"It's not the strongest of the species that survive, or the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin
However you feel about the theory of evolution, apply this quote to the workplace and look at all the economic evidence supporting it.
In the course of just three decades, our economy decided a high school diploma means very little. An economist recently wrote that a young person in North Carolina is almost worse off today with just a high school diploma than with no diploma at all. There are unskilled labor and service jobs available, but few that require just a high school degree. Well-paid work requires more.
Others have written that our public schools prepare young people perfectly for jobs that existed 100 years ago. A bit harsh, but the point is well-taken.
The common theme played out in workplaces each day is that employees embracing change, adapting to it and looking forward to the next disruption are the ones who will succeed. The days of learning one tune and humming it until retirement are long gone. How long did it take Apple's iPhone to overtake Blackberry, then for Google's Android to outnumber iPhone?
Three decades ago, an employee resistant to change could be accommodated and a productive role carved out. Those hiding places are gone: automated, overseas, replaced by other processes.
Call it agility, flexibility, a sense of urgency, or taking control of your own destiny. The most dangerous trap to fall into is to call it someone else's responsibility. It can be hard to change, but it is even harder to fail.
If more people thought of their job as a 12-month assignment requiring a new application each year, our capacity for change and productivity would soar. Stay fresh, stay current and stay ahead of the inevitable day when your specific job skills lose value. Did you go to a shopping mall this past Christmas or do most of your shopping online? Do you still take delivery of a newspaper or do you read your news on a laptop, iPad or Kindle? Do you own a TV made in the USA? Was your last MRI read in India? Did your health plan force you into prescriptions by mail? Can you compare competitors' prices and product ratings on your smartphone while standing in a store? Does anyone except perhaps a top executive have his or her own "secretary" today? If you believe you are immune to these forces, you are not paying attention.
The good news is that employees willing to take control of their personal development (don't wait to be asked) will find many new ways to succeed. Go exploring by talking to people who do the things you would like to do. Talk to your manager about new opportunities for yourself. Get to your local community college or find the inexpensive online alternatives to the classroom. If you have a record of good work, find an employer who wants to train great people.
"Hard-headed and hunkered down" still has a place in the workplace, but it is shrinking fast. Your next good job will require flexibility and continuous learning. Start now!
Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI, a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability.