Much of the news in 2017 was about intellectual "bubbles." Whether of our own making, or aided and abetted by algorithms that are more than happy to serve us tailored experiences that reinforce our preconceived notions, it's easy to get trapped in a world where everyone agrees with us. After all, it's comfortable to be surrounded by agreeable ideas, and people who think, act, and work in a manner that we expect and understand.
The problem with remaining in in a bubble is that you're not exposed to new ideas, ways of thinking, and methods for working. While there's some discomfort in the new and unfamiliar, as a technology leader stasis often leads to career suicide. While it may not happen in a matter of months, should your company make a dramatic change due to market conditions, and acquisition, or regulatory change, those leaders who have demonstrated an ability to adapt and grow are the ones that will stick around, while others will suddenly find themselves in a bubble of one since the technology field has evolved without them.
As you plan your goals and objectives for next year, think about how you might break out of your professional bubble. Here are some suggestions:
Create the bubbles, rather than being trapped by them
In the past I've written about launching your own writing and speaking platform, not only to further your career, but also as a means of directing the future of the technology profession. If this seems like too daunting a prospect in the near term, start intellectually experimenting with different positions, ideally arguing their merits with a trusted colleague. If your company has bet big on cloud, mobile, or a vendor platform, get informed about the opposing point of view and argue its merits over lunch. Join a local technology professionals group and find someone who holds a different policy or opinion and listen to their position without immediately trying to debunk it. Closer to home, find those who are dissatisfied with IT and ask them to air their concerns without judgment or attempting to defend your position.
The objective is not only to be open to other points of view, but to make an effort to understand them on their merits, and ideally, attempt to argue the validity of their position. Ultimately this effort will allow you to rapidly see multiple facets of a technical argument, and be able to understand and synthesize new approaches to a problem rather than attempting to prove your position is "correct."
SEE: IT leader's guide to optimizing vendor relationships (Tech Pro Research)
Escape the physical bubble
Our physical location is an obvious, yet often ignored bubble. Even in the most sophisticated metropolises our professions self-select a certain genre of people. While it seems obvious that if you're in the technology field you'll be surrounded by technologists, and bankers will be surrounded by bankers, we do too little to extricate ourselves from this environment and talk to people in different companies and professions.
It can be hard to make a business case that you should jet off to another locale with "bubble escape" as your justification, but fortunately vendors, professional associations, related companies, and conferences all present opportunities to escape your physical bubble if you leverage the opportunities correctly. When visiting a vendor to evaluate their products, try to take some time to understand how they work, and their approaches to everything from requirements gathering and software development to culture and risk sensitivity. Many vendors and service providers are almost too happy to bring you to their headquarters, innovation centers, or regional offices and bring out a parade of employees to talk about their working style and unique aspects of their companies.
Similarly, there are professional associations, universities, and organizations that can provide anything from an informal visit to their campus, to week-long programs that take you to places like Silicon Valley and provide organized tours of everything from startups to government research labs. Even a simple phone call to an educational institution or admired startup can often snag a tour and provide an interesting afternoon while on an unrelated business or personal trip.
SEE: Tips for building and advancing your leadership career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Finally, seek activities outside your usual domain of expertise that require you to think and problem solve in a different way. If you're a coder or technology-oriented person, take a user experience course, and challenge yourself to redesign a screen in one of your business applications, even if only in a notebook. If you're an executive who hasn't looked at a line of code since the COBOL days, spend an afternoon following one of the hundreds of free online tutorials to build a quick mobile app. While you're unlikely to get too far beyond a "Hello world"-type application, you'll get a glimpse into the tools and mental process behind modern software development. You can even extend this practice beyond your professional domain, trying anything from painting, to learning a language, to a new sport, to carpentry, in order to use different parts of your brain and experiment with a different set of content and problem-solving tools.
It can be uncomfortable to leave your professional bubble, trading years of experience for an area in which you're a complete beginner, or expending the mental energy to understand and defend an unfamiliar approach or content area. However, one of the few guaranteed aspects of the future is that it will be different from today. Grooming your ability to escape your professional bubbles will make you a more effective professional, and oftentimes, make your career more enjoyable as you experience new challenges and approaches.
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