You always should be preparing for the next thing you will do. Your career will almost certainly not be a linear thing with one job leading to the next to the next in a logical sequence. And as for a job-for-life? Well that is ending even for teachers.
But in media and technology and marketing? Constant evolution. Unless you are paying attention you could get left behind. Keep up with the media channels and the technology of course. But also the cultural references and the styles. I was recently pitching to turn a wonderful noir thriller into film. A major TV Executive Producer – lotsof big shows on his resume – asked me how I saw it. I said that the non-linear storytelling of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and the wit and style of Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels were models that I thought could inform the way this story should be told. There was a pause – then he said and not in a constructive way “But those examples are twenty years old.” I was just at an Internet Week keynote where Shane Smith from Vice referenced Friends and Cheers – and quickly was made aware that they meant nothing to 90% of his Gen Y audience.
So yes – we have to keep on our toes on all fronts. Coasting is not an option. Be continuously aware. Talk to people in different disciplines and learn what they are excited about. Ask them what keeps them up at night. Brainstorm ways that they might advance or that their industry might advance. Look for the parallels and the intersections with what you are doing and try and project what might be next. Sit down once a month and write a blog post that expresses your ideas. Even if no-one reads it but you, it will get your brain in gear. Putting things down on paper (can I say that any more?) has a way of helping your thinking to crystallize and organizing your thoughts so you can have even smarter conversations.
Aim to become the thought leader on your team or in your company. Bring in the new ideas and have opinions about how they can affect your business. For example if you are in the TV industry, what do you see happening with TV on the web? Is it eating the lunch of broadcast or cable TV? How should you be addressing that change? What about the effects of spot skipping? Is the TV set now the third screen?
And don’t forget that you may have two agendas here: one for the business you are currently employed in, and one that is the development of what’s next in your own career. Wonderful if the two coincide, I am not encouraging revolt here – just that you have an evolving awareness of where and how you will provide value in the coming years.