It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin 

Most of us probably recall the Darwin quote, above, from high school biology. We’ve certainly had plenty of opportunities to adapt in the past year as we’ve dealt with working remotely while homeschooling kids, while self-isolating, and making sure we have clean masks. 

Now, as we begin to emerge from pandemic practices, we’re wondering how much adapting is still ahead of us. The thing is, we’ll actually have a lifetime of adapting and in all areas of our lives. 

Career/Work Adaptability = Imagination

I’ve been intrigued with the folks I’ve been working with over the past year to level up in their careers. Most of these people are currently employed and using this time to determine where they can go next that’s a better fit for their lifestyles and professional goals. Others have lost jobs they loved and need to find replacement work, and they don’t want to settle. 

The critical ingredient these people have in common is imagination. They can see how their skills translate to value and how their value can translate to a new role or career. They also understand the need to tell the story of how that transition can be of value to a new employer or client. 

Those who struggle most with career adaptability are really smart people in very specialized fields. They’ve built reputations within their specialties and tend to identify strongly with their profession. They’re engineers, lawyers, and IT professionals, among others. They’ve built careers on knowing the intricacies of their work and they associate their value with that knowledge.  

Some of these folks realize they need to shift their story from being a commodity to an asset. They’re realizing that identifying skills and years of experience doesn’t covey value. Real value comes from being a strategic asset.

Commodity vs. Asset

Being a commodity is skills-based. It’s tied to standard operating procedures and best practices. While organizations need commoditized talent their value is fleeting. Sooner or later, there will be someone younger, faster, and cheaper who will be a better fit. Commodities are rarely adaptive. They may be subject matter experts, but their expertise ties them to one particular industry. Lawyers, engineers, doctors, IT specialists can be really smart people, but if they can’t adapt their skills and expertise to changing conditions, they’re merely commodities.

Assets, on the other hand, bring a higher level of value. Assets are wisdom-based. They are adaptive. They’re able to use their skills and knowledge to bring teams to a higher level of performance. Moreover, assets are transferable. They can bring their wisdom to different environments and still be effective.

Case Study: Bob, The Automated Process Design Guru

Bob began his career in manufacturing — in food processing plants and paper mills in Wisconsin. In fact, he was the operations manager for the largest paper manufacturing facility in the world. Then he and his wife moved to Maine, where paper mills were way past their prime. 

Bob landed a role at a local college in the Advancement (fundraising) department. His job was to support the Gift Officers (fundraisers) in the field and provide them with key information about prospective donors. 

Bob is a systems guy. The information provided to the Gift Officers was neither current nor timely. Bob saw the potential of automated systems that could provide better and faster information. He collaborated with the IT staff to develop web-based applications that enabled remote access to data required by the Gift Officers. 

Because of his engineering background, though, Bob still saw himself as a commodity — a manufacturing guy who could improve plant systems and processes. 

In reality, Bob is a strategic asset who creates value regardless of the organization he’s with. He’s able to spot critical issues and determine new, improved ways to proceed. 

How About You?

Can you see that strategic assets are adaptive, create real value, and have a more sustained career lifespan?

Can you tell stories of accomplishments that characterize you as a strategic asset? 

Or are you relying on skills that position you as a commodity? If so, can you adapt?

A version of this post was sent earlier this year to my email newsletter subscribers. If you’d like to get my best work first, subscribe to the newsletter. I NEVER share your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time if it’s not a good fit.

If you’re struggling with how to achieve your career goals let’s chat about how I can help. You can use this link to my calendar to schedule the best time to talk.

Image copyright: Gustavo Frazao