• Neil

Create Contradiction & Reskill Gracefully

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

We create opportunity not by our excellence in one single thing. There is always someone more proficient in a particular skill. Whatever I know now, someone else will know more tomorrow. Business and technology evolve, re-framing the debate on familiar challenges.

Our social media and film tend to magnify, celebrate and drive viral those singular outliers who sacrificed everything, did it the hard way and achieved virtuous redemption happily ever after. We all know the corollary of this is to feel 'I'm not good enough', make resolutions we don't keep, and count the days we missed our commitment each week rather than the days we kept it.

There might be a more efficient, consistent approach to creating our next opportunity. We could reflect on the unique combination of skills and breadth of experiences that make us who we are (Chris Guillebeau, The $100 Startup). For example, I'm not the greatest sales person on earth, or the most proficient technical user of AWS. My German grammar could use some serious work! Yet I am good enough at all three of these things, have sector-specific e-commerce experience and enjoy learning about computers. This made my last role managing e-com startups for AWS Berlin feel like home. When I arrived in that role, I thought to myself: why wasn't I more courageous about this years ago?

When I arrived in that role, I thought to myself: why wasn't I more courageous about this years ago?

When we patiently assess our bouquet of skills, nurture our passions, and embrace our contradictions, our personal development path lights up. Milestones are more realistic and achievable. Doors fly open and it feels we have always been destined for what comes next.

If you are only aware of your one skill, you only have one card to play. If you haven't linked your passions and contradictions into how you present, you might be underselling yourself. This trend puts you further at risk: 43% of employers expect to decrease their workforce due to technology integration, and 41% "plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work". Translation: you not only need to beat the fastest, smartest machine at your task. You also have to be that many salary multiples better than not just everyone in your city or country - but everyone within working hours of your timezone.

Whether that seems credible to you or not, 94% of employers expect employees to gain new skills on the job (up from 65% on the same survey in 2018). On average, employers expect returns on workforce skills investment within one year (!). (World Economic Forum, 2020).

These factors, combined with an accelerate pace of change, pressure existing workforce security, especially in jobs, companies and sectors that might not prove resilient:

For those workers set to remain in their roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling (up 4%).

World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report - Digest (October 2020)

I have three suggestions in mind for thriving in this environment, and I welcome your feedback:

1. Create contradiction.

How often have you heard someone say, "I'm not happy with this. It's not what I want any more. I'm going to give myself two years to stick it out, then I'll do something about it."

"I know I want to do something else. I just think I should get promoted first, right?"

We invested ourselves in a path (to promotion, the next bonus), but we know we should start something new. Why fight it? Why not be patient and 'tough it out'?

How did we get here in the first place? Perhaps others reminded us this was the safe choice. We have insight now that we didn't have when we signed up. If we continue to make a series of 'just two more years' decisions, what will things look like in 4 years? In 10?

I'm not necessarily encouraging you to tell off your boss (sounds fun) or make bad long term decisions. I'm encouraging you to stop obsessing over tactical turns, and start steamrolling your own path guided by your unique contradictions and exactly what matters to you. Once you harmonize the contradicting strengths, passions and experiences you bring to the table, you will start falling into success every day.


Why take an individual role, once you have management experience? Why move to the city or country that suits you, when you might have a higher salary staying put? Today's growth industries eventually sl