I'm worried about keeping up with all of the advances in technology and the effects of globalization. Should I be?
Yes, no, and maybe. There's no question that we live in a rapidly changing world without the predictability that midcareer executives from prior generations enjoyed. But you can control something: yourself and your personality. So I'm hedging my answer.
First, the yes. You should worry in the sense that it pays to put in the effort to follow as closely as you can what's happening around you. I'm convinced that in the future, the most successful among us will be those who understand that they are citizens of the world. Keeping up with the effects of globalization takes both openness and work—openness to learning, reading, and seeing the world, and work to adapt to the competitive, intellectual, and cultural shifts before they bite you in the rear.
Now, the no. If you're an engaged manager or leader, the technology will find you. What interests me is how the pace of technological development has long outstripped our human capacity to use that technology, including our brains' ability to process information and to do actual work. That's why we're so overwhelmed by those hundreds of emails on our handhelds. Being realistic and discriminatory about which new technology to employ may be a more important skill than embracing it all.
Finally, the maybe. By the time we're midcareer, our personalities are largely set. The biggest variable in all this change is you, especially your personal flexibility and your open-mindedness to listening and learning. These qualities are hard to teach and even harder to acquire as we age. But for an ambitious, driven executive, they'll make or break your career. I'll go even further: With rapid globalization and technological innovation, the more you can tolerate or even enjoy ambiguity, uncertainty, and change, the more successful you'll be.
Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group LLC, advises CEOs on people and culture issues. Send him questions about the psychology of business (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the March 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.