How To Build Your Personal Innovation Strategy

Article first published as How To Build Your Personal Innovation Strategy on Forbes.

Most of the discussion about disruption these days revolves around companies, less about the impact on people’s lives. In a time of exponential change and dislocation, it’s more important than ever to design a personal development road-map to keep you on course, no matter what gets thrown at you.

As companies get disrupted, their people do too. Hewlett-Packard, as it struggles to cope with product commoditization and cloud computing, has laid off 30,000 employees over the past five years. Publishing giant Pearson is cutting 4000 staffers as it attempts to deal with the meltdown in textbook publishing. Money managers, facing billion dollar withdrawals from actively managed funds, face diminution of their value proposition. Brick and mortar retailers face dislocation as consumers gravitate to shopping online, and thousands of retail employees are no longer needed.

The best way to avoid the trauma of sudden disruption is to develop a Personal Innovation Strategy — a written out plan that keeps you on course through good times and bad. Not only do you avoid personal obsolescence, you roll with the punches. And you build resilience. Here are six key components to building a personal innovation strategy:

1. Take time to develop your strategy.

A Personal Innovation Strategy is a well-conceived and written set of goals, habits, and daily actions that alert you to threats, helps you seize opportunities, and insures your viability over time. Whether you’re an independent contractor (part of the “gig” economy), or a corporate employee, think of yourself as You, Inc. Since the likelihood is almost 100 percent that you’ll be independent at some point, think of yourself in this context already.

Action step: Take at least fifteen minutes daily to strategize and invest time in contemplating your future. Make it a point to learn something new every day about the changing fortunes in your profession or industry. Collect articles, ask questions, read books, do research, and take notes. Lifelong learning begins here.

2. Rate your employer’s disruption factor.

A common lament of the dislocated: “we didn’t see it coming.” Busy executing and meeting deadlines, they ignored signals of change. They buried themselves in work, and hoped for the best. My advice: develop your early warning system starting right now. Do a deep dive into the viability of your company’s value proposition in light of technological, political, regulatory, consumer and social trends.

Action step: Rate your employer’s Disruption Factor by understanding how your company’s business model is holding up in today’s world of disruption and change — and how it’s likely to hold over the next three to five years. What are the analysts saying about your company? What threats are on the horizon? Don’t allow yourself to be blindsided when the signs were there all along.

3. Manage your future. Set both short and longer-term goals.

If you’re serious about taking charge of your future, start by daydreaming. Fantasize about the future as you want it to emerge. Let your imagination go. How do you want life to unfold in its most ideal form? Sketch out a portrait of your life on a day in the future five and ten years out. What’s the view over the breakfast table? What kind of leisure activities are you engaged in?

Action step: Ask yourself: how is what you are doing in your job and in your life right now helping you manifest the future as you most want it to be?

4. Prepare yourself by taking on new responsibilities.

In today’s world, if you’ve grown comfortable in your career, something must be wrong. If you’re feeling your work life is in stasis, it’s probably time to raise your game. Challenge yourself to plan your next strategic move by taking on new duties.

Even a lateral move in your company could enlarge your experience and get you into what I call Opportunity Mode. Volunteer to take on challenges that take you out of your comfort zone. Develop new aptitudes and attitudes. And remember: your next big break could be in your present occupation or in an entirely new context.

Action step: Get ready by regularly taking on new learning experiences.

5. Build soft skills.

Think about the skills you use regularly and how they can be improved: communication skills, technology skills, writing skills, functional skills and especially interpersonal skills. Part of your Personal Innovation Strategy should involve raising your game in each of these areas.

A recent study, “The Rise of Women in the High-Skilled Labor Market,” made a troubling discovery, if you happen to be male, that is. Over the past several decades, researchers found, high paying occupations – from physicians to software engineers to money managers – require increasing levels of interpersonal skills. Those professionals who only have cognitive skills (like problem-solving and analysis) are vulnerable to being replaced by those with a diverse set of skills where women tend to excel. Chief among them: empathy.

Action step: Continue to build upon both hard and soft skills.

6. Strive to become indispensable.

Your functional and technical skills are what got you your current job. But as industry disruption impacts more and more professions and industries, the most valuable skills you can add to your repertoire are not just soft skills but innovation skills. These skills include not just soft skills like empathy, but the ability to create the future.

As I often tell my audiences: Whatever your position, profession or industry, your ability to innovate – to find new and better ways to add value, to discover opportunity where others see only problems, to get new things done, to be entrepreneurial, to energize and motivate people around you, to build the buy in and gain consensus to move forward – these skills, will give you a personal competitive advantage that can never be outsourced. And they, along with your Personal Innovation Strategy, will serve you well in the years ahead. No matter how the future unfolds.