What Will You Do When Everything Changes?

What will you do when people stop using text to input and receive information from the Internet? How will you deliver information to people who can’t read beyond a fourth grade level? How will you collaborate at the office together?

You may think it’s far-fetched to ask these things; however, we can be certain that media technologies will evolve. In fact, media evolves quicker with each passing decade. When those changes occur, the way people interact evolves, too.

Just think about the way smartphones have changed our lives, both at work and at home. Phones have brought our jobs home, creating new concerns about being on the clock 24/7 and work/life balance.

Instead of calling a woman or man of romantic interest to ask them out, we text them. Worse, we also break up with them via text (By the way, I still don’t get this. As an older man, ending a relationship via text seems like a cowardly thing to do).

images

Generally speaking, the smartphone has already begun to erode traditional literacy. With texts, emoticons, and a new reliance on visual media, we are seeing a rapid transformation in the way people are consuming information.

The Medium Always Transforms

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You know how I feel about social network specific-strategies. In a literal sense the “message is the medium” approach to marketing is a failure waiting to happen. Marshall Mcluhan was right, though, at least in the sense that media is transformative. It changes the very fabric of our lives.

Said Mcluhan, “Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message. The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”

As the Internet progresses it affects every kind of related media, from email to video. It changes the very way we interact, learn, and progress. It is inevitable that this transformative change will continue, and it will do so with more and more speed.

In turn the need to evolve our skill sets at work and at home will increase. At a minimum, media evolution will bring periodic disruptive changes that demand quick evolution. To deny this impact is to deny everything that’s happened to our world since the Internet took the consumer world by storm in the nineties.

The question isn’t what will change. Instead the question is what will you do when it happens? Will you be flexible and open to change? Will you evolve? Or will you suffer the pain and consequences of entrenched thinking and denial?

4 Ways to Reboot and Adapt New Skills

Recently we discussed surviving rapid change in media technologies. There comes a point where we embrace the fear of change. We accept it as inevitable, and grow willing to adapt new methods and technologies. But how does one go about embracing new skills?

Going back to college for a second degree is not an easy choice, both from a time commitment and from a financial perspective. One could debate whether or not another college degree could prepare you for a new profession given how fast technology is changing everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a Masters degree in Communications, Culture and Technology from Georgetown. I still use the lessons learned, but my degree was from 2000. The long-term value was learning media dynamics, and how to think about the way people use communications tools.

Getting that degree was expensive, and it’s not something I can easily do again. So, in that vein when I need to learn new technical skills, I turn to alternative methods. Here are some ways I have embraced learning.

1) Experiential Learning

16626678739_8b42376877_b

Millennials (in general) have a great attitude about change. My friends Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, co-authors of When Millennials Take Over, note that Millennials discard and adapt new technologies with the times. If one technology stops working, they move on to the next tool.

Learning by simply adapting a new method or tool can be extraordinarily difficult. Yet learning through experience can provide the deepest and most impactful knowledge. You know firsthand because you adapted by trial and error.

The challenge in this method is what I would call a sophomoric failure. A false confidence about how a technology or method works can carry you until a challenge arrives. There are often many tutorials online from people who have done the same thing, a virtual “YouTube University”, and sometimes these how-to articles and videos can help. But if the challenge is too stifling it could cost you a project or a job.

I would argue this is the challenge some social media experts face. They play with tools and talk about them, but cannot execute on projects based on their experience. A deficiency in the larger communications skill set is often the problem.

I self taught myself social media and learned several lessons along the way, including being more personal, reciprocation, etc. I became better with practice, but if I didn’t already possess other communications and marketing skills prior to my social start in 2006, I would have struggled a lot more.

2) Conferences and Seminars

16626679379_824f03bca4_k

Seminars, one-day workshops, and conferences are a quick way to jolt your thinking. They help you think about challenges in a different way. These types of events usually offer a quick lesson(s), and some examples from a more experienced person(s).

The value of a seminar is a quick fix to stale thinking. It may be all you need. But make no bones about it, the impetus is still upon you to learn and excel after the event.

Further, it’s important to have a discerning eye at conferences. Not all events are created equally. At even the highest quality conferences, not all sessions are equal. To use the social media expert analogy again, you may be just getting more sophomoric knowledge from another sophomore. Look for real examples and experience to discern the value of the tips offered.

When I first sought outside experience in 2014 to break out of a stagnant period as a photographer, I paid for three workshops from KelbyOne, National Geographic, and Nikon. The lessons were valuable, and I still use them today.

3) Intensive Experiences

Soleil, the Thinker-4

A different method of learning is to take on an immersive experience. This basically puts you into a highly engaged full-time work simulation or learning environment. You are run through numerous exercises under the guidance of an experienced professional or instructor.

The effort is intense. It can blow your mind. But the new skills gained are invaluable and can really help you break out of a rut, and forge new ground. The trick is to continue using the skills in your regular work.

There are many examples of intensive workshop environments. Today’s coding academies are great examples. Language immersion seminars and schools are a more classic example.

The Santa Fe Photography Workshop I participated in over the summer was one such experience. I learned quite a lot, and have since used the tips Tony Corbell passed on in several situations, including the above photograph of my daughter Soleil.

4) Continuing Education

19383299063_4e5bde4531_k (2)

Getting away for a week to several months may not be an option for many people. This is where traditional education and corporate training comes into play.

