How to Futureproof Yourself for the Boardroom

We expect companies to innovate, adapt and evolve to the changing operating environment; do we expect the same of ourselves as boards and board members? How do we consistently update and upgrade our operating system to be able to tackle the shifting demands and expectations placed on us?

How do we avoid becoming obsolete?

In his book, Futureproof, Kevin Roose believes that futureproofing is about reclaiming control of our minds and human agency, not just keeping our jobs. From his extensive work as a technology journalist, Roose has developed nine rules for us all to integrate into our lives so that we become Futureproof. It’s his first rule: Be Surprising, Social, and Scarce that is the focus of this article.

If you’ve read Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Roose’s rule number one Be Surprising, Social, and Scarce will feel familiar.

 

Throughout Futureproof, Roose contextualises his observations and rules to his primary job as a journalist (a career that is at a high risk of obsolescence – did you know that algorithms write news articles?!). With board’s “appointing” artificial intelligence to their board, perhaps the future of career board members is also under threat.

Contextualising Roose’s Rule #1 to us as board members will hopefully encourage you in work on the things that will set you on the path to making yourself futureproof in the boardroom.

Be Surprising

“In general, AI is better than humans at operating in a stable environment, with static, well-defined rules and consistent inputs.”

Precisely the environment that businesses do NOT operate in!

This is why we have older people in the boardroom: they have experience in dealing with a wide range of situations and successfully leading through them. Valuable knowledge for the boardroom.

There are a couple of things that we can take from this as aspiring and existing board members:

  • Firstly, in your professional career find opportunities for you to gain experience in a team setting with a wide range of variables that must be managed. If you can lead this team, that would be advantageous. Get experience with successes and failures. Use this knowledge to inform your future decisions and actions. As much as possible, move away from tasks that are very structured and highly repetitive (shift these to automations or to junior team members).
  • Secondly, find boards to join that have board members with a wide mix of experiences. A great board has a powerful blend of individuals who bring different experiences and perspectives that combine to create a sum that is stronger than its parts. Even ‘less experienced’ board members add value: they bring a contemporary perspective and can pressure-test those “tried and true” solutions offered by the experienced board members (and challenge the ‘that didn’t work in the past’ mindset).

These broad experiences will enable you to connect the dots between seemingly disparate events that can illuminate novel ways and solutions to the challenges facing you and your board.

Be Social

If anything, human connection has become more vital as technology has become more omnipresent.

Do you feel that?

The more immersed I become in “social” media, the more disconnected and anxious I become.

As humans we have social needs. Humans, it turns out, are better at meeting these needs in others than robots, algorithms, or artificial intelligence are.

The value – and benefits – of being social and human has not diminished.

Connecting with others and having meaningful interactions is a skill to develop that will return you extraordinary value. It may be one of the most readily available parts of ourselves that we can start working on immediately.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a critical skill for the boardroom. It is the “people things” that trip up even the most erudite boards and board members. Here are a few ways to work on your EQ:

  • In your professional career, work with as many people as possible. Connect with your co-workers (and others in your life) beyond the superficial. Again, if you can lead a work team, that is wonderful experience to gain. Really get to know your teammates and their motivations; how can you help them be their best and wanting to do great work for you?
  • At any stage of your board career, continue to develop your EQ. Raw intelligence will only get you so far in life. As leaders we accomplish more working with and through others; and effectively working with and through others relies heavily on having high levels of emotional intelligence.
  • Build and maintain a strong (authentic and genuine) personal and professional network. It is the best ROI on any investment you make (time and money).

Be Scarce

Strengthen your strengths. Be so good you can’t be ignored.

Take an artisan’s approach to your work. Find something that you’re good at and work at becoming the best in the world at it. Competence and expertise are valuable – and scarce – resources.

I am often asked what the one skill is that someone can develop that will help them in the boardroom, and it’s a question that does not have one correct answer. If you work on becoming the best in your craft, there will be a place that will see it as high value.

I recommend finding ways and opportunities to hone your craft – whether it’s marketing, tax accounting, space law, leading people, sales, governance – and work at becoming the best in the world at it.

What can you do that no other tax accountant is doing or can do? Do that thing.

What can you do that no other marketer is doing or can do? Do that thing.

What can you do that no other salesperson is doing or can do? Do that thing.

 

To be continually successful into the future, we need to constantly work on maintaining relevance (i.e. ‘futureproof’ ourselves). It’s difficult to know precisely what will be needed in the future; however, Roose’s rules provide a human-centred framework about how we can futureproof ourselves (and our organisations). I shared about his rule #1 here. His other eight rules work to support the work you do to be surprising, social, and scarce.

How will you futureproof yourself today?

Purchase Kevin Roose’s book Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation here.


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