Adaptive Competence

Information professionals  must adapt to current disruptions and prepare for new ones to be relevant.

In early 2010, Iceland’s barely pronounceable Mt. Eyjafjallajokull erupted. The volcano produced a spectacular lighting storm and spewed ash across Northern Europe, creating an enormous disruption in air traffic between Europe and North America.

I see similar disruptions in the information industry. We have seen every link in the chain of information–finding, selecting, and disseminating–undergo tectonic shifts. Each of these shifts has pointed in the direction of continued, accelerated change. In fact, one business process consultant told me we could see more change in the next five years than we have seen in the last half-century.

I don’t have to tell you that we need to take a proactive stance to thrive in this new landscape. It’s because of this disruption that I’m encouraging YOU to do what it takes to be “future ready”–in your company, in your work activities, and in our association.

As I’ve emphasized this year, we need to stay focused on preparing for the future. My theme, Future Ready, is an attitude. It says I’m adaptable, I’m flexible, I’m confident, and I’m constantly expanding my skills.

Future Ready is also a skill set that embraces change and tries new things. Being future ready means adapting to the disrupted environment and aligning with emerging opportunities in the information industry and beyond.

Future Ready is also a north star–it’s something we may never quite reach, but it’s an aspiration worth reaching for. Being future ready enables us to respond effectively to a never-settled landscape full of volcanoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes, big and small.

Adaptive Competence

Recently, as I was mulling over the idea of what it means to be ready for the future, I came across an article on the NPR Website about a woman named Helen Reichert. Helen is 109 years old. I couldn’t help but think, what’s her secret? A thousand calories a day and an hour of yoga?

According to her physician, Mark Lachs, diet and exercise have nothing to do with it. “No, Helen Reichert likes chocolate truffles,” he wrote. “Her favorite beverage is Budweiser. And she once announced … that she was thinking about smoking again. When I protested, she reminded me that she has outlived several other physicians and told me to mind my own business.” The key, according to Dr. Lachs, lies in “a powerful trait geriatricians call adaptive competence.”

Now, you can’t live to be 109 years old without life throwing you a few curveballs along the way. But you rebound and you keep going. You get good at adapting, even if it just means breaking in a new doctor with threats to buy a pack of Marlboros. Adaptive competence is the ability to respond positively to a rapidly evolving environment and come out better for it. If you embrace change, rebound, and keep going, then you’re future ready!

From Drought to Deluge

In our lifetimes, we’ve seen information go from drought to deluge. In fact, this phenomenon is so prevalent that in March, “information deluge” was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and The Economist published an article titled “Too Much Information” in its June 30 edition.

Our clients can’t drink from this fire hose of information without drowning. They prefer single-serving snippets that are easy to digest and spot-on relevant. This is creating some extraordinary opportunities for people who find, assess, and organize information. We are being called on to summarize data, turn it into an Acrobat file, post it to a wiki, and tweet it before lunch. Our future ready skills are becoming more and more essential.  In my role as president of SLA, I have worked hard to get out of the office and travel to meet members. I have visited chapters large and small, where many of you have shared stories about new roles that our predecessors never would have imagined. Some of you are working with pattern recognition; others are being pulled into archiving and curation. Here are example of the emerging roles I’ve heard about recently:

Let’s continue to develop new roles for our skills. Let’s go where the market takes us, because that definitely requires being future ready!

SLA in 2014

Let me wrap up by talking about how SLA itself is working to be more adaptable and agile. As a member-driven organization, we need to embrace a different point of view in a more digital, more social, and more interconnected world. Information that once was known only to membership organizations is now freely available on the Internet, and learning programs are popping up faster than you can say “do it at your desktop.”

For SLA to stay relevant, it will have to confront the disruptive forces of social networking, distributed collaboration, and more. To address this challenge, the SLA Board of Directors held two strategic vision brainstorming sessions prior to the annual conference in Philadelphia. It was very messy. By the time we finished there were shredded spreadsheets on the floor and an avalanche of Post-It notes on easel boards, and the distinct aroma of too much magic marker hung in the air.

  • It was hard work, but it was exciting. In those two sessions, the board did the following:
  • Developed a strategic vision for SLA for the next three budget cycles;
  • Brainstormed new ways to collaborate with partners and sponsors;
  • Looked at just about every aspect of our “reason for being”; and
  • Debated how we can be future ready as a group.

The session reports are still in progress, so I can’t give you the final word quite yet. But, I will say this: it won’t be your father’s Oldsmobile. We are going through a transformation, and we will come out better for it. Also, I have appointed a task force composed of John DiGilio, Alex Feng and Cynthia Berglez to review and make recommendations to modify our continuing education model. The board is committed to keeping you involved and informed of our progress, so expect to hear more about the new strategic vision shortly.

I’ve shared some thoughts about disruption in our industry and what we can do about it. We know we need to adapt, both as individuals and as a collective group. We all know that the opportunities are out there. If we use our wits and our proven skills, we will find that we are, indeed, future ready!

The Start-Up of You

Look at the news these days from the most dynamic sector of the U.S. economy — Silicon Valley. Facebook is now valued near $100 billion, Twitter at $8 billion, Groupon at $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion and LinkedIn at $8 billion. These are the fastest-growing Internet/social networking companies in the world, and here’s what’s scary: You could easily fit all their employees together into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma. They just don’t employ a lot of people, relative to their valuations, and while they’re all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers.