Learning through continuing education credits may not be as hip as a conference in a schwanky location or an immersion course, but it offers a proven way of learning new skills for work. The time commitment is much more reasonable (one or two evenings a week), and while homework isn’t necessarily fun, it offers a familiar routine for most.

Consider that many employers will compensate you for taking on a training program. It makes you more valuable to them. And continuing education and approved training courses are considered to be more acceptable and safe methods of learning.

When I worked at TMP Worldwide 15 years ago, I got moved into business development for a period of time (Yeah, I know, embarrassing, but I loved it!). At the time, my manager assessed my skills and suggested a Dale Carnegie sales training course. By the time two month-long class was over I had become the class SalesTalk champion, and I closed two multi-million dollar deals within the next year. Not too shabby.

These are just four ways I have learned new professional skills outside of the traditional college degree. What would you add for those looking to sharpen or reboot their skills?

How Does One Evolve Successfully?

The statement that we must evolve may seem obvious to many. Heads nod, people murmur their agreement, and they share their experiences.

Understanding what is coming next and how to evolve a skill set to meet that change both represent different problems. But to some the risks of failure, of looking like a fool used to far outweigh the rewards. Instead, people play it safe letting the young and the bold take the risks. So in my mind, successful evolution begins with an attitudinal shift, one that will become necessary for a majority of the workforce over the next few years.

The time of letting others innovate and then catching up when a trend becomes the norm is passing. A next generation of executives – millennials – are rising to the fore. Unlike Baby Boomers and to a lesser extent Gen Xers, millennials are less vested in tools and processes. Workers must embrace never-ending change.Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, authors of When Millennials Take Over for xPotomac (post running on Wednesday). They discussed how generally millennials will simply move to the next tool set if it works better. There is little attachment to prior best practices. If something offers a better way, millennials simply migrate.

This new attitude towards change will become increasingly prevalent in the workforce. To stay relevant people must embrace change. Otherwise the consequences include limited career paths and possible unemployment.

Change with New Media

Slack

Changes come in a variety of forms, from workspace structure and layout to simple changes in media types. The latter is oft discussed because they affect so many people.

Here is a current example: xPotomac co-founders Shonali Burke and Patrick Ashamalla wanted to use Slack to help foster our dialogue and communications. For those of you who are not familiar with Slack, it is a next generation messaging service that does a better job of threading and storing conversations. Slack is generating impressive growth as more and more people use the service and share it with their friends.

I was reticent to use Slack given that I am already on Google Talk and Skype, but they gently nudged me. Sure enough, the conversations have been easier to access and maintain. It would be helpful to have Slack better integrated into other tools, but overall it is an improvement for workplace messaging. So on it goes. Adios Google Talks.

The only reason why I experimented was because both Shonali and Patrick touted the values of Slack. I listened. Here was a majority of the three vouching for the new.

Whenever I hear multiple sources tell me about a new method or tool, I force myself to set aside the old and begin experimenting. I have to lay aside prejudices. Experience has taught me that the new will always replace old, sooner or later. When I avoid the new, I miss new tools and become antiquated.

When Pinterest broke out, I scorned the social network. Today, it is one of the most powerful networks out there. As a result I had to play catch up, and learn about Pinterest. I possess enough knowledge about the network to guide clients, but I’ll never be a leader in the world of Pinners. The time of early adoption passed me by.

The Value of Short Term Memory

19388359118_fb530150d9_k

One attitude I try to practice is maintaining a short-term memory. Specifically, I intentionally try not to get stuck on past best practices, tools and technologies. Things change so quickly it’s not worth hardlining an older approach. It’s best to stay in the moment.

This willingness to forget is very intentional for me. I basically have to force myself to set aside skepticism (I guess that disqualifies me as a millennial). It’s important to approach things with an open mind, and without the baggage of preconceived notions.

To be fair, not every new medium or technology is a winner for me. Some are just the shiny object du jour. Others just don’t fit into my business or personal life. What’s important is that I am willing to try them. And if they don’t work, then I must forget them just as easily as I would forget an old technology or method.

It was interesting to see Chris Brogan openly experiment with and eventually reject Periscope as a tool last week. He saw its value for others, but ultimately decided it didn’t work within his media mix. I get that, often finding video to be difficult to incorporate (at least with the budgets I have to work within).

Moving forward, will I usually turn away from video? Probably not. At some point, a new format will make it the right medium to communicate in, or budgets will increase to produce the kind of videos I believe in, or video will become easier for me to produce. It would be smart to lay aside past experiences and experiment yet again.

Yeah, But…

19971268142_7a2300ae4e_k

Attitude is the first thing. But without the methods and means to adapt to change, it’s like having a bike with a flat tire. You still get nowhere.

How can someone evolve their skills successfully and not get caught off guard? Part of that is foreseeing change as it is happening or is about to happen, and the second part is rapid adoption of new skills.

There is more to come on this topic. Stay tuned.

The Evolution Revolution

It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.

We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.

Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.

When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.

skills_of_modern_marketer

In the case of communications, advancing media technologies are shaping our very well being. The above chart illustrates that the ability to embrace change is considered the most important skillset for any digital communicator.

This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.

The Medium Is Everything

16891646901_69b7c57251_k

People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.

Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.

McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.

When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.

Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.

A Personal Evolution

19444143138_373b18de61_k

I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.

If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.

Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.

Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.

19854472745_61b24c4086_k

With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.

Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).

I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.

It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.

I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.

Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.