The Finch Effect: The Five Strategies to Adapt and Thrive in Your Working Life
May 2012, Jossey-Bass
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A Q&A with author Nacie Carson
What do birds have to do with career success?
Everything! At least in a metaphorical sense. Darwin’s finches provide a great example for surviving and thriving in spite of environmental change. It amazes me how humans—the most mentally advanced species on this planet—get in the way of our own success by succumbing to fear, doubt, and a lack of empowerment when our environment changes or a wildcard event (like the recession) happens. The finches are a simple yet powerful reminder that change is a part of every environment and the only way to handle it is to be flexible. If little feathery birds can do it, we absolutely can, too.
In The Finch Effect, I show how you can build your mental resilience by adopting what I call a gig mindset, developing your professional skills, and crafting your adaptive professional brand so you can thrive in this and any economy.
Are these strategies valuable in both good and bad economies?
Absolutely. Career evolution is a powerful skill whether you are trying to keep yourself moving forward in bad times or take advantage of new possibilities in times of plenty. Career stagnation is always a killer of motivation, inspiration, energy, and strategic thinking. None of us can afford to succumb to that, especially in the face of competitive emerging markets and globalized communication.
What is the gig economy? Does it matter to me if I’m a full-time employee?
The gig economy describes the way an increasing number of professionals are building their careers. Instead of locking themselves into a full-time career track at one company and aspiring to climb the corporate ladder, professionals in the gig economy focus on cobbling together a variety of full and part-time opportunities to earn their living.
This might seem like something only freelancers or consultants can do, but that’s not the case. Full-time employees can adopt the gig mindset, in which they are chasing multiple opportunities simultaneously, not only to earn more, but to diversify their skill set. This is a great way to build your resume and credentials faster and also keep stagnation from occurring.
It’s great if you can chase things that are related and tangential to each other, but not identical. The idea isn’t to have four venues where you practice the same skill, but four venues where you are building on your industry or professional knowledge in different but complimentary ways. One professional I spoke with while interviewing for the book was serving as a Human Resources associate at a software company while also offering talent selection seminars for local small businesses. Another individual ran a niche sales website while working as an insurance salesperson.
Are young and mid-career professionals the only ones who have to worry about adaptability, or do more seasoned workers need to learn this skill as well?
Everyone, from emerging professionals to mid-level managers, needs to be adaptable in their career. It doesn’t matter if you have 40 years left in your working life or four. Changes in the job market (good and bad) can happen at any time, and thanks to our global connectedness, can happen fast. Everyone should be ready and capable to handle that change and take advantage of whatever opportunities emerge.
You have interviewed over 100 professionals and experts in finance, the economy, and human resources. What surprised you most?
I was shocked by the chasm between the hope felt by professionals who have really embraced today’s economic change for the opportunity it is—the members of The Fittest, as I call them—and the hopelessness of individuals who feel a lack of control over the future of their careers. I didn’t encounter many people in the middle.
Members of The Fittest are truly thriving: they are opening businesses, going on vacations, buying homes, and receiving promotions and raises. Those who feel lost or displaced perceive their life as being in a kind of odd limbo. But optimism breeds more optimism, and helplessness breeds more helplessness. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to write this book, to reinforce the hope and break the cycle of helplessness.
If people only take one thing away from this book, what do you hope it is?
That we all have the capacity to grow, change, and—evolve. Unlike other species on this earth—our dear finches included—humans have the unique capability to consciously participate in our own evolution. We are not passive, but are active and sentient beings who can survive and thrive in almost any condition. Our economic and vocational conditions are no different. I hope people take away a message of hope, motivation, and capability, and a few good business tips as well!