Why You Need a Personal Innovation Strategy


2017 is only a few weeks away, so it’s not too early to polish up your personal strategic plan. Yesterday I delivered the keynote address to 500 credit union executives here in Maui and that was my message. To Lead Ahead of the Curve” you’ve got to plan ahead of the curve — or face getting hammered by rapid, unrelenting change.

In a time of Moore’s Law Exponential Change, it’s more important than ever to plan — even when so much is uncertain. What seldom gets discussed (by all the gee whiz futurists out there), is how convulsive change — technological, political, social, demographic, environmental — can hammer people’s lives. Eliminate their jobs. Isolate us from one another.

As a futurist and innovation coach, what I see happening is that individuals are being disrupted because their organizations are being disrupted. Hewlett Packard is laying off another 30,000 workers, as it copes with product commoditization and cloud computing. Publishing giant Pearson is cutting 4000 editorial staffers as it attempts to tackle a “storm” in the markets it serves. Such statistics are mere abstractions unless you witness your good friend Joe in Boston coping with sudden dislocation after being shown the door in the latest round of layoffs. Then it becomes real.

The challenge is to avoid personal obsolescence, and to thrive amidst the churn. And that’s why I believe in developing a Personal Innovation Strategy — a written out game plan to keep you on course and adding value no matter what’s going on in your life right now.

Here are four key components to building one:

1. Invest in your future every day. A Personal Innovation Strategy is a well thought out set of goals, habits, and daily actions that insure your relevance over time. Set both short and longer-term goals. Make it a point to learn something new every day. Ask questions, and take notes. Every day take at least fifteen minutes to “think ahead of the curve” and to strategize and invest time in contemplating your future. Ready yourself to assume new responsibilities, either in your present position or within an entirely new context. Build skills: communication skills, social skills, writing skills, functional skills. Volunteer. Say yes when asked to be on a new project team. Be willing to experiment and try new things. Always be thinking about finding your next opportunity. Develop your Innovation Skills (see below) because this set of skills puts you on the path to becoming more and more difficult to replace. Invest in your future every day.

2. Identify where you are and where you want to go. If you’re serious about taking control of your life, start by visualizing and fantasizing into the future as you most want it to be. Let your imagination go. How do you want life to work for you? What’s the view over the breakfast table? Sketch out a portrait of your life on a day in the future five and ten years out. Ask yourself: how is what you are doing in your job and in your life today helping you create the future as you most want it to be?

3. Dig deeper. Do a deep dive into the business side of your organization. Study up on your customers. Figure out how your company’s business model is holding up in today’s world of disruption and change. What are the analysts saying about your company, and possible threats on the horizon. Talk to people. Take an interest in what they do and how they feel about the future. Size up your company’s culture. Is it attracting go-getters or is it tolerating incompetence and infighting and bureaucracy? Are people encouraged to take risks, or is risk taking punished? Don’t allow yourself to be disrupted because your company gets disrupted and you didn’t see it coming. The signs were there all along.

4. Develop new skills. Over and above your functional and technical skills. The most valuable skills you can add to your repertoire are ones I call I-Skills – short for Innovation Skills. If you’ve heard me speak live, you’ve heard me say this: Whatever your position or industry, your ability to innovate – to find new and better ways to get the job done, 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, which I write about in the book, Innovation is Everybody’s business – these skills give you a personal competitive advantage that can never be outsourced. And they will serve you well in the years ahead. I wish you great success.