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Assets, Equities and Owning the Future

Last month I was invited to speak to a diverse group of professional women. I explored the idea of “women and ownership” from both a literal, economic standpoint (think: real estate), as well as experiential, personal and emotional standpoints (think: accepting opportunity and the consequences of our decisions). How, I asked the group, can we truly own our lives, embrace our choices, create opportunities and drive change? Moreover, how do we own change itself?

Women and ownership have a particularly complicated history. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, for example, wasn’t passed until 1974. But ownership, especially today, is neither an idea confined to possessions nor an abstract issue.

It seems to me that in this era of great upheaval, both genders are required to reconsider the notion and definitions of ownership. We are living through a time that is being referred to as The Second Machine Age, the title of a book published in January. The authors, both from MIT, say unequivocally the revolution is here. “Digital technologies – with hardware, software and networks at their core – will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human…professions of all kinds – from lawyers to truck drivers – will be forever upended.”

To date you’ve seen glimpses of it with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. You’ve seen industries entirely reinvented – think music and journalism. You’ve seen businesses hacked – like Target. You’ve seen the cost barriers to starting a scaled business removed in terms of inexpensive cloud computing. You’re seeing wearable computing with products like Nike FuelBand and Google Glass, and you will see increasing automation, increasing amounts of data, increasing threats and surprising opportunities.

The BBC recently published a piece entitled The Last Durable Industry. In it the author makes the case that “to win in the modern economy one must stop thinking about durable jobs and start becoming a durable talent. The last durable industry is not an industry at all, but your own skills and talent.”

Today’s workplace demands skills, flexibility and an opinion. In a knowledge economy you have to be able to answer not What do you do? but What do you think? and What are going to do about it?

Lara Galinsky explored the subject of ownership from a slightly different perspective in her HBR Blog Network post “What Problem will you Own?” Her prescription: “Identify your problem, prioritize it, and then work to solve it with the resources you have.” Galinsky talks about making a difference in society, but her advice is relevant whether it pertains to big social issues or just the small day-to-day decisions about what you want to achieve at work today.

In this environment, no one can guarantee job or even career security. The only guarantee is change. The best way to manage that change is through ownership. Own the change and you are part of the future.

So, to paraphrase Galinsky: What Will You Own in 2014? I’d encourage you to think broadly. Here are three opportunities to consider:

Own your education. It’s no longer confined to four years of undergrad and a graduate degree. It is all the time, everywhere, lifelong. You can take a course at a top-notch university online tonight. For free. You can read a publication outside your discipline. You can educate yourself on a digital technology you’ve only heard about, the point is, you can – and must – own your education going forward.

Own your social expression. We’re all publishers and data producers now. This means getting on LinkedIn and understanding how recruiting works. It means understanding what your social data says about you and understanding the data trail you’re leaving. Shape a virtual self that is in line with who you are in the world and where you want to go.

Own your transformation. If the world is changing, your job and your career will change too. I can say with some certainty that you will have to transform what you do and how you do it in the next few years. That might be as radical as starting your own company. It might mean leading a new effort within your company. It might mean something entirely different. But if you don’t change, change is going to happen to you.

What other things do you think it is vital to own today, and what will you decide to own, push and turn into reality?



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