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Saturday April 13, 2013

Adaptation in the working world

The Finch Effect
Author: Nacie Carson
Publisher: Jossey-Bass

IF you’re reading this part of the newspaper, you are probably grimly aware that today’s working world is faster, more unpredictable, and less forgiving than ever before. Basically, we live in times of unprecedented flux.

But people are inherently averse to change; we fight and resent it, because we are afraid of the unknowns that change will unleash. Yet surviving in the current environment requires us to embrace a very specific type of inner change: adaptation.

According to Nacie Carson, professional development expert and author of The Finch Effect, adaptation and change are not synonyms. Adaptation implies a conscious response to shifts in the environment. In other words, it is the change that we are able to control.

The title of her book comes from an observation of Origin Of Species legend Charles Darwin. Darwin noticed that the beaks of each generation of Galapagos Island finches changed to accommodate shifting food resources, allowing the birds to survive by adapting their capabilities to the new environment. And is the central thesis of Carson ’s rather clever book.

We’re all going to have to adapt to survive. In the post-crisis economy, traditional career strategies spell professional extinction, but the fluid new “gig economy” offers tremendous potential for anyone willing to adapt.

Based on her popular blog and drawing on her leadership development experience, Nacie Carson explains what it takes to make it in today’s world of work. And she outlines and explains five steps for ensuring professional success: adopt a gig mindset; identify your value; cultivate your skills; nurture your social network; and harness your entrepreneurial energy

The Finch Effect offers the information professionals need to earn big, achieve their potential, and remain at the top of the work food chain.

“The collision of chronically high unemployment with an expanding global workforce (among other factors) has turned the job market into an ongoing survival-of-the-fittest scenario where professionals have a clear choice: evolve their careers or risk career extinction.” That’s the problem, as spelled out in Chapter One. The solution is lucidly presented by Carson .

After conducting over 100 interviews with working individuals -- workers who had found a way to improve their careers even in the face of recession -- Carson realized that the common theme of the conversations was adaptation. Being agile, flexible, and open -- that is, being adaptable -- might be one of the most important professional skills, capable of saving our careers from stagnation and finding new opportunities in any economic paradigm.

Adaptability starts with its more basic element: career ownership. Owning your career means internalizing the attitude that puts you in control of everything what happens with your professional life. If you feel that you are in charge, external changes will not shatter and collapse your world, but rather be seen as an opportunity to re-consider and change strategy.

Thus, increasing your adaptability will help to build a stronger definition of professional self and move forward under any circumstances. However, career ownership also implies greater responsibility for the outcomes, both good and bad.

Such responsibility can become more daunting than the actual necessity to change in response to external influences. Thus, it is important to recognize that things outside of your control will happen, but if you know where you are going and are ready to alter the plan based on circumstances, change becomes less scary.

Owning your career also creates empowerment, which makes us happier. This happiness comes with the feelings of capability, opportunity, and ability to handle whatever happens next: good or bad. If you feel being in control, worry and anxiety will decrease, because these disruptive emotions arise from helplessness. Hopefully, such happiness will bring along enthusiasm, since adaptability means not only overcoming hurdles and dealing with problems, but also proactively using opportunities. Carson is convinced that increased adaptability means facing the future with excitement: it is open and unknown, but not no longer intimidating.

In addition to a marvelously insightful foreword from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the book has much going for it. Three selling points stand out. Firstly, “specificity”. This book is filled with specific, actionable suggestions and tips.

Secondly “inspiration”. Carson has a wonderful and engaging voice. Never patronizing or defeatist, her realistic analysis of the changing job market and tips for adaptability, challenge, motivate and inspire the reader.

Finally, “versatility”. The steps and advice presented in The Finch Effect are applicable to all ages and career paths. The anecdotes and examples provided show how different people have utilized these ideas and taken action to improve their careers and quality of life. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20-something techie with a start-up idea or 60-something apparently over-the-hill office-plodder, if you embrace constructive change, you will reap the rewards.

The Five Finch Effect Strategies

1. Adopt a gig mindset. This strategy is all about taking ownership of your career, creating your own career ladders to move your career forward. (The gig economy involves piecing together multiple jobs and projects rather than working in a full-time position with one employer; some experts refer to this strategy as Portfolio Careers.)

2. Identify your professional value. This strategy focuses on discovering, communicating, and leveraging the key personal and professional traits that help you stand out from other workers/job-seekers. One of the key tools for accomplishing this strategy is developing what Carson calls your adaptive professional brand (APB).

3. Cultivate your skills. This strategy is all about managing your professional development -- enhancing the key skills that comprise your brand and help differentiate you from others. Carson recommends working to improve your top 5 to 7 skills; then, choosing just one of those skills to refine and showcase as what she labels as your centerpiece skill. How do you upgrade your skills? Consider formal training, informal training or apprenticeships, and self-taught opportunities.

4. Nurture your social network. This strategy is about learning to communicate and grow your professional brand through social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If you have existing social-media accounts, the first step is to clean them up and refocus them on the brand you want to portray. Social media provide a great opportunity for both brand enhancement and networking, but a challenge, Carson reminds readers, is finding the right time-spent-to-rewards ratio.

5. Harness your entrepreneurial energy, taking ownership of your career. This strategy revolves around developing a creative approach to find and win new jobs, establish new income streams, and build the value of your brand. Carson states that the top professionals she spoke to understand that others may present you with opportunities, but that often, to best advance your career, you need to create them yourself.

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