I might not have predicted that Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei would become successful entrepreneurs—but I did know how much Mike chafed at the way the physical constraints of print newspapers prevented him from sharing everything he had learned with readers quickly, and sought ways to overcome them. I couldn't have imagined that Michael Barbaro would become a voice that so many people wake up to every morning, but I knew how much he hungered for fresh ways to tell every story even in an era when this type of creativity was sometimes discouraged. Kara Swisher was a competitor who constantly scooped us on tech stories; what I didn't know at the time was that she was already figuring out how to turn that franchise into a revenue generator for her organization.
None of these people were particularly senior when they began the shift. Once upon a time, only the most senior executives in a company needed to worry about the high-level shifts in the economy that this book will spell out. What we've seen over the last decade is that low- to midlevel employees also need to cultivate an ability to understand the shifting economics of their industry and the business world more generally.
Fortunately, it turns out that this ability to see around the corner—to understand how the economics of an industry are changing and position yourself well to capitalize on them—isn't something you have to be born with. It can be learned, if you are open to
HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF INDISPENSABLE
This book is aimed at anyone seeking to have a rewarding career in a high-end profession, whether in traditional companies, tech giants, or cutting-edge startups, and whether in early, mid-, or late career. In writing it, I drew on the work of hundreds of academics, consultants, and others who have mined all manner of data sources to understand these trends, and much of this work is reflected in the pages to come. Perhaps even more fruitfully, I sought out leaders from a range of companies and sought answers to the following questions:
1. What does an ambitious person need to do to have a successful career at your company in the modern age?
2. Can I meet some of the people there who have exemplified that success?
My reporting took me to some of the best-known companies on earth, including Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, and Walmart. I also visited smaller enterprises that offered particularly important lessons, learning from people who make Planet of the Apes movies, Shake Shack cheeseburgers, driverless Volvo cars, and Jim Beam bourbon. I traveled around the world, literally, to meet the people whose stories are contained in these pages, which reveal their answers.
There are furious debates over how people can best prepare themselves for a modern career. Depending on who you ask, the answer is to major in a STEM field in college, or go to boot camps to become a first-rate coder, or get a liberal arts education that gives you wide exposure to all sorts of fields. But what I found over and over was the importance of training yourself in the art of adaptability, the skill of how to learn something new and hard. What separates those who have durable careers in this fluid economic landscape from those who don't is an ability to adapt when the prevailing coding language changes or the old approach to marketing stops working. But how do you get this superpower?
The first three chapters explain how to become the type of professional who is most desired—and rewarded—by modern employers. Among the things I heard again and again: it's a big mistake to get locked into an overly narrow role as a skilled specialist responsible for a single function. For one thing, what's important today may not be important tomorrow, so you'll need the adaptability and resilience that result from exposing yourself to new things. And today's ultracomplex organizations demand people who have exceptional skills, yes, but who also understand how the different parts of the business fit together. They need people who can work in teams with other people who may have very different technical abilities, in groups that can create products much greater than the sum of their different parts.
The best way to become one of those people, I found, is to actively seek exposure to different specialties, across departmental boundaries, from the earliest days in your career. I will introduce you to people who have done this effectively and flourished as a result.