Dear young new (future) employees,
You have an opportunity to change the world; but I am worried about you. Understandably, you are probably not interested in a finger-wagging lecture from an old fuddy-duddy and grandfather like me. But, that is not my intent, so please hear me out.
Here’s my main concern: It’s possible that you are overly obsessed with social media. There is more to life than Facebook, video games, You Tube, Internet surfing and endless texting. Sure, each past generation has had its share of new gadgets and technologies to become immersed in – but none compare to what has become available to your generation.
Don’t get me wrong; the Internet and smart phones are great. But, they can also be time-consuming distractions that keep you from focusing on more important things – like career-building and learning activities that prepare you for the future.
By no means am I proposing that you abandon social media and the endless wave of new technologies. Instead, I have a suggestion that allows you to make the most of your technology savvy and social media skills while planning for a future career: Gain proficiency with analytics. Now is a great time to focus on a career using analytics. The application of analytics to gain insights and solve problems is an emerging trend in all fields – with endless possibilities.
For example, you probably already enjoy examining statistics in sports or survey polls. Those examples only scratch the surface, as there are thousands of other uses of analytics waiting for you to wrap your brains around. An example of applying analytics in the business world you will soon enter is identifying the types of customers to offer the best deals to, like many suppliers do. And analytics can be applied in fields of medicine, insurance, supply chain logistics, energy management, and crime prevention just to name a few. I’ll say more about analytics shortly. But first, I’d like to discuss the importance of focusing on the activities that will best prepare you for the future.
Perils of constantly being online
Researchers claim that the development of the adolescent brain can be altered due to constantly switching tasks – and consequently being less able to maintain focus and set priorities. Is this a good thing? Both pf them, focus and priority setting, are highly important for future career success. My fear is your brain is being improperly wired.
You might argue that adults have contributed to my concern by providing schools with computers, Internet access and software. It is true that educators desire to teach you in the same digital environment you are being raised in, which in many ways is a good thing. But when I read about how many hours you spend texting, browsing Facebook, or playing video games, it concerns me. A New York Times article described a 14-year-old who sent and received 27,000 texts in a month! I realize that not everyone participates with such extreme behavior, but at some level an uncontrolled use of digital devices can addict you to a virtual world – not the reality that you will be living in as an employee of an organization. Computers and the digital world are not just for entertainment but also for learning.
I also realize that your distraction with technology is rivaled with your acquired skills by applying technology. Many of you are discovering how to grow your interests, like making videos, which can be invaluable in your work careers. However, a balance is needed. I want you to develop critically needed competencies and identify what type of work you may like, but I don’t want your grades to suffer; and there is evidence of this. Yes, being technology savvy will give you an edge compared to those who are not. But there is a limit. Consider what MIT professor Sherry Tuttle explains in her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. She observes that people are increasingly functioning without face-to-face contact, and as a result young peoples’ identities are being adversely shaped.
Starting with the basics
No doubt your generation is far ahead of mine when it comes to knowing how to use the latest technologies. But, does it come at the expense of experiencing the most basic, traditional forms of learning that are so valuable? How often have you read a book or watched a meaningful movie without special effects?
I am thankful that during my childhood and early adult years I spent quality time with friends, developing social skills without having to think about checking for voice or text messages. My friends and I made up games, learning how to negotiate through problems when something happened that wasn’t defined in the rules we’d made up. It’s amazing what valuable life lessons – and learning opportunities – can come from such simple activities.
Embrace technology and social media – and use it to your advantage
Again, just because I am imploring you to start with the basics doesn’t mean that I’m suggesting you should abandon new technologies. Innovation will (and should) continue forever. In fact, I propose the opposite – embrace information technologies and their power to solve problems. Analytics plays a key role in problem solving. We now live in an exciting period in history. I personally feel so lucky to have been schooled with foundational concepts during the latter half of the 20th century and now enjoy exploiting them with technology in the 21st century.
And please do not misinterpret me that social media is not important. I actually feel just the opposite. The application of social media is accelerating in business and commerce. It provides a way for people across the globe to easily communicate and offers fast, efficient and effective ways to learn. It allows organizations to converse with customers in unimaginable ways. And, social media and analytics go hand in hand. For example, data mining tools are becoming more powerful at sweeping through mountains of unstructured text data to detect positive and negative sentiment – which can be gathered from social media sites – about one’s company or competitors in nearly real time.
Business-oriented social media sites, like Linkedin.com, can be very valuable for building a network of professional contacts. Such sites are a great way to use social media for two very beneficial purposes – to learn and to influence. So there are many useful ways for you to communicate with Facebook and texting – but in moderation. And if you do choose to embrace analytics, you’ll have the skills to build and defend your thoughts and ideas with fact-based evidence.
Focusing on analytics now will enhance your career
You will be thankful if you invest more personal time and energy now in becoming more analytical. Intuition, gut feel, posturing and office politics are commonly determining factors when making decisions. However, they can often lead to the wrong decisions. Organizations are increasingly relying on fact-based information – derived from analytics. Therefore, it takes smart, technologically savvy people with analytical skill sets to deliver the information needed for sound decision making. And your generation has just the characteristics needed to successfully fill that need.
Analytics are used in almost every field imaginable – including health care, insurance, supply chain logistics, energy management, law enforcement and more – so job opportunities are plentiful.
So now you have some good reasons for channeling your social media and technological skills in ways that will benefit your career. However, I am not your mother or father telling you what to do. If you are like those in any young generation that preceded you, it is natural to be somewhat rebellious – and I was too. But please consider your future and reflect on my advice. If you devote more time being focused on learning, especially about analytics, you will ultimately have a more satisfying career – and maybe even make the world a better place while you’re at it.
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Gary Cokins is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in advanced cost management and performance improvement systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management, an advisory firm located in Cary, North Carolina at www.garycokins.com . Gary received a BS degree with honors in Industrial Engineering/Operations Research from Cornell University in 1971. He received his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 1974. Gary began his career as a strategic planner with FMC’s Link-Belt Division and then served as Financial Controller and Operations Manager. In 1981 Gary began his management consulting career first with Deloitte consulting, and then in 1988 with KPMG consulting. 1992 Gary headed the National Cost Management Consulting Services for Electronic Data Systems (EDS) now part of HP. From 1997 until recently Gary was in business development with SAS, a leading provider of enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) and business analytics and intelligence software.