Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in the midst of the cultural and political upheaval of the 60s. What I remember most about those days were the endless fights with my parents over my long hair, my frayed bellbottom jeans, the Vietnam War, and, of course, sex, drugs and rock and roll.
We had a name for our extreme differences in perspective back then. We called it “the generation gap.” I doubt if it’s any consolation to Millennials – especially coming from a baby boomer – but we’ve sort of been here before. Each generation has its own ideals, behaviors and challenges.
While there’s nothing new about generational change, when you’re in the thick of it, that’s a different story. It’s unsettling, exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time.
The high-tech revolution of the past few decades certainly fits that description. Having “grown up” in that industry, I can certainly look back and see how far we’ve come. Not only that, I’m proud that I made the transition – that I successfully adapted to this brave new world.
And I’d like to help you do the same. I’d like to help the entrepreneurs of today and the business leaders of tomorrow make the transition to a world that never stops changing. Here are four critical capabilities I think you’re going to need to distinguish yourself – to become the leaders, the innovators, the success stories of a new age:
Truly connect with real people in the real world
Any successful executive or business leader will tell you that among their most critical assets are their ability to communicate and network. Not only that, but success in business is all about relationships. Every business transaction has a human being on both ends.
These days, people think they’re connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, when in reality, they’re just blasting gigabytes of superficial sound bites and links at each other. It’s the Internet equivalent of talking at someone. Actually, it’s not even one-to-one, it’s generally one-to-many, and, by many, I mean thousands.
The truth is that social networking isn’t even fractionally effective when compared with a simple real-time discussion or face-to-face meeting. One real relationship with a real person in the real world is worth a thousand virtual connections.
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Shut out the noise
You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a world of unprecedented information and communication overload. We’re expected to be on 24/7. The urge to text, tweet and email is constant, addictive, and nearly irresistible.
And yet, you have to find a way to resist all that. You have to figure out how to manage distraction without completely shutting yourself off. You have to learn to shut out the noise without missing out on what matters, what’s relevant, and what’s critical.
It’s never been more challenging to prioritize and focus, to be effective and productive, to get things done, than it is today. And it’s only going to get harder.
Recognize the bullsh*t
Everyone’s aware that “I saw it on the Internet so it must be true” is a fallacy. And yet, quoting, posting, forwarding and retweeting information from unreliable sources has become the norm. It’s pervasive.
When you question assumptions and claims, challenge conventional wisdom, and avoid collectivism and groupthink, that's called critical thinking. It dates back thousands of years to the teachings of Socrates and Buddha.
Critical thinking is fundamental to smart decision-making. It’s in short supply ... and getting shorter all the time.
Be the genuine you
All the personal branding hype has turned people into Internet avatars: social-media sound bites that are nothing more than two-dimensional fabrications of how they want others to see them. The problem is you’ll never get anywhere by trying to be something you’re not.
It’s never been more challenging or more important to be the genuine you, to possess the humility and self-awareness to realize that you’re not who you hold yourself out to be, you don’t have all the answers, and calling yourself an entrepreneur or a CEO doesn’t make you one.
In a world of indistinguishable lemmings, where everyone imagines they’re unique while behaving exactly like everyone else, the true innovators will be those who possess the courage to know who they really are and become the best version of themselves that they can be.
No matter how much the world changes, your personal journey is the one that will matter most. Keep it real.
Steve Tobak is management consultant, executive coach, columnist, and former senior executive of the high-tech industry. As managing partner of Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, he's been a trusted strategic advisor to executives and business leaders for more than a decade. Contact Tobak.