I recall a friend saying that what impressed him about Madonna was that she kept reinventing herself. In fact if she were a product then she’d be at about version 6.2 by my reckoning. In other words she has evolved herself from her roots as a brash, attention seeking pop star to become someone grown ups can enjoy. In business you tend not see people reinventing themselves in such obvious ways but it’s clear when you study the careers of the really successful that they too will go through a series of upgrades. Take Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, two of the most successful tech leaders in history. Bill Gates was a hard-nosed, often rude but brilliant leader at Microsoft. He, however, had enough vision to realize that he needed to get out of the company and use his talents and wealth for bigger and better challenges facing the world. His persona has softened as he deals with achieving goals that are more humanitarian in nature but is energy and brilliance remain very evident. Jobs meanwhile, has been the ultimate comeback kid. He founded Apple and made enough enemies to get fired. But he learned from his mistakes and has produced the text book turnaround story, making Apple the second most valuable company in the world behind Exxon.
So how do we know if we are stuck at version 1.3 or that we’ve managed to evolve to version 4.2? For that matter, how do we know if version 4.2 is any good and that we should have stuck with version 3.7? Sadly we don’t keep track of human evolution in the same way computer software engineers do but there are some obvious signs and here’s my stab at what they may be:
1. Are you still trying to solve the same business challenges you were when you started your career?
2. Are you still offering the same solutions to business challenges you were a year ago?
3. Has your (work) network remained pretty much constant for the last three years?
4. Are you in complete control of your job or are there significant parts that scare you?
5. Do you still have (give or take some grey hairs) the same hairstyle you had five years ago?
If you answered ‘yes’ to most, if not all of the above then you are likely in need of an upgrade. Why the hairstyle question? I admit it’s a little silly and I don’t really care what people look like but have you noticed how people suddenly get stuck with a certain look? You often see old men with the same hairstyle and dress sense they had twenty years earlier. For some it works but many it doesn’t. The way we look is just packaging but we all know that good packaging sells. Now of course there are products that reach an optimal version and shouldn’t be messed with. Take musicians such as Elton John. If you went to one of his concerts and he played nothing but new material you’d likely be disappointed. However, if he plays all his (old) hits then assuming you’re a fan you’d love it. In other words don’t mess with a great product. Most of us are not likely to be the next Elton John, however, and could likely use at least a minor, if not major, upgrade. So, it’s a new year, why not plot out a product road map for… you.