“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two..”— Jeff Bezos
When I decided to plant my flag and launch my content platform to generate new opportunities there were four immediate questions to answer:
- Does anyone know who I am?
- Why would they look for me?
- Where would they find me?
- What kind of work do I want?
Of those, number two was the key question. Why would they (clients, publications, partners, etc) look for me? My first few answers were my previous job titles: I am a ux designer; I am a product manager; I am a director. Those job titles were generic. They didn’t truly convey what I did. I decided to dig deeper.
My next revelation was that people would look for me if I helped them with a problem they had. Ok! Now we’re getting somewhere. I help people solve problems! This led me to the key question that has defined how I built and now maintain my business: What problem do I help people solve? Again, the natural next step is to reach for job titles and descriptions. “I design easy to use interfaces.” “I prioritize requirements and manage a development team.” The problem with these answers is that they’re temporary. They are what you do today. How you do that work in the future will surely evolve.
So I dug one level deeper. After stripping away the job titles, descriptions and domain-specific jargon, I ended up at my core value: I make it easier for people to succeed in their daily tasks. In the first half of my career I did this by designing screen-based interfaces and interactions. In the second half of my career I did this by having regular conversations with the users of the products I was managing. Now, in the third half (ha!) of my career I do that by sharing my experience through writing, teaching and coaching.
When I ask this question to folks in my speaking and training engagements I now get clear answers like, “I help scale companies;” “I take complicated things and make them simple;” “I enable collaboration between diverse people.” These are core values. They aren’t job titles. They are, exactly, the answer to the question, “What problem do you help people solve?”
Your core value is the thing that won’t change in 10 or even 20 years. How you deliver on that core value will evolve with the times, your career and your personal choices. The problem you help people solve will keep you valuable and employable for years to come. Understanding how to tell that story in a compelling way is the key to building a reputation for yourself and your business. It also allows you to scale, pivot or reposition your work in new and innovative ways that still deliver your core value but may now be in a different domain.
Finally, figuring out your core value provides a filter for the work you choose to accept. Each time an opportunity presents itself ask, “Will this (client, partner, opportunity, invitation, etc) allow me to deliver my core value? Would I have to compromise it in any way?” If the answer is yes this becomes a simple way to decline the work politely and move on to more fulfilling work.
So, what problem do you help people solve? Share in the comments.
P.S. I cover this topic and how to use it as the foundation for your thought leadership platform a critical step to creating a career safety net in my new book Forever Employable.