Thursday, June 24, 2010

Relevant? Schmelevant?

A few weeks ago I had breakfast with a professional colleague whose opinion I value. I started off the conversation with the question of how to stay relevant in an industry based on innovation and evolution. It is something that periodically keeps me up at night now that I have a young child and at least another twenty years of working ahead of me. I specialize in Dynamics GP, and although I am experienced in other areas, I tend to be focused on how those areas interact with Dynamics GP. So I am left wondering if I need to "cover my bases" by learning other standalone technologies and products.

My friend's first response was to reassure me that I will personally remain relevant because I am good trainer, a knowledgeable resource, and Dynamics GP clients are not going to suddenly disappear. And to take it a step further, I am a curious individual who is continually adapting and looking for ways to increase my knowledge. All of this was a comforting ego boost, of course, but afterwards I began to wonder if I needed to be more intentional in my quest to stay relevant.

Right now, I tend to learn things as needed. A customer requests something, a challenge is presented, I try to force myself to continually take those things on-- to stretch outside my comfort zone. But how about those areas that don't come up? How about being more conscious when selecting areas to expand my knowledge? This, in turn, brought up many questions for me.
  • How do you select technologies that are worthwhile, knowing that you will occasionally invest in those that do not lead anywhere?
  • How do you go about gaining "valuable" knowledge in these areas? We can all read books, set up test servers, but how do you put yourself on a path where you will gain the practical knowledge to really excel?
  • How do you gain those all-important first chances that allow you to apply the new knowledge in a safe but real-world scenario? Sometimes this is further limited if you may not encounter the opportunities normally-- if so, how do you cultivate them?
  • And, last but not least, how do you do this at the same time you need to continue to perform optimally in your "day" job?

I don't have all of the answers, and would love to hear from those of you out there that have struggled and figured out an approach that works for you (or not, maybe). I know that my most valuable knowledge has come over time from a combination of books, practical experience, and failures (yes, you read that right) so it won't happen overnight. But my mid-year resolution is to find a way to be more methodical in my approach and increase my personal return on investment when it comes to knowledge.

Personally, one of the things I enjoy most about my job is the constant innovation and adaption. Never is there a dull moment (okay, maybe THAT is an exaggeration), and I find that I enjoy applying new found knowledge. So I don't want this to come across as a world-weary complaint, just the desire to find a way to better structure my own learning (ironic, huh, for a trainer?). My friend referred to this as "cultivating yourself as a business" which I think is an excellent mind frame to have even for those of us that are happily attached to partners and not flying solo.

As I tell many students, we all learn at our own pace and the secret is finding your own pace (and method) and being comfortable with that. Please share your thoughts, I would love to hear them.


Mark said...


All I have to add is:


Mariano Gomez said...


This is a formidable article and no, you are not the only one who stays up at night thinking about how to stay relevant -- after hours of running around with the kids that is.

For one, I find that participating actively in the various community newsgroups and forums challenges me to go and research, and setup test labs, and find workarounds. I have also found myself "volunteering" with other project teams to work on stuff that I believe will help me understand the technologies involved with what I am doing, for example, I learned some BizTalk from working with some of the best a few years ago while creating an EAI platform for a groceries coop. eConnect needed to sit on top of BizTalk, so why not learn the technology too.

Do I claim to know everything sorrounding GP? Heck no! Do I claim to understand a lot of it? Heck yes! But there relies the difference: knowing and understanding. I believe the latter is what makes you a good professional in your area of expertise. You will want to know one or a few things well, but you will want to understand a heck of a lot more than what you know.

Christina Phillips said...

Mark- I love that image, fabulous! Mariano- Glad to know I am not alone :) And great points, especially "But there relies the difference: knowing and understanding.". I think that knowing is overrated but understanding can be applied to any situation if you are willing to put in the work (which is easier if you have the curiosity bug).