New skills for the new world

While technology professionals are busy learning the latest and greatest revolutions in the technology world, what they can’t forget is to invest time in learning “other” important skills that are required to survive and thrive in this new world. The “Distinguish Yourself” series is an attempt to highlight several of those skills. However, whenever I talk, people ask me to highlight a few items in a SINGLE article. They tell me that they don’t have time to read all the articles in Distinguish yourself and somehow I am not surprised 🙂

Here is my quick attempt on a partial list of skills (not taught in schools) that you need to cultivate to succeed and thrive.

1. Handling bad news

When everything is going good, you may feel that you are at the top of the world. This is life. So there is no way everything can be going good all the time. In fact, when something does not turn out to be as planned, that is when you really need to use the full capacity of your brain. For some reason, most people have trouble dealing with bad news. The problem gets compounded for technology professionals. They seem to think that it is “really” not required to mention about the concerns that they are having as they are very “equipped” to take care of them “before” they become problems. So they work hard and try their best to “take care” of problems but by the time they realize that they really can’t take care of them it’s too late. Everyone is unhappy and they have to go and “win back” the trust.

Since you have to deal with bad news anyway, why not come up with a plan to handle it when there is a need. We buy insurance policies just in case something were to happen to us. How about insurance policies for the projects that you are engaged with?

2. Asking for help

Since there is no way you can do everything on your own, you have no choice but to ask for help from time to time. In fact, let’s say very frequently. However, just asking won’t help. What if your request for help is rejected every time or even half the time. That would put you under pressure and you will have to make twice the number of requests for help. So if that is the case, why not fine tune your art of asking for help. Unfortunately, this is a topic that should be taught in schools and colleges but let’s face it – they don’t teach such stuff – that would be too practical 🙂

When I discuss this in my talks, people tell me that asking is not the real problem. The bigger problem, I believe is that people really don’t have time to help with so many things going on in their life. So irrespective of how you ask, it doesn’t matter you won’t get any help is what they say.

OK that’s a good argument but not good enough. The easy way to prove that this argument lacks logic is to apply this on yourself. Have you recently helped someone? If yes, why did you do it and if no, why didn’t you? Think about what went through in your mind before you made a decision to help or not help? Similar things are going on in the heads of other people.

There is so much more to this but for now, I urge you to take this seriously and start thinking about how to structure your request for help.

3. Connecting people

Making one good connection that will help the other person accelerate his or her career/life may be a big gift that you can give to the other person. You know – it takes a while before you establish trust with a new person. By making a connection happen, what you are doing is that you are transfering your trust into the new relationship. Both the parties that you introduced start off at a higher base than normal. What’s the advantage? It’s the saving of time which is something that is in limited supply in all of our lives. So what is a good connection?

Here are some components of a good connection:

a. Both parties will benefit from the connection BIG time.

b. Both parties can continue to build a relationship without YOU in the picture.

c. Both parties could not have easily connected without you.

d. Both parties feel that the connection was timely and relevant to their professional and/or personal lives.

How many good connections did you make in the last one month? How many are you planning to make in the next one month?

For those of you interested in benchmarking yourself: I talked to many great connectors and they make upwards of 300 good connections in a year. So, good luck!

4. Keeping a promise that you made to yourself

Hardest thing to do. If this topic seems like it is a repeat, you got great memory. It is repeated and here is the link: Ways to distinguish yourself #33 – Keep promises you make to yourself

I couldn’t resist repeating it. It is that IMPORTANT!

5. Holding others accountable

When you ask for help, some people help but many others only make promises to help. You depend on them and in the last minute they provide a great excuse on why they “really” can’t help. If you don’t have an insurance policy, depending on the need, you may be in a mess. So, the next skill that you must master is the art of holding others accountable.

This is difficult because each person is different and what motivates one person to keep his word may not motivate another person. Same rules don’t apply. However, it is clear by now that you have to give strong enough reasons for them to keep their word.

6. Dealing with choice

Too much of choice today is a problem that has been identified and accepted. Unfortunately this is a problem that you can’t ignore. You are faced with choices everywhere – at work and in your personal life. The sad part is that there is no “one right way” to deal with choice. Also, if you have a way of successfully dealing with choice in one area today, it may not be “THE WAY” to deal with choice tomorrow. This is because the speed with which the choices themselves are changing is mind-boggling.

If you don’t have a plan to deal with choice, you can easily get overwhelmed. Andit can also lead to “Chooser’s remorse” meaning whatever choice you make you may not be happy as you think “there might have been a better choice than this one.” You can’t win that battle so best is to not fight it.

7. Adapting with speed

They say change is good as long as they are not involved. They say change is the only thing that is constant. I say “change at breathtaking speed” is the only thing that is constant. You can either adapt to change or sit on the sidelines and complain (and watch those who adapt prosper)

Adapt, you must – at a breathtaking speed.

What if you changed your outlook towards change? What if you embrace change rather than resist it? What if you dropped the idea that certainty is a fundamental requirement in anything?

Here is one tip to get started on adapting with speed. Pick a day and decide to get involved in rapid context switches throughout the day – meaning do a variety of things totally unrelated to each other in a rapid sequence. This exercise will put you on the track to rapid adaptation.

8. Wisdom to know when to persist and when to let go

In earlier days of CIGNEX (a company that I co-founded) there were more sellers than buyers for any technology offering (2000s so you can imagine)

I was extremely persistent with many of the early leads (or those companies that we thought were “leads”) and spent a ton of time pursuing them. However, the only thing that came out of that was fatigue. The bigger problem was that because there is only a limited amount of time and it was consumed by chasing the wrong leads, it also introduced a huge opportunity cost.  If that is one extreme, the other extreme is also very common. I see people all the time giving up prematurely. That won’t help either.

We all know that there is a time to persist and there is a time to let go. The wisdom is in knowing to what category an opportunity belongs to. Make a wrong assessment and you pay a big price.

9. Dealing with fear and failure

Fear and Failure and of course, the combination “fear of failure” are all bad. All of them force you to NOT take action on one or more of your projects. Most of the time, fear is overhyped and failure is part of life. So “fear of failure” is almost meaningless. Oops.. that is taking it to an extreme. But you get the point 🙂

That’s all for this edition.