Preparing Yourself to Thrive in the Innovation Economy

What is the innovation economy? It’s the fast-moving world of innovation combined with entrepreneurship, and it’s shaping the present and the future in exciting ways. Gone are the days when a satisfying career meant decades with the same company and a pension at 65. These days, the rewards go to those who can be the most dynamic and the most visionary.

Understanding how to pivot as knowledge, information and trends change is also critical. It can be hard to know how to get ready for this brave new world because so much of it is so new, and it means that traditional career advice doesn’t apply. Still, with the information below, you can better prepare to launch yourself into an exciting and successful future.

Keep Learning

Education in the innovation economy means both formal and informal learning. As far as formal learning goes, you should get a bachelor’s degree at minimum. You could also continue with a graduate degree as well, but it’s best to find out what the norm is in your industry. In many areas of the innovation economy, experience would be more valuable than a master’s degree.

There are a number of different ways you can pay for college. You or your family may have savings. Many schools offer their own scholarships, and there are also private scholarships along with federal grants and loans. On top of that, you can borrow from a private lender. These student loans may have low interest rates and you can check out your options for private loans online.

When you are pursuing a degree, the thing to keep in mind is that you want a well-rounded education. That means that while you might pursue a STEM major, taking other classes that help develop your soft skills, including communication, is also important. Look for leadership opportunities while you are in school and opportunities to network.

As for your informal education, read books, go to conferences, seek out information online and do your own projects. For example, if you are interested in programming, you might work on an open-source project. This commitment to educating yourself is not just something you’ll do through your college years but something that you should commit to for the rest of your life. Thriving in the innovation economy means always keeping up with a fast-changing ecosystem. Having a broad base of knowledge also means that you are comfortable in many different circumstances, you can talk to many different types of people and you understand how a political or economic situation in one part of the world can reverberate throughout the business world and change things permanently in your industry or an adjacent one.

Find the Opportunity

Crises are challenges, which means that they are also opportunities. You need to learn how to recognize them, how to survive them and how to turn them to your advantage. This is not about taking advantage of a bad situation for personal gain but about understanding the link between crisis and creativity. Crises often lead to huge advancements in science, technology and best practices because they force people and organizations to throw caution to the wind in order to survive. Catastrophe leads to fearlessness because people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

While it is important to meet challenges in this spirit of seeing opportunity, it is also important to remember that you don’t have to wait for a crisis. Big problems create certain advantageous behaviors that you can practice anytime. For example, when disaster looms, problem-solving accelerates because it has to. You may also find yourself working with people and organizations you would not have previously considered allies. Meeting and mastering challenges also builds resilience.

Serious problems cause people to rise to the occasion. You can’t live in permanent crisis mode, but remind yourself from time to time of how these positive qualities emerge in times of trouble, and think about how to cultivate them during calmer times. For example, you can prepare for challenges by looking at past crises, assembling a great team that you can work with and trust, and brainstorming and planning various scenarios. At the same time, it’s a good idea to remember the saying that a nation’s military is always fighting the last war. In other words, remember the ‘new’ piece of the new situation you are dealing with and that new solutions are necessary as well. You can learn from what came before, but you can’t repeat it.

Build a Foundation

All of this talk of crisis and innovation can be heady, but most of the time, things won’t be quite so turbulent, or they shouldn’t be, and this is a good thing. When you build a strong foundation, you will have the resources that you need when there is an upheaval or a setback. That strong foundation is partly about money and other material resources, but the most important part of it is relationships. Networking is so much more than being able to talk smoothly with people in social situations and connect with them online. Genuine relationships mean that when you need personnel, advice, investors or anything else, you have a full roster of people you can call on to help.

If you become an entrepreneur, your strong foundation will include being able to identify funding sources and knowing how to persuade them to continue investing in your venture. It’s also about building and refining core skills. These include technical, leadership, logic and critical thinking skills. As an individual, you may not need to harvest the kind of resources that an entire company would, but you can still think in terms of building your network and your own competencies so that you are always in a good position to weather whatever happens.

Embrace Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most important qualities that you can develop. The rate of innovation is only getting faster, and people who are unwilling to keep pivoting in response to new information, new technology and new events risk being left behind. Embracing flexibility can be easier said than done. No matter how good you are at it, there will always be time when you feel pushed out of your comfort zone.

Knowing that this will happen and accepting it will make it easy to work through it when it happens. For example, you might have a fairly fixed idea about how your career will go but you might still find yourself adapting easily and incorporating new ideas until suddenly you don’t any longer. This can require a cognitive shift that may take a while. At times like these, compartmentalizing can actually be a helpful skill because it can allow you to spend part of your time working through your discomfort while spending the rest of your time pushing ahead despite it.

It can help to think back over a certain period of time and how much things have changed and realize that an equal number of things will be different that many years in the future. For example, in the past 15 years or so, some of the most profound innovations that have become widespread include cryptocurrency, smartphones, the rise of social media, the rise of the gig economy and the boom in working from home. All of these have greatly changed the way we live, work, socialize, communicate, receive and share information, and invest. Those who have thrived are the ones who are best able to incorporate those changes and keep moving.

Be a Radical

The adjective ‘disruptive’ has become a buzzword, and the key to innovation is not always about tearing down the old to make way for the new. However, when you are preparing yourself to succeed in an innovation economy, you need to be ready to go further than others are willing in conceptualizing radical leaps of thinking and technology and then making them happen. Keep in mind that this is about persuading others as well.

In these days of sleek Blu-rays and streaming media, it’s hard to imagine the clunky video boxes that characterized the early days of watching movies at home, but the war between Betamax and VHS technology is a useful example. Betamax actually offered a higher quality picture and better sound, but for most consumers, this was negligible next to a lower price point with VHS, which ultimately won the battle. Media technology is actually instructive in other ways as well. As both music and movies are increasingly delivered digitally, a small but profitable band of rebels has grown as well, embracing music on vinyl and films on special edition Blu-rays packed with extras.

The appeal of streaming media, which includes being able to access a huge amount of product instantly and not having to worry about storage space, is balanced by a cadre who embrace the more tactile nature of physical media. As a radical thinker, try to put yourself in the shoes of the early adopters and those who buck the trends. This helps you remember that while the world can often feel as though it is moving in leaps and bounds, faster and faster, the line of development is not necessarily a linear one. Keeping your eye on trends while trying to visualize some of the most far-fetched possible developments in any direction can help ensure that you are always the visionary in the room.

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