organizational skills to real-estate. He got the training he needed and found a mentor in that sector to help him jump start his career. Within 2 years he and his mentor have started up their own brokerage and through his social marketing, he is now the 3 highest scoring poster on Instagram in his field, and he has attracted 3 major developers to engage his firm because of his social marketing success. So when I look at his amazing career over the last 7 years, he’s had an energetic “can do” attitude, he’s driven, adapted and evolved his career and strategically moved into a new career. He’s continuously identified, targeted, self-taught and grown his skills, particularly in social marketing and has marketed himself to the point where people are now coming to him for help and training. He’s living proof that even in a bad economy there are ways to future-proof your career if you do the right things.

So Mike, please share this with your kids and I’ll share it with mine. These are the things I suggest be considered if they want to future-proof their careers.

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