Monday, May 11, 2020

A Guide to Having a Crisis-Proof Career

Do you want to make your career crisis-proof? Do you want it to thrive even in difficult times? The key is to be quick to adapt to changing conditions. Change is the only constant in the market and you are crisis-proof only if you can quickly adapt to new conditions.

As I wrote in my post about learning and people skills, these quick-to-adapt people are called versatilists. But how can they be crisis-proof? And how can we be one of them? We will answer these two questions here.

Wikipedia has a good description of versatilists:
To illustrate this using a math phrase, the versatilist has a higher area under the curve rating. Think of a person having some level of knowledge/experience in 15 knowledge areas. That person may have a very high competency (score 5) in 3 areas, a medium level of competency (score 3) in 5 areas an introductory level of competency (score 1) in 4 areas and no competency (score 0) in 3 areas. This creates an area under the curve of 34. This is different from a specialist who may score very high in 1 area and have no competency in others. This is also different from a generalist who may score a 1 or 3 in every area. This breadth of knowledge and experience is what enables faster changes to other roles.

From the description, there are two characteristics of versatilists:
1. Versatilists have wide interest 
Unlike specialists, versatilists don’t limit their interest to only one area. They are interested in many things. You can quickly recognize such people when you talk with them. They show enthusiasm for many different topics and not just one or two.

2. Versatilists build competencies in their areas of interest 
Generalists also have wide interest. But unlike generalists, versatilists build competencies in their areas of interest. They are not satisfied with just knowing a little about those fields. Instead, they improve themselves to the point where they can do something meaningful. Of course, their level of competency is not the same from one area to the other, but they improve their competencies in more than just one area.

The magic of versatilists is they can combine their different competencies into unique offerings. It’s like cooking with many available ingredients. If you have only one or two ingredients, the number of combinations you can create is very limited. But if you have many ingredients, there are a lot of possible combinations. Let’s say there are three ingredients you could have: A, B, and C. Here are the possible combinations for different numbers of ingredients:

With 1 ingredient (A), there is only 1 possible combination (A).
With 2 ingredients (A,B), there are 3 possible combinations (A,B,AB).
With 3 ingredients (A,B,C), there are 7 possible combinations (A, B, C, AB, AC, BC, ABC)
As you can see, the number of possible combinations increases exponentially with each additional ingredient.
That’s why versatilists are crisis-proof:
Versatilists are crisis-proof because they can quickly create new offerings that meet new market demands.

This, in my opinion, is the main advantage of versatilists. When market changes, they can quickly create a new combination to adapt to it. People might be astonished with how fast they switch roles but they actually just create a new combination from their portfolio of competencies. Their portfolio of competencies becomes a base upon which to create many potential offerings. They can then choose one of them based on market demands. Specialists, on the other hand, have a hard time to adapt since they have only one – or a few combinations – to offer.

So how can we be a versatilist? As you can see above, the important thing to have a portfolio of competencies. It’s just like investing. Financial experts suggest you diversify your investment and not put all your eggs in one basket. Similarly, you should diversify your competencies and not bet your future on just one. Add to this a strong network of friends and you will always have good opportunities come your way.

Here are some tips to build your portfolio of competencies:
1. Start early 
As with investing, the earlier you start the better. The reason is that it takes time to build your portfolio. You can’t have a strong portfolio overnight.

2. List your base competencies 
Base competencies are the competencies that become the elements of “combined” competencies. In my case of blogging, for example, the competency needed can be broken down to at least three base competencies: writing, personal development, and information technology.

What you need to do is listing all your base competencies regardless of your level of expertise.
3. Develop your base competencies 
After listing your base competencies, you should work on improving them. Read books, practice, and learn from other people. You don’t have to be a world-class expert in any of them. Remember, the strength is in the combinations.

4. Add new base competencies 
Besides developing your current base competencies, you should consider adding new competencies to your portfolio. Find something that’s related to what you already have. Or find something that can complement what you have.

5. Watch the market 
Market always changes so you need to watch it closely. Where is it heading? What new demands might occur in the near future? This post has some ideas on how to do that.

6. Develop unique offerings based on market demands 
When you see a growing demand, you can look at your portfolio of competencies and find how you can combine them to make something that meets the need. It’s like trying to combine available ingredients to create the kind of meal requested by your customer. The more ingredients you have, the bigger the chance that you can find the right combination. 
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