Throughout human history, we have been accustomed to evolution, or the gradual changing and progressing of events in a straight line. Sometimes the process of change was faster and sometimes it was slower, but it almost always seemed to be progressive, from one step to the other, allowing you some opportunities for planning, predicting and changing.
Today, however, the rate of change not only is faster than ever before but also discontinuous. It is taking place in a variety of unconnected areas and affecting each of us in a variety of unexpected ways. Changes in information processing technologies are happening separately from changes in medicine, transportation, education, politics and global competition. Changes in family formation and relationships are happening separately from the rise and fall of new businesses and industries in different parts of the country. And if anything, this rate of accelerated, discontinuous change is increasing. As a result, most of us are already suffering from what Alvin Toffler once called, “future shock.”
You can’t do very much about the enormity of these changes, but the one thing that you can do is think seriously about yourself and your basic need for security and stability. In no area is this more important than in the areas of job security and financial security. You must give special attention to your ability to make a good living and provide for yourself in the months and years ahead.
Above all, to position yourself for tomorrow, you must think continuously and seriously about your work today, your earning ability and the work that you will be doing one, three and five years from today. You must plan to achieve your own financial security, no matter what happens. What knowledge and skills will you need and how will you acquire them? What is your plan for your economic and financial future?
Charles Kettering said that you should give a lot of thought to the future because that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life. One of the greatest mistakes that people can make, and the one with the worst long-term consequences, is to think only about the present and give very little thought to what might happen in the months and years ahead.
When our grandfathers started work, it was quite common for them to get a basic education and then go to work for a company and stay with that same company for the rest of their working lives. When our parents went to work, it was more common for them to change jobs three or four times during their lifetime, although it was difficult and disruptive.
Today, with increased turbulence and change in the national and global economy, a person starting work can expect to have five full-time careers between the ages of 21 and 65, and 14 full-time jobs lasting two years or more. According to Fortune Magazine, fully 40 percent of American employees in the 21st Century will be “contingency” workers. This means that they will never work permanently for another company. They will continue to move as needed, from company to company, from job to job, earning less money than full-time employees and accruing very few, if any, benefits in terms of health care and pension plans.
Imagine what your job will look like five years from today. Since knowledge in your field is probably doubling every five years, this means that fully twenty percent of your knowledge and your ability in your field becomes obsolete each year. In five years, you will be doing a brand new job with brand new skills and abilities. Ask yourself, “What parts of my knowledge, skills and work are becoming obsolete? What am I doing today that is different from what I was doing one year ago and two years ago?”
We are now in the knowledge age. The chief factors of production are knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge to achieving results for other people. Your earning ability today is largely dependent upon your knowledge and skills and your ability to combine them in such a way that you contribute value for which customers are going to pay.
The Law of Three says that you must contribute three dollars of profit for every dollar that you wish to earn in salary. It costs a company approximately double your salary to employ you in terms of space, benefits, supervision and investment in furniture, fixtures and other resources. For a company to hire you, they have to make a profit on what they pay you. Therefore, you must contribute value greatly in excess of the amount you earn in order to stay employed. To put it another way, your earning ability must be considerably greater than the amount you are receiving, or you will find yourself looking for another job.
To position yourself for tomorrow, here is one of the most important rules you will ever learn: “The future belongs to the competent.” The future belongs to those men and women who are very good at what they do. Pat Riley, in his book The Winner Within, wrote, “If you are not committed to getting better at what you are doing, you are bound to get worse.” To phrase it another way, anything less than a commitment to excellent performance on your part is an unconscious acceptance of mediocrity. It used to be that you needed to be excellent to rise above the competition in your industry. Today, you must be excellent even to keep your job in your industry.
The marketplace is a stern taskmaster. Today, excellence, quality and value are absolutely essential elements of any product or service, and of the work of any person. Your earning ability is largely determined by the perception of excellence, quality and value that others have of you and what you do. The market only pays excellent rewards for excellent performance. It pays average rewards for average performance, and it pays below average rewards or unemployment for below average performance. Customers want the very most and the very best for the very least amount of money, and on the best terms. Only the individuals and companies that provide absolutely excellent products and services at absolutely excellent prices will survive. It’s not personal. It’s just the way our economy works.
To earn more, you must learn more. You are maxed out today at your current level of knowledge and skill. However much you are earning at this moment is the maximum you can earn without learning and practicing something new and different.
And here’s the rub. Your accumulated knowledge and experience is becoming obsolete bit by bit, day by day. The knowledge in your field is doubling every three to five years. That means that your knowledge must double every three to five years just for you to stay even.
The solution to the dilemma of unavoidable change and restructuring is continuous self-development. Your personal knowledge and your ability to apply that knowledge are your most valuable assets. To stay on top of your world, you must continually add to your knowledge and your ability. You must continually build up your mental assets if you want to enjoy a continuous return on your investment. And only by building on your current assets do you stop them from deteriorating.
By engaging in continuous self-improvement, you can put yourself behind the wheel of your own life. By dedicating yourself to enhancing your earning ability, you will automatically be engaged in the continuous process of personal development. By learning more, you prepare yourself to earn more. You position yourself for tomorrow by developing the knowledge and skills that you need to be a valuable and productive part of our economy, no matter which direction it goes.
If you want to increase your earning ability, consider one of AMA’s management training seminars. Click here for the complete listing of over 170 courses.