Flextime: How to Bend (Not Break!) in Today’s Turbulent Workplace

The digital business consultant Beth Temple will be bringing her newest class, Freelance Success: Independence, Not Insecurity, to the Hired Guns Academy on Wednesday, May 16. This three-hour course is designed to help freelancers at all stages of their career become more successful at what they do best. They’ll learn how to bring in more business, develop a unique selling proposition, and be better at navigating corporate politics and managing their own finances.

It’s been a few months since Fast Company’s much talked- and tweeted-about cover story on Generation Flux. The title’s been bothering me ever since I read it. The magazine had it wrong by a vowel! We don’t need a generation in flux (which sounds negative and unstable), we need one that has flex (which is much more agile and proactive).

Flexibility is going to be the key to the next few decades for every business, big and small. It is also going to be the defining characteristic for those individuals who want to thrive in the next few decades.

Let’s start with how companies can be more flexible. I tell companies that I work with that they need to have a plan, but that they should write it in pencil. I think that they need to institute three core principles:

1) Expect there to be constant change. Don’t assume long-term dominance or market share. The cycle of change is speeding up; there’s little time to rest on your laurels. Kudos to Andy Grove, the co-founder and CEO, who realized back in 1996 that “only the paranoid survive.”

2) Have a clear vision — but don’t be afraid to readjust its execution. The best example of having a clear vision is IBM, founded back in 1911. From the beginning its strategy was to package technology for use by businesses. They started out with punch-card tabulators and ended up as technology consultants. As business needs changed, so did IBM. If that isn’t flexible I don’t know what is!

3) Hire “Swiss Army knives.” Companies can’t be flexible if their hiring is rigid. With every year, it’s becoming more and more important for employees to be adaptable and self-directed. No company should allow anyone to say “this is the way we’ve always done it.” As Fast Company’s article put it, “You do not have to be a jack-of-all-trades to flourish in the age of flux, but you do need to be open-minded.”

Speaking of those hires … both full-time professionals and consultants need to get flexible, too. I know for myself it has been imperative to be flexible with the type of businesses I work with and what I offer them. It has also meant usually being a consultant, but working full-time when necessary. (By the way, this idea of rethinking your career is a big part of “The Start-up Is You,” the new book by Reid Hoffman (the cofounder of LinkedIn) and the entrepreneur Ben Casnocha.)

I’ve seen the desire to be flexible come up in my BYOB (Be Your Own Boss) class. Rarely is there a person who isn’t zigging and zagging through a career, trying to optimize opportunities, find great career challenges, or try something different. Sometimes those attending the class are only “thinking” about going out on their own — knowing that having the skills and ability to do so can pay dividends in this more flexible economy.

So how can you become more flexible?

1) Broaden your definition of “you.” If you are a writer, maybe you could also be a content strategist, helping companies systematize the articles, stories, graphics, and other content they intend to create or publish. If you’re in media now, maybe a jump to retail is just the new twist your career needs (many retailers are adopting content — see Amazon’s recent flexing — it plans on producing its own series).

2) Don’t say “no” too quickly. We too often hear of an opportunity and assume we are not qualified (I hear this a lot in my class!). Sometimes an outlier opportunity is just what you need to put an exciting detour into your career path.

3) Watch for trends. New industries or sectors, along with new careers pop up all the time — think clean tech, social media, iOS. Ten years ago no one planned a career around any of them. Now all those areas are looking for talent.

Find out more about Beth’s May 16 Academy course, Freelance Success: Independence, Not Insecurity

[Photo: Marcin Wichary/Flickr]

About this Gun

Beth Temple

Beth Temple

My passion is helping companies, big and small, grow their digital business through building new products, entering new markets, identifying new opportunities, and solving strategic challenges. Follow @bethtemple4u.