How to Hack Your Way to Career Survival

6 Surprising Ways to Save Your Career from Extinction

2 April 2017

In my last post I asked you two career survival questions.

  1. “Is Your Job on the Endangered Professions List?”
  2. Faced with these changing times, which tribe will you join?
  • The Luddites?
  • The Ostriches?
  • The Opportunists?

Change and career are tough to navigate. When our world jolts, shifts and flips us, we can find ourselves spinning in a new reality like an upturned turtle on its back, legs flailing

Let’s be honest, sometimes we humans are the architects of our own demise. But you and I can do something about that.

Step 1: Decide that you don’t want to be left-behind.

Step 2: Choose tribe door number 3, The Opportunists.

Step 3: Read on.

Danger lies in staying confined in your career comfort zone Click To Tweet

Consider these 6 Ways to Save Your Career from Extinction. They are a selection of a few of my favourite career survival tips and some new brainpokes that I have recently discovered.

Stop Allowing Your Work to Make You Obsolete

1. Go on a cross-discipline adventure.

This type of adventure is not for your ‘bucket list’. Survivalists don’t wait to be told to get prepped or for that perfect moment; and neither should you. Start now!

Now is the time for building bridges, not walls.

You will not find protection by remaining cloistered in your own profession or work discipline.  Step beyond your existing job boundaries and set out to find your answers to career survival.

We all agree the value of acquiring knowledge and skills. However, simply amassing a wall full of qualifications and certificates as evidence of your learned value is no longer enough in our post-industrial world. Collections like these are a mark of your education, not of your learning and your ability to survive and thrive today.

The writing is on the wall.

If you are not learning you are not growing or moving with the times.  Instead you are travelling on a one way ticket to becoming a career fossil – a quaint relic of a past era.

2. Unlearn and Learn – then Relearn

Your cross-discipline adventures may seem like an aimless gander down rabbit holes. To the uninitiated you may appear to be gallivanting on a distracted jaunt.

But that is not your purpose. Your adventures are invested with a mission, clear intent backed by curiosity and an open mind. Map and compass, check!

You know the difference between being a dilettante and a discerning gatherer of information. You select only the choicest morsels of from the sea of information; then pair them with tid-bits from other disciplines. Ta-da! You create new riffs on an old approach or bring fresh insight to a common concept.

Now more than ever, we need to be more discerning in our learning. Consciously handpick what to keep and what to discard. Pack only what you need and that which is relevant to your survival and professional growth. Backpack, check!

The Super Skill of simultaneously Unlearning and Learning is one of your most valuable pieces of kit for this expedition. It is your ability and mindset to make seemingly uncommon connections, extract nuggets of usefulness and customise for a fresh practical and valuable approach to challenges.

Here’s some good news. Unlearning and Learning is a skill that you can learn. With regular practise you can hone and master it. Find out how here.

3. Ignore your job title: Take extra care if your new title has words such as “Vice-President”, “Strategic”, “Chief” “Head of XX” and “Director” etc. Preoccupation with prestige can be a seductive trap, cautions Paul Graham, Y-Combinator founder.

The more ostentatiously eye-catching the title, the increased risk of it being used to bamboozle and befuddle you. I understand the traditional need to bestow titles, label, catagorise and fill in the empty boxes on the organisation chart. In reality, your job title is an occasionally glamourous, usually obsolete and often useless distraction from doing meaningful work that actually matters to people and the business.

Job titles keep you task focused. I will not dispute their importance in helping to ensure that critical everyday operational work gets done. But there is an inherent risk in being solely task-focused.

Stay with me. Let’s keep going.

WARNING! Career Carnivores

Imagine for a moment you are on Safari in a national park in Kenya.

Picture a watering hole teaming with wildlife and shimmering in the heat waves. You spy a herd of thirsty antelope jostling each other for space at the water’s edge. All bar a few have their heads down, gulping, quenching parched throats. Task-focused herbivore.

To the right, the tall grass shifts. It is not the wind. You observe a lioness inching towards the watering hole in stealth-mode. Carnivore.

A handful of the antelope twitch, stiffen and pause slaking their thirst. Heads pop up. Eyes scan. Nothing is seen, except the tall grass dancing in the breeze.

You observe. They sense something is ‘off’. An alert is communicated. The savvy ones who pick up the signal take a wary last gulp of water and begin to reluctantly move away from the crowded edge. It is time to move on to higher ground and improved chances of survival. They trot up the grass on the knoll towards a better vantage point. Role-focused herbivore.

