Reality Based Career Advising to Navigate the 2020s:

Ten Essential Strategies

by Michael Edmondson, Ph.D.

September 2019

Introduction

As another decade comes to a close it’s important to look ahead and identify critical career trends, issues, and situations. Whether you are in college, a recent graduate, or a more experienced professional understanding the dynamics of today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) global marketplace offers valuable lessons to help you navigate your career during the 2020s. Over 70% of U.S. workers say “a lot” of responsibility falls on individuals to make sure that they have the right skills, experiences and education to succeed. With that in mind, here are ten essential strategies for realty based career advising to navigate the 2020s. As you embark on this journey remind yourself that you only grow when you are uncomfortable. Leverage your discomfort to propel you forward in order to reach your potential and grow both personally and professionally.

 

Practice Positive Uncertainty

The first essential strategy involves what researcher H.B. Gelatt described as positive uncertainty. Developed in the late 1980s as Gelatt’s philosophy of creative decision making, positive uncertainty is even more applicable for the upcoming decade as it provides four paradoxes for individuals to consider:

 

  • Be focused and flexible about what you want.

  • Be aware and wary about what you know.

  • Be objective and optimistic about what you believe.

  • Be practical and magical about what you do.

 

The common thread among each paradox is the prerequisite of keeping an open mind as you learn to deal with complexity, change, and chance. Practicing these four paradoxes will help you navigate the ambiguity of the upcoming decade, challenge you to grow both personally and professionally, and sets the stage for the second essential strategy of improving your agility.

 

Improve Your Agility

 

To achieve and sustain career success during the 2020s you should consider improving your agility. Agility is derived from the Latin agilitās meaning nimble, fleet, or quick. Regardless of your career position, status, or title, it will behoove you to improve your agility as the world continues to adapt to disruptive technologies. Since two-thirds of chief executive officers believe that agility is the new currency of business those who fail to improve their agility risk their organization becoming irrelevant. Rapid technological advancements will continue into the next decade driving the need for workers to increase their flexibility. As computer programmers develop new algorithms to automate current manual tasks workers need to stay flexible and commit to lifelong learning in order to develop new skills, identify new career paths, and consider new occupations.

Commit to Lifelong Learning

By engaging in lifelong learning you can help improve your agility and learn the critical new skills required of workers in the next decade. The dynamics driving change today will continue into the 2020s and cause additional disruption in almost every industry, position, and organization. Over 60% of human resource executives believe that in the future, the need for continuous lifelong learning will demand higher levels of education and more credentials. “Most workers say they will need continuous training, and many say they don’t have the skills they need now to get ahead in their job.  For those adults currently in the labor force, 88% said it was important or essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life to keep up with changes in the workplace.”

Know Your Learning Ratio

As you commit to lifelong learning it will behoove you to understand your learning ratio: the percentage of learning derived from job-related experiences, social interactions, and formal education. Two of the most common learning ratios are 70-20-10 and 55-25-20. These models serve as a general guideline rather than a strict framework for learning. The 70-20-10 model focused on managers and suggests that individuals obtain 70 percent of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal educational events. The 55-25-20 model accounts for a wider array of occupations and illustrates that “no single ratio of learning sources that works for everyone – it can change from company to company, and that’s precisely the point.” Knowing how you learn can help you better prepare for the rate of change during the upcoming decade.

Embrace Change

As you navigate the disruption of the 2020s remind yourself that people tend to overestimate the speed of change while underestimating its reach.” By embracing change and recognizing its impact you can better position yourself as a relevant, valuable, and contributing member of your organization’s success. The tectonic changes taking place will continue to reshape the U.S. workplace so organizations will need employers who understand how to leverage change in order to remain relevant. During the next 15-20 years approximately 14% of existing jobs could disappear. Depending upon the rate of disruption another 32% of existing jobs are subject to change as individual tasks are automated. Since robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will continue to change who does work and how it is done, recognize that “humans have never been more integral to the future of work.”  

