Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 18;   May 1, 2002: Learn from the Mastodon

Learn from the Mastodon

by

Not long ago, Mastodons roamed North America in large numbers. Cousins to the elephant, they thrived in the cool, sub-glacial climate. But the climate warmed, and human hunters arrived. The Mastodon couldn't adapt, and now it's extinct. Change is now coming to your profession. Can you adapt?

About 11,000 years ago, the climate in North America warmed. Glaciers melted, rainfall patterns changed, and the differences between summer and winter increased. The Mastodon, which thrived in a cool climate, suddenly found life difficult. A specialist, it couldn't adapt fast enough. It was under stress.

A Mastodon skeleton

A Mastodon skeleton. Photo courtesy Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

At about the same time, humans appeared in force. Some scientists believe that human hunting and other activity also contributed to stress on the Mastodon, both directly and indirectly.

When the climate warmed, and their food disappeared, and humans started hunting them, the Mastodons couldn't respond. Extinction followed.

Are you adaptable? Or are you a Mastodon?

Because adaptability gives companies a competitive edge, they train us in Organizational Change. They talk about organizational agility as a corporate asset.

But many companies send mixed messages. Though they extol organizational agility, they still hire specialists, instead of people with proven ability to learn and adapt. They pay premiums for specialized skills, and even promote on the basis of proven specialized competencies.

If you work for an
"agile organization," it pays
to be pretty agile yourself
Such organizations tend to employ specialized professionals who find it difficult to adapt. When these organizations need new skills, they hire them, or they outsource. They jettison specialists they no longer need — their mastodons.

If you work in an "agile organization," and you're a highly specialized professional, you can't be certain how long that environment will remain friendly to your specialization. And unless you can adapt to the coming changes, you'll become extinct.

How can you avoid extinction?

Get ahead of the climate
Be attentive to professional climate changes — the big, slow changes in your industry and profession. If you were a secretary or administrative assistant in 1985, you had to be a good typist. Computer skills were a nice plus, but not essential. Now, typewriters are irrelevant.
New technologies and new ways of doing business can change everything. To avoid extinction, learn about five-year trends in your profession. Get ahead of the climate.
Stay close to your food sources
Your food sources are your company's customers. Are the products and services that you help produce attracting more and more customers? Or are they losing customers?
If they're losing customers, consider an internal transfer or a hop to a company that's gaining customers year after year. Stay close to your food sources.
Outrun the hunters
Your hunters are professional skills that substitute for the skills you have. For instance, if you're a COBOL expert in an IT organization, Web-based technologies have reduced the value of your skills. You'll either have to find a company that's Web-averse, or learn Web-based technologies, or find another career.
If your specialty is mature, target a new, fast-growing specialty and become an early expert. Outrun the hunters.

If you do all these things, you're more likely to avoid the fate of the Mastodon. And you'll be following the path of a different, but very successful species — Human Beings. Go to top Top  Next issue: If You Weren't So Wrong So Often, I'd Agree with You  Next Issue

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