Indeed, what is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying more automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. That is not going to change. And while many of them are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

Today’s college grads need to be aware that the rising trend in Silicon Valley is to evaluate employees every quarter, not annually. Because the merger of globalization and the I.T. revolution means new products are being phased in and out so fast that companies cannot afford to wait until the end of the year to figure out whether a team leader is doing a good job.

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.

But you would never know that from listening to the debate in Washington, where some Democrats still tend to talk about job creation as if it’s the 1960s and some Republicans as if it’s the 1980s. But this is not your parents’ job market.

This is precisely why LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley — besides co-founding LinkedIn, he is on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook and sits on the board of Mozilla — has a book coming out after New Year called “The Start-Up of You,” co-authored with Ben Casnocha. Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.”

Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he said to me. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

To begin with, Hoffman says, that means ditching a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don’t write a 100-page business plan and execute it one time; they’re always experimenting and adapting based on what they learn.

It also means using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities. Hoffman adds: “You can’t just say, ‘I have a college degree, I have a right to a job, now someone else should figure out how to hire and train me.’ ” You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.”

Finally, you have to strengthen the muscles of resilience. “You may have seen the news that [the] online radio service Pandora went public the other week,” Hoffman said. “What’s lesser known is that in the early days [the founder] pitched his idea more than 300 times to V.C.’s with no luck.”

Thomas Friedman spoke at the SLA Annual Conference this year, saying “average is over. We all need our own special sauce, whipped cream and cherry on top.” In other words we are completing across the street and globe and our differentiators have to make us stand out. So. What is your special sauce?

The Cloud-Based Reference Library


“Search through over 50,000 reference books in under a second.”

This is a very interesting model. And it really shows how the publishing world is continuing to evolve very aggressively.

Working Harder Doesn’t Get You Ahead

By Tony Schwartz

Late last week, I had several different challenging projects on my plate, each with fast-approaching deadlines. Feeling the pressure, I awoke earlier than usual in the morning and got to my desk by 7:00 am.

Four hours later, I was still sitting there, barely having budged from my chair. To my surprise and frustration, I still hadn’t finished my project.

At first, I attributed my failure to the difficulty of the task. But the more I thought about it, the less that made sense.

A Faulty Instinct to Work Harder

Suddenly, it dawned on me. Anxious about all the demands on my plate, I’d defaulted into a way of working that doesn’t work.

I hunkered down, powered through, stayed the course. Along the way, something insidious, inevitable, and mostly unconscious happened.

I started reading emails, and responding to them.  I remembered little things from my to-do list, and decided they were actually quite urgent. I made some phone calls. I rewrote my to-do list. Feel familiar?

This isn’t the sort of thing that should happen to me.  I run a company called The Energy Project, and we’re in the business of energizing individuals and organizations to be more productive and higher performing by learning to balance work with strategic periods of renewal.

Alas, I’m also human. I violated the very lessons we teach.

Professionals live today in a world of relentless demand. To meet their obligations, their default instinct – including mine, if the pressure gets high enough – is simply to push harder.

The problem is human beings aren’t meant to operate the way computers do: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. To the contrary, people perform best when they pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy – not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Unfortunately, rest and renewal get no respect in the organizational world. Most managers view the need for downtime as weakness.  The problem is that when their employees work without pause, they very quickly get decreasing incremental returns on each hour invested.

Just as I did, you stop thinking as clearly, creatively, and strategically, and you take more time to get less accomplished.

Though you may not realize it, you’re physiologically designed to operate in cycles of approximately 90 minutes, during which you move from higher to lower alertness.  These phases are called “ultradian rhythms.”

Don’t Ignore Your Body’s Signals

When you need a break, your body sends you clear signals, including fidgetiness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus. But if you’re like most people, you override them. Instead, you find artificial ways to pump up your energy: caffeine, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and your body’s own stress hormones – adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol.

Relying on these hormones for energy prompts the state we all know as “fight or flight.” It’s great for escaping danger, and terrible for performance. In fight or flight, people become less capable of thinking clearly and reflectively, more emotionally volatile, and  burn down their energy at a rapid rate.

The Value of Working in Spurts

The counterintuitive secret to great, sustainable performance is to live like a sprinter. In practice, that means working with the high intensity, uninterrupted, for periods no longer than 90 minutes, and then taking a break to renew and refuel.

For the first several books I wrote, I typically sat at my desk for 10 or even 12 hours at a time. There was no way to stay fully engaged the whole time, so I found ways to distract myself along the way. Each of the books took me at least a year to write.

For my most recent book, I wrote without interruption for three 90-minute periods in the morning, and then took a break in between each one. I wrote no more than 4 ½ hours a day, and I finished the book in less than six months.

Obviously, it’s not possible for most people in most companies to work in a series of uninterrupted sprints the way I did.  Let me challenge you instead to try a smaller experiment.

For the next week, take on your most challenging task first thing in the morning, for 60 to 90 minutes, uninterrupted.  Then take a break. You’ll get an amazing amount done – and feel better the rest of the day.

Tony Schwartz is president and CEO of The Energy Project, and author, most recently, of Be Excellent At Anything. You can follow him on Twitter at @TonySchwartz and @energy_project.


image courtesy of flickr user, krispdk

Work like a sprinter. Don’t just sit there hour after hour. This is welcome advise/

Time For Associations To Trade In Their Past? : NPR


An association must be in the business of providing “just-in-time knowledge” to its members, Carroll says. He defines it as “the right knowledge at the right time for the right purpose for the right strategy, all revolving around the fact that the knowledge is instant, fast and transitory.” –I agree!