What skills will I need to stay relevant?

 This guy seems lost. Photo by  Atlas Green.

This guy seems lost. Photo by Atlas Green.

This post is the third part of a three-part series of posts that aim to answer the question of ‘Where to Next?’. The series starts with Where to next?, and continues with the post called Don't be a Title Chaser

When the question of ‘Where to next?’ is asked, I hear a myriad of other questions hidden within it:

  • What skills do I need to stay relevant?
  • What don’t I know that I really should know?
  • Have I done enough?
  • Why have I plateaued?
  • I’m lost. Please help!

In reality, the question of ‘Where to next' is about seeking clarity when you’re not clear on what to do next in your career.  It’s a cry for a compass and a sense of clear, proven direction. 

You’re off track with your career and you’re not sure what to do next in order to grow. 

In a nutshell, you’re lost.

When I think back on all the moments when I felt lost, it now seems to me that in reality, those moments were filled with endless opportunities and choices. In those moments, anything could've happened.

Standing at a cross-roads is far better than walking down a long, endless piece of highway isn't it?

But the feeling of ‘lost’ can be incredibly discomforting to say the least. It’s filled with self-doubt and sometimes bitterness.

I get it. 

Isn’t it unusual how we all crave a clear path forward when we’re stuck, yet we also know that life just doesn’t unfold that way? Life is messy. It's intricate and filled with unknowns.

A purposeful career, be it in design, digital or strategy is just that — filled with unknowns, surprises, twists and turns. And even though we know we know this—when the shit hits the fan or when we're standing at our own crossroads, our inner self is screaming for a very clear answer to the question of “What should I do next Jim? Get to the fucking point!”

Here’s my point:

If you’re not comfortable feeling lost, I feel sorry for you.

If you want the answer given to you, you won't discover anything new. You’ll be given a path that millions of others have trodden many times before you. Go and buy the text book on ‘how to be a designer’ or 'how to make it in the fields of advertising' and they will tell you to work your way from unpaid-intern through to junior to mid-weight to senior to design director, to senior strategist to creative director to the anguish of wishing you had time to work on the stuff that really got your creative juices flowing.


 If you’re comfortable feeling lost and are happily asking ‘Where can I go next?’ then welcome to the 21st Century.

In 2016 we have the opportunity to create something from nothing. The idea you have today can be create and placed into the world this evening without much hassle at all.

We’re living in a time where creativity has a seat at the board-room table and in many occasions runs the damn show! 

Hello, Jonathan Ive, Richard Florida and Cindy Gallop.

Here are some skill-sets and traits I believe you should be learning if you'd like to stay relevant in this complex and ever-changing world:

1. Entrepreneurship: A pioneering spirit
When you’re pioneering you’re moving beyond the status quo, you’re challenging what has been done before, the way it’s been done and you’re choosing to go on a journey without a map and you’re OK with it.

A pioneering spirit is something everyone thinks they have, but when they look within they don’t actually see it. A pioneering spirit will ensure you’re always working on the edge, trying, learning, seeking, failing forward.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the things you can’t see from the centre.”
Kurt Vonnegut

The Designer or Strategist with an entrepreneurial spirit will think about the business model, the supply chain and the return on investment as much as they are thinking about the function, form and usability of the product or service they’re creating.

The entrepreneurial Designer and Strategist will embrace technology, understand a problem quickly, find user needs, quickly glue different APIs together to prove a concept and sell that concept to stakeholders with a smile.

They’ll juggle a number of revenue streams in a number of industries with a number of partners who all see a healthy return for their stake.

They’ll embrace risk and they’ll be in a continual state of moving forward.

2. Design research: A thirst for learning and uncovering insights
What does the user actually need? What do they actually give a shit about? 

The Design Researcher will be asking these questions and more every day, albeit a little more eloquently than I have here.

They’ll dive into real-time data (social media, analytics), as eagerly as they dive into more traditional research (focus groups, quantitate and qualitative) to uncover the needs of real humans that are hidden in plain sight.

They’ll have an inquisitive curiosity for people that they’ll nurture through their work.

3. Social Impact: A problem solver for human issues
At Tank, creating positive impact is a business goal of ours. Making sure the work we do is good for people and the planet and also has a healthy balance of profit and purpose, is important to us.

This leads us towards roles in design that can solve real human problems.

How might you solve the problem of gender diversity and inclusion in a sporting environment?

How might you solve the problem of financial literacy, inclusion and access for a bank?

How might you help the social sector provide better services for their customers?

Work in positive social impact will become more and more important and if the changing landscape of the health and government sectors are anything to go by, the opportunities for Designers and Strategists will be plentiful.

4. Prototyping: Coding to make stuff
You have an idea — can you make a proof of concept and take it to your client to show them that same day without involving a Developer, a UI Designer a UX Designer or a Visual Designer? 

Prototyping is a critical skill now and it will become more and more important. The faster you can develop new ideas and take them to market (or to client) for testing, the higher the value of your contribution.

You don't need to know code as well as a developer does — but if you're stuck, you should have the confidence to choose a CMS platform, create a proof of concept, tweak some CSS and link up some APIs to make something tangible.

The rest is for the experts.

5. Facilitating and selling
Far too many Designers I meet abhor these words. The very notion of standing up in front of a group of people to guide them through a process or selling them an idea, petrifies them. 

In other circumstances I’ve seen and heard a complete apathy towards notions of selling, marketing or other commercial endeavours when it comes to the ‘purer’ view of design.

This is all bullshit.

Design isn’t art. Design is Design. It is a function within the world of commerce, the organisation and social innovation. The difference between design and art is that design has a client. Art does not. Yes there is art in design, but it’s not the whole of it.

Facilitating groups in an effort to learn from them, to guide them or to workshop with them is a skill any Designer or Strategist must have. Learning how to ask questions, facilitate a discussion and listen to the answers is the baseline.

I feel the same way about selling.

The Designer and Strategist today—to stay relevant—must have a strong understanding of the selling cycle of a product/service as well as an even stronger ability to sell ideas — their own and the ideas of others. If you're not clear on sales funnels, sales strategies and the differences between acquisition mode and conversion tactics — your work as a Designer and Strategist will suffer.

6. Emotional intelligence

I've seen people with years of experience, an MBA, honours degrees and all the rest, crumble, fail and crawl away into the distance because they lack this very important skill.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognise, understand, manage and influence your own and others emotional states. As a creative leader, as a strategist, as a person in the field of communication—this is the number one skill I would recommend you focus on.

Learning empathy for others, being able read between the lines of people's comments and understand their inherent needs are critical skills for any leader.

The ability to listen and hear, then comprehend something is something too many people take for granted.

A high level of EQ is my number one skill to stay relevant. It will see you chairing meetings, it will see you move from building rapport with your colleagues to mashing it up with Executives and CEOs in the blink of an eye. Moving from a range of conversation modes and being able to understand and influence people of different life experience is a rare but beautiful skill to have.

Here are some TED talks on EQ that will blow your mind:

These skills are a given if you’re simply entertaining the idea of creative leadership and looking to answer the question of Where to next?

I hope I've given you enough to ponder in this three-post series that aimed to answer this big question. If you still have questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

I post this Weekly Journal to subscribers every Tuesday. Subscribe for upcoming posts on the following topics:

• A method for job hunting
• Creative leadership
• The freelance business
• Strategy (This will be a big one!)


What makes a great creative leader?

Don't be a Title Chaser