How to be Professionally Irrelevant


This age is defined by speed of change and access to information. Our relevance is linked to our ability to process and adapt. Awareness of trends, news, insights and research helps us to strategize and create. And our effectiveness becomes our brand. Amidst change and information, it’s the thought-leader and innovator who will lead.

Reading news at digital tablet

Last week I flew home from the annual Volunteers of America conference which I attended as a regional board member. One of the VOA staff leaders named David, who manages a subsidized apartment complex, sat near me reading an industry publication the entire flight. As far as he knew, no one was watching. He just sat alone, after winning an award for quality at the conference, studying to be even better. Despite fatigue and the temptation to do something more tangible like email, David shows us one key way to remain relevant is to keep studying, absorbing and changing.

Anyone who’s been through a Carnegie course knows that associating concepts with mental pictures can be a helpful way to remember ideas. Most of us can remember pictures better than words and linking pictures together helps us remember a series of concepts.   So picture in your mind a “Reflective Mirror”. Fixed to the top of the mirror is a “Video Camera” recording “Someone Reading a Newspaper”. On the reader’s shoulder sits the “Twitter Bird”. And balancing on the bird’s head is a “Big Log”. Standing on the log is a “Wall Street Trader” who is “Reading a Book”. Out of the book emerges a “Racing Stagecoach”!

(Now close your eyes and review the pictures.)

Each of these objects represents a critical element in a series of weekly, if not daily exercise in maintaining relevance. Consider how well you’re incorporating each one.

1. Reflections (Reflective Mirror). We should ground ourselves periodically in information about the human condition, meaning and purpose. This creates context for everything else we absorb. Reflections might be inspirational reading, faith-based texts or a book with daily words about life and purpose.

2. Recorded Podcasts & Videos (Video Camera Recording). I put the spoken word second in the list because it’s often in our morning workout or commute to work where we just listen. Podcasts such as from CFR.org or videos like TED Talks give us information, analysis, insights and are delivered in a compelling way to begin our day.

3. News (Someone Reading a Newspaper). Whether online or print, the daily news still gives us important (and unimportant) stories by interest area and geography. Current events inform our civic responsibility to provide an informed contribution to society and also can help guide our personal and professional choices.

4. Social (The Twitter Bird). While it’s enjoyable to read personal posts in social media, sources like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can give us a broader view of current news and thought leadership. Follow people and sources that provide value. Some of my Twitter recommendations are: CNET, TweetSmarter, Michael Hyatt, Daniel Pink, DealBook and The Atlantic, not to mention ALL local news sources.

5. Articles and Blogs (A Big Log). Here we go deeper into current thinking and insights than standard social media. Harvard Business Review and Seth Godin are two of my favorites, along with op-ed pieces like David Brooks in the NY Times. Using RSS Readers like Feedly and Scoop.it bring our favorite sources for articles and blogs into one place like a custom newspaper.

6. Trade Publications (Wall Street Trader). In my first job after college with Accenture, the firm paid for each employee to subscribe to one trade periodical to maintain industry-specific insights. I currently read CLO and Training Magazine regularly. How well are you keeping tabs on your industry thinking?

7. Books (Reading a Book). Tired yet? This is exercise and I’d strongly recommend setting a goal for book pages to read each week – my goal is 50 pages per week. I also recommend maintaining a wish list (most online sources like Amazon provide this service). I use a 3M highlighter with a built-in Post-it tab dispenser so that I can mark all relevant sections and review my highlights for reinforcement after the book is completed.

8. Coach (Racing Stagecoach). A mentor, friend, coach or training/school cohort can ground us and help us to make sense of it all. We need to absorb the information we process as well as synthesize it, discuss it, share it, remember it and respond to it. Sometimes our friend or mentor can be virtual, as we respond and reflect on information via the comment and social technology tools wrapped around most sources today.

Cycling through these eight steps is possible even for those of us with many other demands on our time. It requires limiting other, less valuable, sources like TV and radio. It requires intentional effort to block time for each activity. And, finally, it requires a vision of ourselves as a relevant thought-leader and innovator in our world.

What approaches are you finding helpful for staying relevant with trends and information?

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