Countdown to Your Career Obsolescence

career obsolescence

Technology improves at the speed of innovation. A good and a bad thing.

Great when you’re a consumer with a brand new smartphone. Not so great when the next generation of your smartphone comes out with exciting new bells and whistles a month later.

The idea of planned obsolescence is nothing new. The story goes that the notion was hatched when light bulb makers in the 1920s formed a cartel to keep their product’s life span short, ensuring that consumers would have to keep coming back for more. Planned obsolescence also made a stir with women’s fashion. When nylon pantyhose were first introduced, manufacturer DuPont saw dollar signs as women were quick to snap up the stronger, more durable tights. But once purchased, the nylon proved too good—the quality had to be decreased so that women would need to buy the product again and again.

Today, cries of planned obsolescence have crept largely into the world of technology: resurfacing nearly every time a new iteration of an Apple product hits the market as users claim their older devices are inexplicably slowing down.

Whether or not the conspiracy theories are true, the concept of planned obsolescence can teach us a lot about the modern workforce. It’s easy to feel like we’re subject to planned obsolescence ourselves: over time, we can lose touch with the newest developments in our industry. If technology is being intentionally designed to fail with time, aren’t we also seeing that the newer, younger workforce makes us look like we’re slowing down or not as sharp after a while?

Here are some tips that can help you fight the notion of planned obsolescence in the workplace:

  1. Stay hungry

Often what separates the newest employees from the longtime veterans is their willingness to jump in and take on a difficult or even thankless task. Employees fresh on the job can be desperate to prove themselves and be especially eager in areas where more seasoned employees may know they need not be involved. But demonstrating a heightened willingness to remain in the nitty-gritty of the work that needs to be done can communicate to others that you’re still engaged. What’s more, by remaining actively involved in some of the day-to-day deliverables you would otherwise have long since delegated to a lower-level employee, you’ll be better able to stay in touch with the ever-evolving nature of your business and perhaps find even better solutions to every day problems. Of course, always make sure you know the difference between getting involved and micromanaging!

  1. Learn and develop new skills

The time-honed skills you have developed to be a leader in your company are not a replacement for the know-how of your business’ rank and file. Say you’re hiring a new entry-level employee. You’re going to call for a certain number of skills—technical and otherwise—that are must-haves for the job. But as you sort through what those skills might be and find that you now have none of them, perhaps it’s time for a bit more education in some of those areas. If, for example, you require all new employees to master photo editing software, it’s likely in your best interest to have some working knowledge of those programs. Otherwise, you might find that you’re hiring people who don’t know as much as they say they do or you may find yourself unable to communicate effectively what you need from them.

  1. Create your own professional milestones and goals

There’s a lesson to be learned from planned obsolescence. If indeed it’s the way that businesses nudge consumers to upgrade or renew their purchases, planned obsolescence can only be accomplished by demonstrating why the consumer needs to act.

The snag in a pair of stockings demonstrates that product’s weakness, for example. So take a look at your career and your skillset to determine where your own weaknesses lie. Then, devise a number of measurable goals that you can work toward achieving.

So what’s your snag? Maybe you’re finding that there are a number of unfamiliar faces buzzing around the office place. Your measurable goal could be to have a coffee with all of the new hires you haven’t yet gotten to know. Maybe you’re finding yourself increasingly out of touch with a specific sector of your company. Your measurable goal could be to meet with the appropriate department head and develop a better understanding of what he or she does every day. By analyzing your own personal product for where it is no longer operating at optimal levels, you may be able to prevent your own obsolescence and find yourself better invested in the future of your company and your industry.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.