Success is no longer a train you board with a ticket

by Sunny Bindra on January 5, 2014 · 3 comments

in Sunday Nation

To succeed in the world to come, you won’t be boarding trains with tickets; you’ll be jumping off planes with parachutes.

These are fast-changing, enormously disruptive times. Success is no longer about playing safe, being predictable, or following schedules. That’s how it was when I was growing up. Children were told to pick safe subjects; get good grades; seek reputable universities; land jobs in esteemed firms; cultivate networks of connected people. The rest would follow.

In other words, success in life was a train that ran to a fixed schedule and on a fixed track. Those who boarded at the right time, and had the right ticket, could be pretty sure of arriving at the destination.

No more. There are too many disruptions afoot for anyone to believe in the train metaphor any more. Digital-mobile-social technology platforms have already laid waste to a whole range of industries and professions. There are no predictable trains running any more in media, music, communication, or publishing because the old rules have been overturned by the fact that more than a billion people now carry connected consumption devices in their pockets.

But that was just the beginning. Watch the heat being turned up in the months and years to come in education and healthcare; in banking and insurance; in retailing and payments; in transportation and manufacturing. The technologies that are about to come of age – cheap broadband, mobile wallets, driverless vehicles, home manufacturing, advanced robotics – will cause even more sweeping changes.

Watch professionals feel the heat, as easily used software and mobile hardware takes away a big chunk of what used to be their bread and butter. Doctors, lawyers, accountants will no longer be able to sell simple processing or basic procedures – they will have to elevate to higher-level advisory roles, or become irrelevant.

More waves waiting to land on a beach near you: in the next two decades, three billion people are expected to be added to the global middle class. That’s great for consumption – many sales to be made – but a huge strain on limited resources like food, water and oil. Technological change will have to be even more rapid for the planet to cope with all those extra wallets, mouths and fingers. New forms of energy, synthetic foods and tighter environmental regulation are not just likely – they’re a done deal.

So where will all of that leave you, if your safe and predictable career is in an industry or a skill that may just get left behind? What should you be telling your children about what is ‘safe’ in the future world of work?

The truth is, no one knows. There are no career trains any more, just aircraft of all sizes and shapes taking off in all directions. An influential parent or a solid subject choice does not give you a ticket to board these strange craft. Some of them may reach destinations worth getting to; others may go down in flames. Which is why you need parachutes.

What you, and certainly your children, need in this unpredictable world are the following: the ability to add true value, not just simple procedural inputs; the capacity to try things out that haven’t been done before; and the appetite for risk and acceptance of trial-and-error as a career strategy.

It’s scary stuff. If it’s any consolation, I myself am in the same boat. Advising, writing, speaking or teaching for a living will get its own share of disruption and transformation. As I sit here and contemplate the future, I know that the heart of success is always to provide genuine, distinctive value to others. That doesn’t change. What will undoubtedly change, however, is the form and format of delivery.

So think about my metaphor as you begin 2014. The ways you’re used to may soon be defunct. It’s about aircraft and parachutes, not trains and tickets.

Related posts:

  1. Which new technology will disrupt your life next?
  2. Want success in life? Commit!
  3. Why train employees, when they’ll just leave you?
  4. Your personal standards drive success
  5. Tribe is the least important element of success in the 21st century

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 E. OCHIENG' January 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Hi,

Over the years, we have learnt to look up to sunwords.com for words and ideas that define success every week. But more so, when the year begins. Your article last year on what it takes to have a prosperous year was not only provoking, but ranks highly on the list of our reference materials.
Adding (real) value, tasting and taking risks are age-old gems that have built true winners and leaders.
However, we think that ‘reputable universities’ should not make the list of predictable success steps.
Good universities are a rarity, they are scarce, are expensive, and admit only the best, not by the mean grade, but after passing tough tests and procedures guided by thought leaders. We, thus, would want to say that anyone who got a chance to join or advise his children to aim for good colleges would be buying the right parachute.
Good universities do not teach the usual stuff, but spend huge budgets in hiring choice faculty– industry captains, renown authors and authorities in various fields– and spend a fortune in research.
Such researchers release insights and test what works or does not. Such schools also tweak their programmes to add value to the world of tomorrow.
In fact, those who attended Ivy League universities or their sisters and failed made news in the traditional sense of ‘a man biting a dog.’ But the good university alone, we agree, will not produce true success.

[Reply]

2 Mwangi Wanjumbi January 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Sunny!

I love this

“I know that the heart of success is always to provide genuine, distinctive value to others. That doesn’t change. What will undoubtedly change, however, is the form and format of delivery.”
Nevertheless, I want to imagine that the form and format of delivery will be determined by the extent to which the requisite education, skills and vocations will be aligned to inbuilt personal competencies or natural abilities. I could be wrong, but I am of the view that these abilities will be the source of creativity and innovation that will constantly be needed more than ever before.

Mwangi

[Reply]

3 Agava January 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Hey Mr. Sunny…i love your articles and their content. This is quite insightful

[Reply]

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