“I need to keep my job relevant or I’ll be out of work.” You’ve heard it, seen other people’s faces when they are thinking it and maybe you have had this exact thought yourself. This instinctual thought process is the biggest reason organizations innovate slowly (or sometimes not at all). When they do innovate, it is painful and involves layoffs. The cycle feeds on itself: employees continuously find ways to avoid participating in change in the name of self-preservation. It works for a little while but then ends with self-annihilation.
If you’re thinking “that’s not me”, think again. Even rock stars fear the type of change that is truly self-preserving: eliminating their own job.
We can all claim that we embrace change because we all do to some degree. But self-preserving change is not change around the edges of what we personally do. Making changes that only make you yourself more productive helps you win the short-term race. You can persevere through cost-cutting driven layoffs, get modest raises and receive incremental promotions. You will still be devoured by the disruptive change that will eventually hit your space, though. This is the change that doesn’t do what you do better, it replaces what you do entirely.
Think Fight Club: on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for every job drops to zero. There are people and companies out there designing substitutes for what you do, and they are going to succeed at some point. The situation is ever more urgent because innovation cycles are getting shorter.
You have the advantage, though. No one knows your space as well as you, which means you are in the best position to innovate it. For the outsiders, they have to spend a lot of time figuring out your value chain. If you keep on fighting them to preserve your job, you will eventually lose. But if you create a substitute that eliminates your job, you will beat them to the punch every time. You win because you control your destiny.
You are invincible.
When you are the leader of the innovation that eliminates your job, you are going to be in a leadership position for the new space you’ve just created. Your new job isn’t an incremental promotion with a modest raise, it is a jump to a whole new curve. This is the leap from being a rock star to being a disrupter. With it, your success stories of value that have built your legacy pay off and you never lack confidence in the relevance of your job again.