Ride the Wave Into the New Creative Economy

February 7, 2012 0 Comments

Originally published at Boston.com

In my last blog, I argued that the world needs more systems thinkers given the scope of problems/opportunities we face. I believe our major systems have a long way to go, and I write from that angle and set of assumptions. But having an awareness of how our systems, and therefore work habits, are changing is a critical skill for anyone in this economy, not just social change enthusiasts.

There are two ways to look toward the future of work: What might the world need from us in terms of the companies we build or work we do? And to what degree are we prepared to navigate industries and work environments that are changing fast whether we like it or not?

Many folks have written about the shift we’re undergoing now from an Industrial age/manufacturing economy to a post-Industrial, creative economy, cross-sector collaboration, and the kind of work environments required for Gen Y-ers/Millennials to thrive. Fast Company (and Fast CoExist), Forbes, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Boston’s own Root Cause are all over it. Everyone seems to be talking about how work is becoming more networked, flexible, and adaptive. But what does this larger shift to a creative economy mean for the individual? For the 20 something early in the process of building his/her career? or the mid-career professional considering a change?

Winston Churchill wisely said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” A related ethic might be something like, “If everything is changing around you, ride the wave.” There’s no use fighting it, and besides change is energizing and empowering. Here are a few ideas as to how to ride the wave into a new creative economy:

Surround yourself with motivated, inspired people. One of the reasons I love being a connector for Boston World Partnerships is that it’s put me smack in the middle of an inter-generational network of people who make things happen. Whether you work for an organization or for yourself, be sure to run with a pack of highly creative people who challenge you and ensure that you keep learning.

Take smart risks. I’m always floored at the number of folks who tell me they have ideas for businesses/projects (or for how they’d like their current work to be different), but don’t act on those desires. It’s difficult knowing where to start sometimes, and hard work won’t always get us exactly what we want, but taking that bold risk is almost always worth it in ways we can never predict. And there’s a way to do it without putting yourself in a professionally or financially precarious situation.

Loosen your grip on your work. If work is becoming more flexible and adaptive, we must become more flexible and adaptive, too. Many of us have our identities wrapped up in our work. Try thinking of your work as a series of experiments, take some emotional distance from those experiments, and be willing to let them go or change shape.

Consider yourself an expert. The truth is, most of us aren’t experts in our fields; we’re leaders and lifelong learners. But all of us can be experts at knowing what our strengths are as well as what makes each of us tick. The more you take the time to understand your unique value in this economy and get clear about the work you really want to do, the better equipped you’ll be to take on new opportunities when they arise.

In my next blog, I’ll tackle some of the questions and challenges associated with taking creative risks in a new economy. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.


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