THE BLOG
04/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Will Your Future Be Changed By The Bad Economy...or Something Even Bigger?

A friend of mine was talking with me about their business recently. Typical story; times are tough, sales are down but they hoped that things would pick up again in a few months. Maybe a year or two, at worst.

I knew a bit about their business, so I asked if I could be honest with them. Of course, they said.

And that's when I told them that their business wasn't coming back.

There are two significant yet very different things going on in the economy right now that will have life altering consequences for millions of people .

We all know one of them; the economy is bad. We hear about the Bad Economy every day, everywhere. There are plenty of numbers and statistics to back it up. But just as significant and much less discussed is unmistakable fact that the economy is also radically changing.

Understanding the difference between the Bad Economy and the Changing Economy could be the key difference between just squeaking by in tough tough times and prospering.

In my friend's case, their business's problem wasn't that it was bad. It had changed forever. Listening to my friend was like listening to someone in the music business saying, "Well, cassette sales are down right now but after the economy picks up we're sure we're going to be back to 1986 levels and everything will be fine."

To be sure, some business are just going through a difficult period. The construction industry is certainly having a bad time but it's probably not changing in a fundamental way. In the future, people will still want buildings and homes and roads and bridges.

But just as sure, jobs lost from the Changing Economy are also all around us. Newspapers are closing not because people can't afford a paper anymore but because the Internet has changed the way people get news and use advertising, including classified ads. I don't see anything in the future that indicates that newspapers as we know them are going to make a resurgence.

Or take the case of electronic retailer Circuit City. They closed all their stores and over 30,000 people are out of work. I don't think another big box electronics retailer is going to rise up from their ashes to take their place. There are too many options like online retailers like Amazon.com and NewEgg.com, brick and mortar stores like WalMart and BestBuy, and direct sales from companies like Apple and Dell that seem to have consumer electronics covered.

So while people might have less disposable income to spend on HDTVs and computers, it seems to me that wasn't the biggest problem Circuit City faced. That means that most of the former workers there aren't going to be able to do a pivot to another company doing the same thing. Things changed and they need to change with them.

The good news is that this is a foreseeable problem. Knowledge really is power. Start by asking yourself honestly whether the industry you're in is fundamentally changing.

If it is, then you can't afford to wait until things get 'bad' - you have to try and figure out how changes will effect you and your job or business right now. To repeat - right now. Otherwise, you are going to waste time hoping things will get better instead of looking for other opportunities so you can roll with the changes.

Ask yourself questions and talk to friends, family, and co-workers. You can't count on your boss or the 'industry leaders' to figure this stuff out for you because they are often the ones most in denial about the shifting sands that may be about to engulf their business.

Where is your industry going? Can you get there first with your own business or by shifting in a job with future potential? Should you consider changing industries? Are you facing a rough patch or totally new landscape?

Remember that while scary, change presents opportunity as well. Getting out in front of these questions of the Bad Economy vs. the Changing Economy might not save your job because it might be too late for that. But if you're able to think it through and can act on your knowledge, you sure could save your future.

Lee Stranahan teaches seminars on topics like building your dream career and you can sign up for his seminar newsletter here.