If executives and professionals can no longer rely on long-term career stability, the metaphor for navigating down the "career river" must change from that of a rowboat to a kayak.
Rowboat. In the summer (think of a balanced economy) it is convenient to navigate the river in a rowboat, which provides comfort and stability. But a rowboat is unstable in the floods of spring (a rapidly changing economy) and inefficient in the low waters of fall.
Raft. Rafts require the least effort, and they can be used in any season. But rafts offer little control over navigation and speed. Relying on an employer or industry to carry you along to future success is a gamble not worth taking — the odds of being dashed on the rocks are too high.
Kayak. A kayak provides the most control, speed and stability in any season. It also requires the most effort and skill. A kayak is a narrow vessel that rides on top of and through the water. It can flip easily, but it rarely does because of the body control of the paddler. And if it does flip, the watertight "skirt" over the opening and the kayak's lean profile allow the user to pop back up unharmed.
Navigating the career river in a kayak is an intense and initially unpleasant experience for most people, compared with the stability of a rowboat or the passivity of a raft. But it is ultimately the safer choice — and often a more fulfilling one.
Here is a model for those wishing to build on their current successes in the face of rapid industry change: the USC Skill Acquisition Model.
Useful. Focus on developing skills that have high return on investment in solving complexity in your industry. You don't have to be a pioneer to impress hiring managers, just a little ahead of your peers.
Synergistic. When possible, find roles that leverage several of your core skills, rather than just one.
Competitively sustainable. Don't rely too much on skills that the market values now, but that you know will become obsolete or commodities in several years.
Carry out your core role well, but also attempt to be a thought leader (even if in a small way) in advancing your discipline as a process-engineering discipline, at the intersection of technology, project management and finance.
Isaac Cheifetz, a Twin Cities executive recruiter, can be reached through catalytic1.com.