We live in a time of vast and uneasy change, where economic, social and political turmoil has become the rule, rather than the exception. Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of business.

The tsunami of change is hitting everyone:

  • Gen-Y unemployment is approaching a staggering 25 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Gen-X is "on track to be the first generation to do worse in retirement than their parents," according to NPR.
  • Baby boomers are more likely to remain unemployed if they lose their jobs, according to the AARP.

Everyone seems lost and unmoored in a world where promises of the past--a stable job, a clear career path, a comfortable retirement--have become impossible dreams.

Not everyone, however, is caught in this miasma of helplessness. Many people--regardless of their age--are rising to the occasion, creating and renewing their role in a shifting world, according to Philip Styrlund, CEO of the Summit Group and Tom Hayes, founder of the ad firm Riley Hayes.

Their secret? They've figured out how to be relevant.

The Meaning of Relevance

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "relevance" as "the state of being closely connected or appropriate to the matter in hand."  To be relevant is thus to be important, but the term implies more than that.

Trivial things--appointments, events, accidents--that intrude themselves into life can easily become "important," at least for a time. To be relevant, an action or person must be connected to a larger scheme, a grander plan--the ultimate "matter in hand."

In the business world, to be relevant means being an integral part of your organization, of your company, of the economy, and of the future. It means being the kind of person on whom others depend, whether for leadership, expertise, acumen, or emotional support.

Put another way, being relevant means never worrying about losing a job or being able to find another. Because you are valued. Because you are relevant.

Styrlund and Hayes are working on a book (I helped with the book proposal, but am not involved in the project now) that provides a "recipe for relevance." Here it is:

1. Be More Authentic

Being authentic entails knowing who you are at the deepest level, "being" that person in your internal thought processes, and finally appearing to others as you are, without pretense or phoniness. Authenticity is the foundation of relevance because if you don't understand who you are, and where you're "coming from, you can't possibly lead or influence others."

You achieve authenticity through a rigorous inventory of your strengths and a systematic mapping of the moments in your life when you've been both highly effective and extremely satisfied. When put into practice, authenticity allows you to "be real" and "in the moment," to effortlessly practice the fine art of listening, and to have the courage to speak the truth, without "signing up" for how you think others might perceive you.

2. Achieve More Mastery

Mastery is essential because, if you have no useful skills, you cannot be useful to others.  Mastery goes beyond mere competence and skills. It means approaching one's life and relationships as an act of creation, rather than a reaction to people and events. It means approaching lifelong learning with a sense of fun that adds pleasure and energy to the tasks at hand. It means expanding your principles and practices so that they serve a greater purpose.

You achieve mastery through a process of continuous improvement of your talents and abilities, combined with a life model that stresses the importance of both the professional and the personal. Developing mastery requires the ability to put first things first, to take action before it is forced upon you, and to stay mindful while taking action. This requires a clear view of reality, a willingness to get beyond deeply rooted beliefs, awareness of your subconscious desires, and a commitment to truth.

3. Be More Empathetic

Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) being experienced by another being. It is the source of compassion, caring for other people, and the desire to help. It means the ability to experience the same emotions that another is feeling, without unnecessary judgment. Empathy creates relevance because it creates the deep connection that brings people together.

In business, there are three levels of empathy. The first is "on-demand" empathy, which is the ability to sense what customers want. The second is "solution" empathy, which entails understanding a customer's problem and figuring out how to address it. The third is "transcendent" empathy where you create solutions to problems that customers don't even know that they have.

4. Take More Action

It is your actions, ultimately, that make you relevant to others. All the authenticity, mastery and empathy in the world remain sterile, until and unless put into motion. It is through action that you change yourself and change the world. Without action, even a great and brilliant mind and soul remains entirely irrelevant.

Action has four elements: impetus, vector, acceleration and velocity. Impetus determines whether you consider the action important enough to take. Vector is the direction your action takes you: either towards your goals or away from it. Acceleration reflect your level of commitment and how much action you're willing to take. Velocity is the energy that carries you forward, even when you're not fully aware of it.

IMHO, Styrlund and Hayes are onto something big, so I'll keep you posted as their book moves forward.

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