In previous posts, I discussed how the breakneck speed of technological disruption, generational upheaval, and globalization demands a professional workforce who’s at-the-ready, capable of performing in an ever-changing landscape and under a deluge of constant information and data.

We’re on the cusp – today – of significant business and employment transformation. These changes are occurring now and will affect you, perhaps before you pay off your student loans or even your current car. With knowledge doubling every three to five years, no one is immune. The key to ensuring you’re marketable in five years is keeping up with – if not pulling ahead of – your professional peers. Make learning a core activity. Prioritize. Plan. Don’t let it slide. Once you embrace a learning mindset as a fundamental part of your business life, the challenge becomes figuring out what to learn.

Learn outside your department: Maybe you landed in your field arbitrarily. More likely, you have certain strengths, interests, and talents that led you on your current path. It’s easy to focus on developing skills you already feel good about, but I challenge you to learn outside your field or function. To be a desirable future employee, you need to demonstrate working knowledge about every piece of the larger organization. If you’re in Finance, read about IT trends in your market or compliance regulations in your industry. If you’re in Marketing and terms like EDITBA raise an eyebrow, it’s time to study basic accounting practices. Leave your silo.

Develop Hard Skills: There are two general buckets of professional skill sets: hard and soft. In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on soft skills, and I’ll address soft skills in a future post. First, let’s focus on hard skills: “specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured”.  Hard skills follow some pattern of rules and must be learned. They aren’t intrinsic. No one is born knowing how to code software, speak multiple languages, decipher a financial report, or mine streams of data to identify new customers. Analytical hard skills are absolute necessities for career growth in the age of Big Data, and it’s critical not to neglect the usefulness or marketability of their development.

Mix it up: Apply the same philosophy to the gym and your professional development. You wouldn’t go to the gym to only do bicep curls. Mix up your learning routine, too. Take an instructor-led class (online or in-person) to learn a technical skill that requires professor instruction, group collaboration, and outside evaluation. Develop practice-based know-how in other skills, such as social media proficiency, through regular engagement and participation. Tackle new ideas and projects. Build a fictional website—the coding AND the content. Self-educate on an app or program that expands your knowledge or increases your efficiency in some way. Experiment. Practice. Fail. Improve.

Complacency is a tempting trap—an appealing mirage. I readily admit, maintaining a strong momentum in your professional development is tough. It requires planning and effort. It’s not impossible. But it is imperative.