The average tenure of S&P 500 companies has decreased dramatically over the last half-century, from 61 years in 1958 to just 18 years in 2012. An S&P 500 company is now being replaced about once every two weeks, and the churn rate will likely continue to accelerate. These figures are a constant reminder of the challenges presented by relentless disruption. What got us to where we are today is not going to get us to where we need to be tomorrow. We must continually evolve and adapt to changing client needs and market conditions, at an ever more rapid pace. Showing up differently is a daily requirement.
The implications of constant change are no less profound for executives. Today's average American worker stays at his or her job just over four years and by some estimates millennials will have 15 - 20 jobs across several companies over the course of their working lives. I have been fortunate enough to have a "non-traditional" career that has spanned the private, public and social sectors, and multiple geographies (six countries across four continents to date). Here are the lessons I've learned along the way.
1. Get comfortable with discomfort.
Change is rarely easy, but the only way to grow as a professional is to throw yourself into situations where you cannot be entirely confident of your success. I learned this early in my career when at 23 I moved to Brussels from the U.S. to lead a global student organization, AIESEC. I was living and working in a new country, leading a team of talented young professionals from more than a dozen countries and representing the organization to CEOs and government leaders. I was certainly out of my comfort zone but it was a hugely invigorating experience filled with incredible professional growth as well as my share of stumbles along the way. Ever since, I have strongly believed that extending well beyond one's comfort zone is the path to exponential growth. In my experience, if you only operate and extend your frame of reference to environments in which you are comfortable, you are not going to keep up with the pace of change happening around you.
2. Seek opportunities for professional growth, not simply title progression.
Very often I hear executives ask, "How do I get to the next level?" A better question is "What is the best way I can grow and stretch myself?" That opens the aperture of opportunity much wider. Early in my tenure as the global director of communications at McKinsey, I joined the firm's technology strategy committee. At the time, social and digital were nascent and were not a major focus of my role. But, being surrounded by experts who determined how to invest significant resources in technology seemed like a great learning opportunity. As it turned out, it provided me with a front-row seat to the digital and mobile revolutions and gave me invaluable perspectives that continue to benefit my clients and me today.
3. Be an early adopter and experiment.
While it can be dizzying trying to keep up with the "next new thing," it is absolutely essential for business leaders to engage with new technologies and platforms lest they be left behind (think of the fate of companies who did not appreciate the implications of the proliferation of smartphones and tablets). Even experimenting with developments that do not take hold helps build new muscles and pattern recognition for future use. Through early adoption and experimentation you build agility and a mind-set that enables professionals to become agents of change. Our CEO, Richard Edelman, placed an early and substantial bet on digital and we continually add new capabilities to better serve our clients.
4. Cultivate diverse perspectives and skill sets.
Groupthink and comfort with the status quo are recipes for disaster. We have seen countless great companies falter or fail because they were locked into existing processes and didn't appreciate the magnitude of change happening around them. Great leaders surround themselves with people who have a broad diversity of experiences, skills and opinions, and actively encourage divergent views to be aired.
Disruption is the new normal, and that will not change anytime soon. Now is the time for those who are willing and able to show up differently.