The Blind Spot That Can Make Or Break Your Career

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It was early 2010. I was intently looking into my screen trying to decipher the colourful graphs when a colleague came over to me to ask me for a customer’s phone number. As I took out my phone to find the number, I heard a curt “Oh……” from her. Smilingly, I scrolled down my contact list; very well understanding the reason behind her moment of surprise. And why wouldn’t she be? In an era when almost every millennial and many of the Gen X had a touchscreen smartphone in their hands, I was still carrying a Nokia 1600.

Her gush of surprise may have been a mere 2-letter and dotted expression. But it was, at the top of its voice, screaming a thousand words – that the pulse of the market was changing at a neck-breaking speed.

But somehow Nokia missed it. They never noticed the “Ohs” of the consumer. Or even if they did, they were too late in taking action.

Blinded by their unchallenged success and the constant flow of cash, complacency took the better of them. It was the reason why they were neither completely aware of their changing external environment nor innovated or acted in time.

The Nokia syndrome can easily hit us

The same complacency that Nokia fell victim to can easily come after us to haunt our careers.

Earning a lot does not necessarily mean we are on the right track of our career. On the contrary, it can slow us down.

A very hardworking friend of mine was doing great in his job and was earning handsomely. His Facebook pictures were regularly updated by foreign holidays. During one of our phone conversations, he told me that his work had been boringly repetitive for almost 2 years; where he was not learning anything new. But he did not make any move because his thick bank balance and a secured job were keeping him comfortable. His sense of comfort did another thing. It did not activate the neurons in his brain that are necessary to trigger alertness in us. Thus, he never looked outside the boundaries of his job to see what was going on. The market was moving and new skills were evolving in his profession none of which he gathered.

He was missing the blind spot which was soon about to maul him from behind.

The unexpected happened. Downsizing befell on his company and he lost his job. It took him ages to find a new one and “happily”, had to settle for a lower salary (the “why” behind his happiness is explained towards the end of this article).

The outsourced IT industry is a similar case in point, especially the Indian one. Recent news and rumours have it that there could be layoffs in thousands in the face of automation. As per the experts, the first people who might face the axe could be those employees who have been more fixated with salary increments and their “manager” tags rather than adding more skills and technologies to their kitties.

To keep our career on track, increased earnings must be accompanied by awareness of the external environment coupled with timely evolution of our skills and experiences.

The Bystanders and the Laggards

To visualise, at a high-level, where we may be on our career track, I have created this simple matrix across two parameters – Awareness and Action (Actions can be like developing new skills, changing jobs, networking etc.)

  • The Champions: These are the guys who are highly aware of the changes in the market and proactively take relevant and timely actions to be at par with that.
  • The Confused: I can cite my example here. Low on awareness but high on actions, I was once taking training and courses that were not so relevant. All does not go waste though.
  • The Bystander*: High on awareness and low on actions, these guys are aware of which direction the tide is flowing but probably because of their sense of security, don’t move their bums from their seats.
  • The Laggard*: The place where we definitely don’t want to be in – low on both awareness and actions. Sense of security apart, it may also mean we are not at all interested in our job and/or our interest lies somewhere else.

The focus of mine today is on the Bystanders and the Laggards. Blinded by their sense of comfort, bank balance and security, they could easily fall victim to the Nokia syndrome. The antidote, which is both a challenge and an opportunity, is to move towards the Champion quadrant of the matrix either by improving their skills and networks or finding another career of their interest.

*(Many people may not be taking any actions on their careers for various other genuine reasons like health, depression, mental illness or family problems. I have excluded those scenarios from this article).

So, why did my friend happily accepted a cut in his salary?

Earning more is a great thing. We should always strive for it. We just need to make sure that we keep ourselves updated with our surroundings, be it developing skills, finding a good mentor, changing the company, changing the industry or changing one’s profession itself.

But earning less can prove to be as great a thing if in return you are getting immense growth. That’s what my friend told me. His entire horror episode jolted him out of his slumber and moved him from being a Laggard to being a Champion. He became proactive and grabbed opportunities in his new company to learn and grow in new areas. For the drop in his earnings, he actually gained a lot more than what he had bargained for, in terms of new skills and knowledge. Today, he is a leader in his industry, speaks around the whole world and earns a lot more than he envisaged a few years back.

It’s okay to take a few steps back from the fence so that we have enough strip to run on and gain speed before jumping across to the other side.

Artificial Intelligence and automation have arrived. Let’s not find ourselves in a position where we have to look at our careers and utter the words “Oh…..”!

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