During a recent discussion with a prospective agent for my book in process, “Level-Up—The Career Guide to Surviving and Thriving in an Era of Change,” I was fascinated by the reaction I received. It was something to the effect of, “This will never sell. Everyone’s talking about change—It’s not unique enough for the publishers.

I understand that agents are motivated by sniffing out sure-fire bestsellers for their publishers. (I also suspect that long-range weather forecasters and this year’s political pollsters have better track records than most agents.) And yes, my mission is less about hitting the best-seller list and more about creating a tool that helps people and firms survive and even thrive in this fascinating world we live and work in today. Nonetheless, the notion that content that offers practical, actionable guidance on dealing with business and career change is passé, is preposterous.

There is NO issue more relevant for all of us in our organizations and careers than learning to adapt to, anticipate and leverage change. And newsflash, we’re not very good at dealing with this change thing—at least in the short term, in our organizations or for ourselves in our careers. In the long run, well, as Keynes once suggested we’re all dead.

Regardless of the agent’s viewpoint, it is my perspective that each and every one of us faces a profound set of level-up challenges in our careers. (In case the “level-up” reference is foreign, it’s a video gaming term where players are challenged to learn new skills on the run while fending off all manner of obstacles and adversaries in pursuit of reaching the next level of difficulties.)

A Balancing Act: Leveling Up Our Firms and Our Careers:

There are no firms, industries, roles or careers immune to the forces of change in our world. The industries and organizations that will displace today’s leaders and brand names are or will be born with digital DNA. New business models are and will reshape approaches to creating value and engaging audiences. The slow-moving demographic tsunami will reshape entire economies and urbanization in developing countries will bring to life whole new markets, ecosystems and disruptors in places we all struggle to find on a map.

Given this backdrop of change, we all face two fundamental challenges:

  1. Doing everything we can to help our organizations survive and thrive in the face of a mass extinction event.
  2. Seizing ownership of our careers, including our constant professional and brand development.

It is the convergence of these two issues: the need to help our firms survive while at the same time looking out for ourselves in our careers that define the essence of the level-up challenge in front of us. And since survival of every firm is in doubt in this mass extinction event, your survival in your career is of paramount importance.

Leveling Up Starts with Rewiring How We Respond to Change:

In the book manuscript, I develop a framework of 7 skills essential for survival and success in this unprecedented era of change. In the “Level Up Framework,” the first step is recognizing and changing our innate tendency to respond to change with fight, flight, or freeze reactions. While it is challenging to undo tens of thousands of years of hard-wiring, those traditional responses to unanticipated change (or even the idea that change will occur) are the exact opposite of the responses we need to display.

Instead of reducing ourselves to the narrow thinking of “defend” mode that results from a sudden change, we must find ways to shift ourselves and our teams and entire organizations into “discovery” mode, where our creativity and problem-solving skills are at their best.

It is essential that we cultivate the personal and leadership behaviors to position change as challenge and opportunity. I emphasize individual accountability first and foremost because widespread organizational change is an individual activity played out in group settings.

Leveling Up is a Full-Contact Activity:

In addition to rewiring our internal circuitry on change, we must change our approaches and behaviors for leading, teaming, serving and decision-making. Juxtapose those needed changes on top of the critical need to learn to spot and leverage or defend against trigger events in far-away markets and technologies, and you quickly realize the work of leveling up is complicated and all encompassing.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Whether a machine is coming for your job or a firm born of digital DNA is set to render your industry obsolete, your career survival depends upon your ability to learn and adapt. Helping others strive to avoid becoming career or business roadkill might not excite the sales forecasters at some publishers, however, my hunch is that most of us are pretty motivated for a bit of help to survive and thrive.

I am particularly excited to share this book later next year with my friends in the traditional publishing industry, although for them, I fear it may be too late.

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