Ana Pischl
January 8, 2014

Career Growth: Industries Have Expiration Dates Too

The past is linear. The future is arguably a little less linear, and a little more jumbled ball of stops, rest points, and sideways explorations.

Online education is abuzz at the moment—sites like Udemy, Skillshare, Couresa, etc.—all competing to be your education supplement. This post isn’t so much about why you should be taking those courses (because we all know already that you should always continue your education in any way possible), it’s more about what you’re going to do with your newly found skills.

Most people I talk to have a career trajectory. Unless you’re Michael Bay and your career is pretty much now restricted to behind the cameras. But then again, I don’t really talk to Michael Bay…

The point is, online courses are short-term boosts of activity that supplement your long-term trajectory. But what if this isn’t so?

Industries have expiration dates too. There are hundreds of evidential business cycle stories like the fall of newspapers, Singularity University’s AI koolaid, or Uber’s transformational taxi system. Then there are S curves and innovation curves like Garter’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2014.

As futures go, there always seem to be many options. But when you really look at it, there must be a reason all our options converge into a neat, linear path. The truth is, if you can get past all of the naysayers and negative Nancies in your life, then you still have to come up with the motivation to keep growing as a person. And even then, growth is further linearized because it can be categorized into two forms—vertical and horizontal.

Howard Schultz: Xerox Salesman to well, you know the story.

Vertical growth is when the relationship between your knowledge and influence are directly related. In growing vertically, you usually have only one starting point, where both your knowledge and influence are at 0. This growth is usually rewarded by an increase in salary, a bonus, etc. A graphic designer taking a course on consumer psychology (or reading this awesome book) to move up from QA to UX designer is a great example of vertical growth.

Horizontal growth on the other hand, is when the relationship between your knowledge and influence have an inverse relationship. What this means, is that at several points in your career, you were at level 0 in either influence or knowledge (or maybe both depending on your risk-aversion). Horizontal growth is usually much more intrinsically motivated. For example, a graphic web designer who learns to wireframe in order to transition and grow horizontally into the mobile space.

The graphic designer going from QA to UX has to convince their boss they’re game for a different assignment. The graphics designer going from web to mobile has to convince another industry that he’s got the chops to work on their project.

When you’re becoming more and more awesome by updating your skillset, remember to MAKE a choice which industry to be in. There are many options of which industry to move horizontally or vertically.

Emerging industries, for example, can be extremely tight-knit.  Smaller industries tend to have tighter-knit people, by de facto. In terms of “who-you-know”, quality is always better than quantity. You could get a bigger workload early on. Getting your hands dirty is part of building an industry! And you could even be offered a higher salary. Emerging markets tend to have greater fluctuates and inflation in pricing before reaching an equilibrium.

But there are also many reasons to stay in an existing industry. For starters, the learning stage of skill evolution more readily happens in existing industries, whether you’re growing vertically or horizontally. Secondly, you probably have more connections in existing industries. It’s just the nature of the game. And lastly, there’s a certain uncertainty with the whole “new industry” thing. It’s not for everyone.

Go collect as much information as you can, absorb, learn, be a sponge! And when the time comes, don’t be afraid to take the leap. More than your skills, you must have confidence. Whether you’re growing vertically or horizontally, at least you’re growing. That’s more than a lot of people can say. Kudos!

Go get ‘em tiger.

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Ana Pischl

VP of Operations at Mobile Action
Currently transforming the mobile space as VP Operations at Mobile Action, and feeding my insatiable curiosity as a TEDx Curator. I love learning, behavioral econ, driving too fast, and a good dinner party.

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