Don't be the last man in the 8-track-tape business (Kuala Lumpur)
The news of Dell's "going private" conversations led my friend and frequent BloombergTV commentator Paul Kedrosky to tweet:
Now Paul's a great one for deep tweets, and his wondering if PC technology has grown old before its time, got me to thinking about the speed with which businesses grow, mature and decline in the 21st century.
Of course, companies are born, companies live and thrive, and companies die, all the time. That's capitalism.
And your job, when it comes to thinking about your career, is to join the best company you can, in the most thriving industry that interests you, so as to keep your opportunities open and your prospects bright.
Nobody wants to be the last man in the 8-track-tape business.
Keeping ahead of this "creative destruction" of aging businesses is a bigger and more salient part of the modern professional's toolkit.
It wasn't always this way, of course. Lifetime employment and the gold watch at retirement were common until twenty years ago.
But times have changed. In the modern era, companies, and entire industries, die more quickly, leaving us to adjust our career plans accordingly.
The important things for you to remember are:
Your company's fate is not in your hands.
A wrong bet, a foolish strategy, an ill-timed disaster, a devastating competitor, an ill-conceived loan, or just plain old bad luck, could cause you to arrive at the office tomorrow to find... there's no office.
Even if you love your job, your boss, and your company, it could suddenly blow up one day. It's happened to Arthur Anderson, Lehman Brothers, Hostess Brands, and hundreds more.
For your financial and career security, it is very important that you always be prepared for the demise of your current position. You need to take calls from recruiters, stay in touch with friends from the industry, keep up on recent developments in the sector, and keep your eyes open to the positions available here on TheLadders (and the left-hand side of this e-mail).
Because, really, you never know.
Your skills are losing value.
The stuff you studied in college, the training you got at the beginning of your career, the rules of thumb you've internalized over the years: all of them are losing value even while you read this sentence.
That's always been the case, but the increasing speed of modern business life means that they are losing value more quickly than they ever have in the past. We're probably the first generation since the Protected content where everything your parents' generation knew about the tactical running of a business is already obsolete.
Every year, you've got to add something new to your toolkit. You might not be able to reinvent yourself in the space of six months, but just imagine how current you'll be, and how attractive you'll appear, when you tell your next interviewer the five skills, certificates, technologies, or methods you've picked up over the previous half-dozen years.
Keeping yourself up-to-date is part of your job.
Your industry is dying.
When even the celebrated technology companies of our youth -- Microsoft, Dell, Intel -- find themselves with flat-lining, or worse, stock prices for over a decade, it's clear that the bloom comes off the rose much more quickly in the modern era.
The invention of new technologies, and the development of new products from them, result in even the most innovative industries finding themselves sidelined far faster than in the past.
In some cases, it seems that industries are living shorter lives than human beings.
And the implications of that -- that not only is the company you join out of college unlikely to make it to your retirement party, but that the entire industry you first join will pass away before you do -- are quite profound for your career.
Being too closely dependent on any particular industry is putting yourself and your future earnings at risk. The pall that has settled on print journalism, client-server architecture, pharmaceutical sales, automotive, keyboarded wireless devices, or the big box retailing industries may eventually loom over currently-hot niches such as fracking, mobile, outsourcing, e-commerce, greentech, and social marketing.
Keep your curiosity open and your mind engaged with new trends, and new industries -- they may be your employers one day sooner than you think.
Your fate is in your hands.
Your company, and certainly, your industry, have very few of your long-term interests at heart. Even the most benevolent of employers are subject to the whims of their customers, regulators, financiers, and owners, to say nothing of the competition. At the end of that long line is you, the employee, and you'd better be pretty wise as to what that means for your future horizons.
It means you have to take your own career development seriously, and make it your primary professional duty throughout your working life.
It means constantly adding new skills to replace the dying ones: learn SEO, public speaking, NoSQL databases, social recruiting, privacy law, the parts of Salesforce.com that you usually ignore, or a new tactical skill in your field.
It means staying aware of which way the wind is blowing, whether or not you need a weatherman to tell you.
And it means realizing that even the best of intentions from the best of employers on their best days, does little for you when happenstance separates you from your position of employment.
Keep in mind that these fragile, fleeting companies that you call home may be "called home" by the Great Auditor in the Sky someday sooner than you think.
And plan accordingly.
Founder of The Ladders