The lioness ignores the break off group heading up the hillock. She zeroes in on the on the mass of thirsty antelope with their heads down in the water. Quick as a flash, she breaks from the grass, her legs gobbling up the distance between her and her prey.

You know how this ends, don’t you? But you don’t have to end your career this way.

Play your Way to Career Survival

4. Play Your Role Like a Jazz Musician

In jazz, once you have the technical bases cover, it is not about what you do (the instrument you play); but how you do it.

With your career, you have to be planned and spontaneous with a highly developed ability to sense when it is time to change to suit the moment, the situation or the context. The decision to switch it up is informed equally by feeling and knowing. This is the art of improvisation and a path to your survival.

Build your team as you would a jazz ensemble with dedicated yet fluid roles. Each artist’s individual freedom and style is respected but he/she is accountable to the group.

What is your unique style in your chosen discipline(s)?

Discover the answer to this question. The answer will be that difference and unique value you bring to your community / organisation.

Louis Armstrong, Jazz Musician via Pixabay

5. Become a Multi-disciplinary Specialist

How would you feel if you were referred to as a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’?


According to this source the saying was never intended to be derogatory; but simply to mean “A man who can turn his hand to many things.”

The fact is you can be a generalist or a multi-disciplinary specialist and make an impact by doing great work.

Actually, in today’s rapidly changing world of work and business, your chances of ensuring your career can weather any storm increases the better you can turn your hand to many things.

Need more convincing that this could help your survival mission?

Start with Matt Ballantine’s brainpoke post, complete with follicly challenged humour, on the value the new “Comb-Shaped” worker brings to an organisation.

“By being comb-shaped, keeping visibility in some depth across multiple disciplines, one is able to maintain a sense of perpetual naiveté that an outside can have. Constantly switching domains is hard work, but it keeps one with fresh eyes.”

Smart leaders, according to Aran Rees, create a safe space for weirdos in their organisations. They realise that path to growth and sustainability lies in attracting and cultivating a diverse employee community where misfits are welcomed and their divergent thinking is valued.

Dive deeper into this topic via Geoff Pilkington’s comprehensive Medium article, ‘The Rise of the Neo-Generalists’. 

Thankfully, Geoff does a lot of the leg work, digging up examples and references, weaving together disparate thinking on this tribe of multi-trans-disciplinary nomadic workers into a digestible concept.

He strikes 24K gold with this quote from Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin from their recent book “The Neo-Generalist”.

“The neo-generalist defies easy classification. They are tricksters who traverse multiple domains, living between categories and labels. Encompassing rather than rejecting, the neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist. A restless multidisciplinarian who is forever learning. They bring together diverse people, synthesising ideas and practice, addressing the big issues that confront us in order to shape a better future.”

Could this be you?

6. Shun mediocrity.

Image source: Pixabay

 “Undertake something that is difficult; it will do you good. Unless you do something beyond what you’ve already mastered, you will never grow.”
– Ronald E. Osborn (1917-1998), teacher and writer.

I know this is easier said than done. Hacks and shortcuts may bring you a measure of success and a result that some folks might rave about.

Hone your skills by “undertaking something that is difficult” if you are serious about creating a unique role for yourself and remarkable value.

You will more than likely need to disregard commonly held wisdom and pay little or no attention to what you’re “supposed to do”.

After all if the idea/action/service/invention [fill in the blank] were easy; everyone would do it. If everyone could do it; it’s neither rare nor remarkable in value.

Merely surviving is a sad state of affairs. Beyond survival lies relevance twinkling on a new horizon. You must press on despite the gnawing fear and get down to work.

You may need to strike out on your own. Try this.

Get crafty and be artisan in your approach. Pay attention to the details, like sewing in a signature stitch in a custom-made shirt that no one sees. The details are no less important because they are invisible to the customer. Don’t scrimp on your efforts. It is a matter of pride and a mark of distinction in your work.

Obsess about the details. Creating unique value requires you to be and do different. Click To Tweet

There you have it, my top picks of 6 Surprising Ways to Save Your Career from Extinction.

Which ones will you try on for size to create your unique role with evergreen value?

Which approaches resonated loudest with you?

What action are you taking right now?

Share your tactics in the comments.

Until we meet again down The HR Rabbit Hole …





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2 thoughts on “How to Hack Your Way to Career Survival

  1. Carolyn Yard

    This is thought provoking. Becoming a multi disciplinary specialist is definitely the way foward.

    1. nicoleg Post author

      Hey Carolyn, yes this is the way forward – not only for ourselves and professionals but also to encourage those we lead to build their own multi-disciplinary portfolio of skills too. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


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