The Art Of Reinventing Yourself… Or Anything Else
I’m about to admit something that will irk every academic who reads this.
It was my last semester of undergraduate school. A terrifying question consumed me.
How can I coast through my last semester and exploit my waining carefree life of navel-gazing by day and cheap beer drinking by night?
I signed up for a few notoriously easy classes. The History of Rock N Roll was a favorite for graduating seniors. You can guess why.
The class met in the evening once per week. It finished up at 8:30 PM. What could be better? You listen to some music for two and a half hours, grab a slice of pizza and hit the bars. Isn’t that why we have higher education?
I didn’t know it at the time, but a new professor had taken over The History of Rock N Roll class. It was no longer the designated time-killer for graduating seniors looking to bag three easy credits.
The professor made a point of acknowledging the reputation of this course on the first day of class. He further stated that it would be a challenging experience.
It Was A Blessing
A few of my friends dropped the course the next day. I stuck around. I don’t remember why, but I was probably too lazy to go to the registrar’s office and find an alternative. The year was 1993, and there was no computerized sign-up or registration.
My laziness turned out to be a blessing. It was no longer a lazy class of sampling music from different eras. It was a well-developed course that focused on how music influenced culture and how culture influenced music.
The tests were difficult, and so were the assignments and papers. It was also fascinating. I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. This was what I imagined college to feel like when I first arrived. I owe it all to a professor who decided to take his job seriously.
I don’t know if they gave the professor this class as a punishment, reward or out of a desire to turn it into something meaningful. What I do know is that he took the vague title for the course and reinvented it into a memorable experience for his students.
The Art Of Reinvention
Reinvention is a buzz word thrown around Corporate America, especially among product managers, marketers and executives. Big picture thinkers like to talk about reinventing their product or service.
What the heck is reinvention? What does it mean?
Reinvention — Implementing a new vision of an existing product, service, brand or person. You can reinvent anything: career, product, service, education, life.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the word, implementing. We all think about reinventing, but making it happen is what counts.
The Bridge Technique
The “how” is the tricky part. Most attempts to reinvent fail. The failure usually happens in the beginning. It’s best to start with the basics, the reinvention formula.
I will first share the method for reinvention. I’ll also show you two examples: one from The History Of Rock N Roll class and one from my attempt to reinvent my career.
Begin With The End — A New Vision
The arc of reinvention starts with a question. Below are three different variations of the same question. Pick one that most resonates with you. Answer with enough detail to create a vivid picture in your mind.
What is your ultimate vision for [your reinvention]?
What would it look like once it’s finished?
What do you wish it could be?
Now that you’ve answered that question, you should have a clear vision of your future state.
Next, we move to phase two. You need to determine the gap between where you are now and where you would like to be. We can express it in a simple equation.
Future state — current state = reinvention gap
What am I missing to reach my future state?
What do I lack to make my future state possible?
What would make my future state possible?
The bridge determines how you get from A to B. You need a concept, knowledge, skill or leverage point to bridge the two worlds.
The bridge can be something that exists in the current state that you tweak or leverage to serve you in the future state. It can also be something that exists outside the current state — a trait, skill or knowledge that you inject to reinvent. This combination of disparate ideas can have magical effects, as you’ll soon discover.
Example: Injecting new knowledge and skills
My History of Rock N Roll professor remade this course by infusing his vast knowledge, insight and love of American culture. The result was unrecognizable from its previous form.
The new vision: a class on the influence of music on culture, and the impact of culture on music.
Reinvention gap: The existing class focused on the progression of music throughout the 20th century. It lacked insight or debate on how music and culture influence each other.
Bridge: Our professor was a former 1960’s hippie. He had a keen sense of the relationship between music and culture and had taught other classes that focused on culture. He infused that experience with music to create something new.
Example: Using Leverage to bridge the current and future state
In the mid-1990s, I had been working in the Hotel industry. I hated the business and wanted out. The internet was taking off. Organizations were desperate for computer programmers. I wanted a piece of this action, but I lacked the skills. How did I get there? In this example, I leveraged my experience to act as a bridge.
The new vision: secure a job in the burgeoning computer programming field
Reinvention gap: I had no computer programming skills.
Bridge: Many of the firms hiring were desperate for new programmers who possessed client relationship skills. They didn’t want backroom coders. They wanted techies who could talk to clients. That was my opening. I leveraged my guest relations experience from the hotel business as a bridge to the customer relationship skills these firms craved.
An organization hired me. They trained me for six months at their expense. I’ve reinvented my career twice since then using the same technique.
- Determine your future state. What will the end-state look like?
- Determine the reinvention gap. What’s missing to make it happen?
- Brainstorm possible bridges. Do you have outside knowledge, skills or ideas you can infuse to your current state and create something new? Or, is there something you can leverage from your current state to close the gap with your future state?