Strategies for Avoiding Commoditization in the Age of Automation

Relax, you are valuable.
Relax, you are valuable.

As the middle class is being carved out with the relentless gears of automation, knowledge workers have to figure out how to stay relevant. Salaries for industrial age jobs may have continually been decreasing for the past few decades, but there are opportunities to avoid such commoditization personally. You have to think and be strategic about where and how you develop your talent.

It starts with a mindset and a different way of looking at the world. Unfortunately, you don’t get to sit on your accomplishments for a long time. In the connected economy we find ourselves with a mystery door that is open for anyone to peer into your work, assimilate it quickly and build upon your ideas within their own context. Thus, you have an inherent half-life for any of your competencies or innovations.

Change is rapid, iterative and collective in nature. This can be scary if you are looking for that elusive, secure place where there are no threats to your value. But consider these strategies to help you avoid commoditization:

1. Assume Your Ideas and Position Will Obsolesce

What has retained its value over the last 5 years? Do we keep printers, cars or software for that long without upgrading or discarding these tools?

We can make things pretty easily now. And once there is another innovation squeezed out of a platform, what we are currently using begins to look boring and outdated. We are pulled towards getting that new iPhone, cloud computing program or sharing service.

Technology and the speed by which we are innovating threatens a current position for any manufacturer or developer. The consumers and users of your technology or service will move on to an enhanced option once this materializes either in use case or technical advancement.

Your best strategy is to be prepared for the upgrade. Stay nimble. Don’t overcommit resources. Build a platform where you have flexibility to maneuver.

2. Think a Few Steps Ahead

Many workers in today’s economy get trapped because they lack imagination. They are part of a dynamic world which continually presents itself to us with ridiculous speed. However, our minds are trapped in a static mindset and hope. Perhaps it is denial, fear or naïveté. Regardless of the source, hoping in a static reality will be detrimental to your position.

Think of your current state as a step. It will change and have context into multiple steps. Can you see the next steps of customer adoption or value perception by your employer?

If you can envision what the next step or three will be, then you can work on the contingencies and timing to move your own position towards the next role which makes sense. You have to think of your value in the dynamic world as a lifecycle. It will start, peak and decline. Then the next role, position or product will do the same.

You want to exit and think about when and how to move to your next role.

3. Value Continual Learning as a Core Competency

We don’t lack information today. Information used to provide power and job security to your managers, consultants and advisors. The more they had and could withhold, the more seniority, money and opportunity they could retain and leverage.

Today, we use Google and can find whatever information we want. We can learn anything we want from management best practices to software development. It’s not inaccessible. It does take initiative. But the convenience of accessing any information from your iPhone makes the game of business a completely different playing field.

What you know is less relevant than how you put the pieces together. Your value will come from insights of the information that is available. Can you assimilate the abundant and ubiquitous information and come up with a next idea that makes sense as a use case? Are you a source of fresh ideas and insights? That is what makes you relevant to the people who pay you. You have to have the mindset of being a continual learner.

Reading, putting your thoughts out in the universe and testing your ideas in context have to become a cornerstone practice of your daily work. You have to become your own research and development department.

It’s You Against the World

Even if you have a great idea or embedded area of work, the world around you will work collectively take an idea and improve upon it. And your customers will get bored. They experience innovation wherever they go and become snobs. They expect something better all the time.

If you are static, then innovation and automation will commoditize your position. Sure, you can find areas where there is complexity or other barriers to protect your position. But playing defense is a poor strategy when the rest of the world is relentlessly affecting all the sectors of our life experience.

You don’t want to be against the world. You want to be with the world and develop the habits, mindset and approach to align with the reality of change and innovation. In this way, you avoid commoditization. You become a contributor with value that is intrinsic rather than resting on one snapshot in time.

How can you avoid commoditization in your world?

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