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Wandering Into the Innovation Economy

Your best thinking can find you a job.

The news about the job market isn't getting any better as unemployment rates continue to rise. The latest catch-phrase is "jobless recovery" based on the notion that the economy will improve but many jobs will be lost forever.

News like this can make us all feel helpless and at the mercy of uncontrollable external forces. If you're unemployed this has to be particularly scary news, and even if you're working we all know the feeling that a paycheck today doesn't necessarily guarantee one tomorrow. And there is no doubt that reality is setting in for certain industries. It is the nature of jobs to change and evolve over time. (Imagine a help-wanted ad for a "webmaster" in 1980 or for a "blacksmith" today.)

There was much talk about the new "knowledge economy" in the late 20th century, and now we're hearing about the "innovation economy" as the latest source for jobs. The innovation economy rests on the ability to create new ideas and turn them quickly into new products or technology.

We have been moving away from a manufacturing-based economy for decades now, and yet reporters regularly interview people who react like this is new information which they didn't see coming.

I'm reminded of a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, "Your best thinking got you here." It's a double-edged saying: on the one hand, you could argue that your best thinking got you to a meeting that's going to change your life for the better; on the other hand, your best thinking caused you to drink too much to begin with. But what is clear in that message is that you need to change your thinking if you're going to change your life.

The same message applies to your work life. Your best thinking got you into whatever job you held. Will the same "best thinking" help you find a new job? If your best thinking was to choose one career and stick to it regardless of economic trends then it's probably time to re-think your plans. How did you select your career path? Did you choose it or did it choose you? Were you influenced by where you lived, what your parents did, or what looked "good" to others?

So take a moment and keep thinking about this. Do the choices you made then make sense now? Knowing what you know now, would you choose this path again? If not, what would you do instead?

When you survey the present economic landscape, what career now sounds best?

Better yet, instead of racking your brain for new career ideas, why not relax and let your mind wander.

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal written by Robert Lee Hotz discusses the value of a wandering mind, particularly in this new innovation economy where ideas are key to our futures. Sometimes the best ideas occur when we are wandering, or as the author of the article says, "our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering." It turns out that "wandering is a much more complex state" than previously thought.

As one who advocates "wise wandering" (my career coaching system), I concur. In a blog posting awhile back, I discussed my theory of career "wandering": the notion that some of the best careers are discovered by wandering, by trying things out and seeing what happens.

We tend to put down the person who doesn't have a clear career goal, who jumps from one job to another, assuming that they are dilettantes of sorts, incapable of committing or making a decision. And, perhaps some are; but that doesn't invalidate the concept of wandering. Some of our best discoveries come from wandering.

So what ideas do you have for your future? What skills do you have and what skills would you like to develop? This is not the time for excuses: it is the time to wander. Ideas aren't limited to the young or the well-educated. Colonel Sanders had a 7th grade education and started his first KFC franchise at age 65 with his first social security check.

Not sure you're an "idea" person? Have you ever solved a problem? Have you fixed something? Did you ever come up with a creative solution? You might have more ideas than you realize-- or perhaps your best idea might be to partner up with an "idea" person who isn't as good at carrying out the necessary tasks as you are. There's always a need for support people behind the idea person.

Crisis spurs innovation, and virtually every economic downturn results in new industries dominating the scene. So if this economy has tossed you off the merry-go-round, how to you plan to get back on in the new economy?

Start reading. Start talking to people about new ideas. Wander-- get out of your comfort zone. If you hang out with the same people, maybe it's time to join some new groups. Check which sponsors about 65,000 groups across the country. Many are focused on business start-ups or innovation. If you can't find a group you're interested in, start your own. You never know whom you'll meet.

Check your Chamber of Commerce for monthly meetings or networking sessions. The life of an entrepreneur can be tiring and lonely-- maybe you'll meet an entrepreneur with a great idea who could use your help. There may not be much money in it at first, but if the business takes off, you're there from the beginning.

With some new training, new ideas, or new energy you just might find a whole new life. The classic business maxim is "find a need and fill it." Here's a great blog on innovation from Dave Pollard with lots of ideas. What are the needs in your community? What ideas do you have based on working in whatever industry you were in? What would improve the field?

Start wandering. Your best thinking is yet to come.

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