How to future-proof your job by thinking like a futurist

07 June 2022

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Sixty percent of Americans are worried that automation is putting jobs at risk, and 39% think their own job will be obsolete within five years, according to PwC’s Hopes and Fears survey. New positions that may not exist today, however, will replace some of the jobs that will be lost to AI. But, if your job is at risk, it’s a good idea to have plan B in place now so you can seamlessly transition and stay relevant.

“The only thing we can predict is the unpredictable,” says Scott Steinberg, author of Think Like a Futurist 2022: The Next Normal. “Things tend to move fast and change from week to week at this point, and there will be many next ‘normals.’ Even when many events are outside your ability to control, you can always steer things toward a more positive outcome.”

The first thing is to gain situational awareness. It should raise major red flags if your job is easily reduced to a description on paper that anyone could do, or consists of routine tasks that can be done by technology. If this is the case, future-proof yourself the following strategies.

Be irreplaceable

Not every job is at risk, and companies are always going to need proactive problem solvers, dynamic thinkers, and creative innovators, says Steinberg.

“There are certain things you can count on a computer to do, but those things are largely routine, boring, and predictable,” he says. “It’s when variables pop up that the human elements come into play and excel. If you want to future-proof yourself, you really have to think about how you add something essential and irreplaceable to the mix.”

Steinberg says you need to stand out in a very visible way at work, and people need to understand the value that you bring to the table. Your value could be in a broader sense than your job description.

“Maybe you’re the one that everybody in the office looks to for inspiration, creativity, and new ideas,” he says. “Or when a problem comes up, maybe you’re the one who is willing to step up and take charge to do something. It’s about finding opportunities to showcase your talents in a way that’s not smacking people in the face but that helps support and uplift your team."

Stretch your skills

Consider yourself to always be a work in progress, thinking about what skills will be in demand tomorrow. Grab what Steinberg calls “elastic skills” that can translate to a variety of different contexts and industries. For example, if your job in communications uses research, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills, they could translate into becoming a business analyst.

“Individuals who excel may have extensive learning in one area, but they have a broad range of interests and experiences that they can draw on in a variety of different arenas,” says Steinberg. “They’re pushing themselves to constantly be acquiring new skills, new contacts, new connections, and new experiences.”

One way you learn what organizations will need is by looking at job postings. You can also learn in-demand skills by looking at startup activity, academic research, and topics that are trending at conferences and events. Take classes to expand your skills—or even grab a pizza with someone in a different team.

“If you’re in marketing, ask yourself, ‘How can I connect with someone in the software development team to find out what problems customers are reporting?'” Steinberg says. “It’s about getting as much information as possible and then thinking about how you can mix and match and combine those talents to ‘MacGyver’ your way forward.”

To gain elastic skills, Steinberg suggests actively seeking out volunteer opportunities or chances to work at emerging startups where you can pick up knowledge of new technologies, trends, or business models that you can use in different other arenas.

Be open to lateral or even backward moves

The most successful individuals aren’t trying to climb the corporate ladder or ride a corporate escalator to the top. “That escalator is broken, and the rungs of the corporate ladder are starting to look rickety,” says Steinberg.

Instead, be open to taking a sidestep into a position of equal rank or pay in an organization that offers more opportunities for learning and growth. You may even need to take a step back, going down in pay or rank to get into new opportunities.”What happens when you take a sidestep or a back step is it oftentimes creates a slingshot effect that can propel you much further over the long run,” says Steinberg.

Future-proofing your job means always thinking two or three steps ahead. “The funny thing about the future is it oftentimes seems like it’s coming on fast,” he says. “But it seems to come on fast only because we’ve been ignoring it for a long time. The problem is people are hardwired to like comfortable, familiar approaches and routines. But routines very quickly become ruts. We either can ride the waves of change or be dragged along kicking and screaming. Personally, I advocate that people break out the long boards and swim trunks.”