 

Market Your Value

While humans will become ‘more integral’ to work during the 2020s, you have the responsibility to communicate your value. “Give people a reason to pay attention to you.  It’s your choice to do something worth talking about or not. The only people who stand out area those who want to.”   Unfortunately, most professionals seldom practice this and, as a result, fail to realize their potential.  Employers want candidates who can present a clear, concise and compelling argument as to what they bring to an organization in terms of value, skills and experiences. “A topsy-turvy world like the one in which we live offers us tremendous opportunities but you have to think differently and remove the barriers and mix all of your experiences, knowledge, and skills into the precise blend that makes a new you.”

 

Think Differently

To succeed in the VUCA decade ahead you will need to increase your self-awareness, engage in experiences that create a sense of disequilibrium, pursue unfamiliar horizons, reflect on lessons learned, and challenge yourself to think differently on just about everything. But thinking differently, and moving away from the usual way of doing things approach to life and work is a formidable challenge since “people often refuse to relinquish their deep-seated beliefs even when presented with overwhelming evidence to contradict those beliefs.” If you rely on outdated career advice you risk failing to capitalize on new employment opportunities. Thinking differently about your career in the 2020s requires you to embrace discomfort in order to adapt to the change happening around you. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the need to balance short-term and long-term thinking.

Act Short-Term and Think Long-Term

As the forces of disruption continue into the 2020s, remind yourself that organizations need to achieve short-term growth while thinking long-term. This achievement and sustainability requires managers to create, implement, and evaluate a strategy for future challenges while driving current business. “This duality of balancing short- and long-term business pressures presents leadership with an inherent challenge and is key to surviving and thriving in this period of seismic disruption.” You should take a similar approach to your career development. Unless you are within five years of retirement, consider yourself a steward of your long-term value. Ask yourself if you are so focused on the short-term that you have ignored the long-term possibilities. As you go about acting in the short-term while thinking about the long-term recognize that doing so just might present a much needed challenge for yourself.

Challenge Yourself

As you balance short-term decisions against long-term goals recognize that “fulfillment doesn't come from clearing hurdles others set for you; it comes from clearing those you set for yourself.” Periodic career assessments, adjustments, and pivots form the foundation of a Instead of waiting for a challenge, ambitious professionals know they are responsible for identifying their goals, developing the appropriate skills to translate their dreams into reality, and then exhibiting the appropriate character and leadership required of the situation. Challenging yourself to grow both professionally and personally  “Then, you need to have the courage to periodically reassess, make adjustments, and pursue a career path that reflects who you truly are at that moment in time. In one large-scale study of CEOs, over 70% did not have designs on the corner office until later in their careers.

 

Create Opportunities

 

Challenging yourself will create opportunities that you never previously considered. Charting a career in the upcoming decade may follow an “upward arc, with progression and promotion at various times—but they will look nothing like the simple stair-step path of generations ago.” Creating opportunities for yourself to achieve and sustain career growth during the 2020s will require you to pivot throughout your journey and align with evolving jobs, professions, and industries. It is important to remind yourself that amidst today’s chaotic global marketplace, people are translating their dreams into reality. Achieving and sustaining a rewarding career path during the 2020s is possible as the dynamics involved with a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous global marketplace have sparked a new level of adaptability, flexibility and opportunity that individuals can embrace if they wish to adapt to the twists and turns life throws their way.  

 

Conclusion

In today’s disruptive world the path less traveled might be the one that leads you to a better destination. Unfortunately far too many people feel like victims in their careers and fail to realize they have a substantial degree of control. Lastly, permit me to leave you with a quote from John Gardner’s 1990 speech entitled Personal Renewal “We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know and more bored than they would care to admit.” Ask yourself just how stale and bored you want to be during the 2020s? These ten essential strategies serve as thoughts to consider as you travel along your career path and navigate the chaos of the next decade. Best of luck in your travels.