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Saul Kaplan: Reinvention As A Life Skill

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Ask any group of people if they’re doing today what they thought they would be doing when they started out. I begin every speech that way. Occasional a few people in the audience raise their hand, very few. Almost everyone will readily admit that they have had to reinvent themselves multiple times over their lives and careers. And yet if you ask them how they did it or if formal education prepared them for reinvention you get mostly blank stares. You hear answers like, I just did it because I had to. Most seem unable to share useful knowledge on how they reinvented themselves. If anything is clear about the 21st century it’s that change happens faster than it used to. Reinvention isn’t something to be done only as a last resort. It’s something we need to do all the time in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. We have to make personal reinvention safer and easier to manage. Reinvention has become an important life skill.

If we wait until we have no choice but to reinvent ourselves it’s too late. It’s sad beyond words to see how many people and families have been devastated by the latest economic downturn. Politicians may take credit as the unemployment rate improves but we know better. Good high wage jobs with career ladders are few and far between. People not seeking work and the underemployed aren’t counted in the unemployment rate and their numbers are growing. The gap between the skills of our workforce and the needs of a new economy are also growing. If we wait for our political and institutional leaders to act we will be waiting a long time. If we wait for things to return to the way they used to be, we will be waiting forever. Everything about our current economy screams for making personal reinvention more of a natural act.

Why aren’t we taught how to reinvent ourselves in school? Reinvention is imperative as a life skill. You would think we would at least be exposed to the fundamentals of personal exploration and reinvention while we are in school. Instead we seem increasingly focused on the skills necessary to get a specific job, a job that is highly unlikely to exist five years from now. As a society we highly prize specialty education pathways that track students toward narrow career choices instead of celebrating education pathways emphasizing a broad platform and skill set useful in doing future work that doesn’t exist today. Education and workforce development programs should emphasize foundational life skills that are transferable and enabling the personal confidence and skills to constantly reinvent ourselves.

Reinvention is a journey not a destination. It doesn’t have to be a scare word. You don’t have to know what you’re reinventing yourself to in order to work on reinventing yourself. It isn’t about stopping one thing in order to do or be something else. It’s about spending time every day, every month and every year constantly reinventing. It’s about personal R&D to explore and test new possibilities. It’s about experimenting all the time to uncover latent opportunities. It’s about continuing to strengthen our current selves while simultaneously working on our future selves by actively engaging in new ideas, environments and practices. You don’t have to stop doing what you’re currently doing you just have to allow yourself the freedom to try more stuff.

Here are 15 things you can do now to start building reinvention muscle.
1) Hang out in places where more collisions with unusual suspects are likely to happen. Stop hanging with usual suspects!
2) Create a list of new stuff you’ve always wanted to try or be able to do. Start working the list today.
3) Make something and try to sell it online. We can all be makers and entrepreneurs even if society has tried to convince us otherwise.
4) Attend events you wouldn’t normally go to and really listen and engage. Like #BIF2015 for instance!
5) Commit to learning something new every day and keep track. Reinvention requires a get better faster mindset.
6) Share your new experiences and what you learn from them on social media. Be genuine and vulnerable.
7) Have coffee with someone completely new every week. Someone who has a different point of view and experience from your own.
8) Read books and articles from genres you never read. Expand your vocabulary. Stretch your interests.
9) Try new foods. Order something on the menu you’ve never had before. Experiment with different ethnic foods you haven’t tried.
10) Go listen to talks on subjects you know nothing about. Ask naïve questions.
11) Audit a class in a surprising subject area, the more experiential the better.
12) Figure out how to sell something you don’t need anymore online. Ask any millennial, they know how to do it!
13) Travel to places you haven’t been before and really experience the community. Avoid being a tourist!
14) Volunteer on the opposite side of town from where you live. Leverage volunteering to both be helpful and to learn new skills.
15) Explore art if you’re a scientist. Explore science if you’re an artist. Explore both if you’re in business!

Stop thinking about reinvention as a scary, all-or nothing, proposition. Reinvention is a life skill. Reinvention is a life long journey we’re all embarked on whether we like it or not. There are many practical steps we can each take every day to explore our future selves. We can all develop the life skill of reinvention. What are we waiting for? Try more stuff.


Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.


Related Slideshow: Oregon Business Rankings in US

See how Oregon stacked up against the other states in the U.S.

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Oregon gets a C+ for small business friendliness from Thumbtack, in conjunction with the Kauffman Foundation.

According to the ranking:

Overall friendliness C+

Ease of starting a business B
Ease of hiring D+
Regulations D
Health & safety D
Employment, labor & hiring D
Tax code D+
Licensing C-
Environmental D
Zoning D+
Training & networking programs B+

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CEO Magazine

CEO magazine was not kind to Oregon.

The state ranked in the bottom ten states at #42.

Oregon get lumped by CEO's as being California like - too much regulation.

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The 2015 rankings puts Oregon in the top 20. Oregon ranks #18 in the United States. 

NY ranks one spot ahead at #17 and Florida ranks after Oregon.

#1 in the United States: Utah

#50 in the United States: Mississippi

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Oregon has been ranked as the 2nd most eco-friendly state in the country, according to a recent study by WalletHub

Oregon ranks eighth in environmental quality and first in Eco-Friendly Behaviors landing them in second overall. 

Oregon is behind Vermont and ahead of New York and Minnesota who land in the third and fourth spots respectively. 

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The Economist

Small Business Friendliness Grade: C+

The Economist grades states on an A+ to F grading scale for its small business climate. Oregon is one of 4 states that earned a "C+"

Overbearing bureaucracy and excessive licensing is stifling small business in America. 

Read More About The Economist Grade Here

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#22 CNBC

CNBC ranks each state in cost of doing business, economy, technology and innovation.

Read More About CNBC Ranking Here

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Wallet Hub

#28 Wallet Hub

Wallet Hub ranks each state in ROI rank, state tax rank, and overall government services.

Read More About Wallet Hub Ranking Here

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#38 Kauffman Foundation

Kauffman Foundation ranks each state in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial activity generally is highest in Western and Southern states and lowest in Midwestern and Northeastern states.

Read More About Kauffman Ranking Here

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#19 Forbes in 2014

Forbes ranks each state in business costs, economic climate, and growth prospects.

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