Saturday, November 2, 2013

Is Your Industry Dying or Changing?

by Vince Rogers

What comes to mind when you hear the words book store, post office, home phone or public library? These entities used to be as fundamental to our way of life as air and water. Now physical books are being replaced by e-readers, letters in your mailbox have been cancelled out by e-mails in your inbox and the mobile-phone has diminished the combined necessity of the precision wristwatch, the digital camera, the pocket calculator and even the portable music player. Technological advancement and consumer demand are acting in unison to interject constant change into all aspects of our lives’.
Some people say that all change is good. Yet, that doesn't change the fact that sometimes it catches many people completely off guard. If you are unprepared for change you can become overwhelmed, anxious and even downright desperate. Change often happens in gradual recognizable steps, rather than rapid surges. Nevertheless, most of us tend to have change thrust upon us instead of being prepared.
The changes that I've already mentioned affect people not just as consumers, but also affect your current and future career decisions. Staying on top of changes and trends in your industry must become a vital concern, regardless of whether you’re a new-hire or a seasoned executive. In fact, knowing what’s going on in your industry can make the difference between whether you’re looking forward to receiving a big promotion or being abruptly laid off. A savvy, career-focused employee should put themselves in a position to recognize the signs well in advance.
For instance let's consider the future of the aforementioned public library. The internet has become most people’s principle research tool. The internet and e-books have replaced the need to sift through the card catalog or lug home a big heavy book. Furthermore, the coffee shop has become the preferred destination of those who wish to eat, drink and be merry while they read. They prefer this more social setting to being constantly reminded by the mean old librarian to shush. Yet in Birmingham, England they just recently constructed a new $300 million (£188m) library!
So what do they know that we don’t? Apparently, they know that regardless of changes in the future customers that they serve and the changing format of the product that they deliver; there is still a vital need for a free public space that educates people. The big question is determining what type of resources do they need to make available to their changing public? According to Brian Gambles, a project director at the new library in Birmingham, the library of the future must contribute to the surrounding community by actively being a “….part of a better economic future.…”. It can no longer just be a place to sit and read a good book.
This type of proactive approach to embracing and understanding change is not just limited to progressive Brits. Here in Atlanta at the West End Branch of the public library system, Robert E. White a Library Associate, is embracing the change he saw taking place in his industry and responding to the needs of the surrounding community. Over the years, the library has incorporated special programming that suits the specific needs of the patrons that they serve. They provide offerings that range from sewing classes that cater to the local Senior communities, to Search Engine Optimization workshops that target aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to join the ranks of thriving West End businesses.
White was inspired by personal vision and professional necessity to enter a Master’s degree program in order to enhance his understanding of changes in his industry. He is now envisioning a plan to one day transform the library from a learning center into an empowerment institution. White believes that the Library will one day become a “....Regional Center for continuing education and economic empowerment that fills in the learning gaps for all types of education, career and business development needs...." This focus is indicative of the type of control and confidence that comes from having a proactive commitment to understanding the changes taking place in your industry.
In addition to earning a new advanced degree in your field like Mr. White, some other ways to keep up with changes in your industry are as follows:
1) Ask the Audience – Create a questionnaire or opinion poll that helps you gain information about how your industry is perceived by customers, co-workers, clients, etc.
2) Phone-a-Friend – Find an expert in your field or mentor that you can regularly communicate with about changes in your industry.
3) Final Answer – Once you have decided on a course of action, be decisive. Take action, whether it means looking for new opportunities in your current industry, or switching to a new career field altogether.
People often refer to the decline of the "Buggy Whip" industry, due to the emergence of the automobile, as a metaphor for companies being unresponsive to change. In actuality, few industries totally disappear. Yet all industries experience change and transformation. Understanding the changes taking place in your industry can be the key to building a career based on processing good information, instead being at the mercy of other people making moves.

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