In no particular order I see these competitive advantages as:
- Resilience: The traditional definition of resilience is being able to withstand difficulty, unfortunately this definition is no longer fit for purpose. The scale and pace of change that many people are currently experiencing requires a new approach. I use the term 'antifragile', from Nassim Taleb, as the basis for this new way of thinking about difficulty. Rather than putting on our suit of armour and trying to be tough when things get difficult we need to lean into it, potentially expose ourselves, but, crucially, open ourselves up to the benefits. If we are cowering behind our defences, hoping not to get hurt, then we miss opportunities that might be out there. This approach requires two components: the first is a personal practical philosophy, i.e. how do you make sense of the world and put challenges into perspective. I personally use the stoic 'amor fati' (Love of fate), which I have written about extensively previously. The second element is how you manage the stresses and strains in the moment. An antifragile approach to resilience requires an absence of emotional reactivity. We can't spot the opportunities if we are too busy flapping. Whether it be breathing techniques, mindfulness or journalling there are many techniques out there for you to put in your toolbox for such moments.
- Focus: The average attention span 10 years ago was around 12 minutes. Now, in our world of notifications and distractions, this has dropped to just 3 minutes. The ability to focus on one thing at once and work hard on a given task for a long period of time has therefore become a super power. If you are able to access Flow State and concentrate on something for longer than anyone else you will beat them, in whatever that task may be. Focus is therefore a crucial component when developing your competitive advantage. You can develop this skill really quickly, first by removing distractions - turn off all your notifications, only batch checking messages etc, and second by practicing - time yourself on tasks, see how long you can concentrate for. Focus is a muscle and you need to give it time under tension. It is also worth revisiting my previous post on flow state for more indications on how to access this state of deep concentration.
- Communication: You can do the best work you want but if you aren't able to share it with people in a compelling manner then you will not get the benefits you deserve. In a world where shorthand text and email over face to face rules the people who are able to effectively communicate rise to the top. It is a bizarre indictment of the world that we live in that the most common fear is public speaking. Flip this round however and you can immediately see the opportunity. If you are able to stand up and effectively communicate a message to a crowd you have just elevated yourself above 95% of the population. If you are able to write long form text that distills complex messages and conveys them in an engaging fashion then again you have separated yourself from the field. The key to developing these communication skills is practice. The number 1 reason I write this blog is to get regular reps in on my writing quality. Think how you can do the same, whether it be journaling for yourself, writing for a work magazine or starting a blog. Do the same for public speaking, commit to always speaking up in large meetings, volunteer to present on topics and engage with community groups that are looking for speakers. It is far better to be uncomfortable practicing this than being uncomfortable looking for a new job.
- Generalist: In the previous post we looked in detail at the power of being a polymath - having expertise in multiple fields. This is becoming ever more important given the amount of change happening in the world of work. You can no longer expect to safely settle into a role for the long haul, at some stage that will likely change and if you don't have the breadth of knowledge and skills to adapt then you will be sunk. Whilst the lure of specialisation may be great it is important to remember that the smartest and most impressive individuals in the world usually work for someone else. If you have real ambition then you will need working knowledge of many areas, being top 10%, but you won't need to be top 1%. Focus on developing the breadth of knowledge and interest, not necessarily being the top dog in each.
- Learning: No one can truly predict what the world will look like over the coming years, this therefore makes it difficult to plan and prepare. However there is a meta skill that will ensure you survive regardless - being able to learn and learn fast. Knowing how you best learn is a crucial competitive advantage and will again separate you from the competition. This obviously ties in with the point about becoming a generalist above, if you are able to assimilate and retain more information then your expertise will grow exponentially, where genres and fields meet innovation can occur. Develop a forcing function to enable you to learn regularly, whether that be signing up to specific programs or just keeping a learning journal where you reflect on what you've learnt daily/weekly.
- Purpose: This last point on the list is potentially the most important as it is the foundation that props up many of the points raised above. Knowing your purpose has almost become a cliche nowadays with a push back against the idea. However this has lead to significant numbers of people coming in to the world of work without a why. When things get tough for these they often don't have the resilience to stick it. If you have a clearly defined purpose then you know, when things get difficult, that you are doing it for something bigger than you, that makes you very resilient and determined to push through. The other angle to this is that purpose is charismatic. It creates an energy in you that other people are drawn towards and can feed off. When things do get competitive this immediately elevates you. There are 2 ways to think about purpose that will help you define your own. The first is to actually remove the word from your definition - rather than thinking 'what is my purpose?' think 'how do I want to help others?'. This immediately creates a powerful why for yourself and one that attracts others. The second part is to think of your origin story, what was the moment when you realised that this was why you wanted to fulfill that purpose? Wrapping this narrative around your prupose makes it even more compelling for yourself and for others. It also makes a great answer to that interview question of 'why do you want this job?'
Whilst not exhaustive, hopefully this exploration has given you some ideas about how best to prepare yourself for the world we are now living in. By developing the points above we are no longer troubled by change but welcome it, as we know that it creates an arena in which we are destined to succeed.