Companies that invest heavily in research and development during recessions often come out better positioned to compete and often become market leaders. This McKinsey Quarterly article demonstrates that while most companies were reducing reducing research and development during the Great Depression, as evidenced by falling patent applications, DuPont did not. As a result, during the 1930s, Dupont created neoprene and nylon, and “by 1939, every automobile and airplane manufactured in the United States had neoprene components.”
Learn a new technical skill – Six sigma, project management, a programming language, financial valuation modeling, discounted cash flows, how to read financial statements. There are seemingly infinite possibilities. Find a subject that interests you and sign up for a class, buy some books, or go to the library and check out books on that subject for free. Don’t just sit back and wait out the recession. Take this opportunity to grow.
Develop leadership skills – Every organization needs leaders and effective leaders are in short supply. Get some books on leadership and apply the skills and behaviors you learned from the books in your company … even if you are not a manager. Offer to help organize events or lead committees at work. Step up to the plate and lead something. It is good experience. If you are out of work, start volunteering. Non-profit organizations need leaders to run their projects, and they cannot get enough of them. As a volunteer, you can build leadership skills, which is good for your resume, and you are also doing something useful and productive in the community.
Become a visible expert in your field – Start a blog and write regular posts on subjects about which you have expertise. Writing not only is a medium in which you can demonstrate your expertise publicly, but you can hone your skills in that area by researching topics and formulating what to say in your articles. You might also develop a following of people who read and comment on your articles. As you get better, write articles and submit them to magazines and web site covering your area of expertise. Getting published in someone else’s magazine raises your credibility further. You can also volunteer to speak at industry events in your area.
Become knowledgeable in another area – Go beyond your expertise into a completely unrelated area and become an expert in another subject. Think of a subject that has always interested you … history, the stock market, social media, or contemporary Japanese impressionist art. Select something outside of your normal working knowledge and become well rounded. It will expand your horizons, give you something to enrich your enjoyment of life outside of work, and often times, what you learn in an unrelated subject can ignite creativity in your existing expertise. If you are a technical person, who does not think you are creative, study design or writing or cinema. If you are a creative type, learn a technical skill, which will stretch your thinking into systematic processes.
Call it personal development or personal R&D, but take this time, with a sense of urgency, to build some new skills, try something new, expand your horizons. Remember DuPont created Neoperene during the 1930s, and by the end of that decade, neoprene was used in every single car and plane made in America.
What will your neoprene be?
Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill (link to: http://www.allonhill.com), is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.