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April 4, 2011
Innovate or Die: Forward-Thinking is Survival
“The Time to Innovate is NOW” read the headline in a recent Wall Street Journal. It was for a special report on healthcare. It could have been the headline for any industry, any company and—hopefully this hits home—your career.

Does my title, “Innovate or Die” sound familiar? Perhaps you’re thinking of Differentiate or Die, the classic marketing book by Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin. In this day and age, I think “Innovate or Die” applies better and it’s why you need to take innovation a lot more seriously.

Career Innovation
If you’re reading this, you work in advertising or marketing. Our industry has been transformed by the shift to digital and changing consumer media habits. I’ve said it before and you can take it to the bank. When business starts to come back—and it has ever so slowly—75 cents of every new dollar will go to non-traditional marketing.

I can rattle off job titles that were unknown a few years ago—SEO strategist, content developer, digital strategist, Web designer, community manager—the list goes on and on.

Are you comfortable where you are or pining away for something better? It doesn’t matter if you’re 25, 35, 45, or a Boomer; you have to adopt a never-stop-innovating philosophy because the future won’t be anything like the present.

The good news is, no matter how much things change, there’s something about you that fits into the future. Take that essential skill or talent and focus it on new media. It’s the quickest way to get unstuck. It’s like putting on a fresh coat of paint and the room looks totally new and different.

Sprint’s Pin-Drop Clarity
Sprint has been in the news lately. There were rumors that Sprint was going to make a play for T-Mobile. AT&T swooped in and acquired them instead. Will the merger go through? Nobody knows. My point is, Sprint was looking ahead and trying to create a better future.

Imagine if Sprint wasn’t a forward-thinking company. Here’s where Sprint would be if they stopped innovating in good times when the urge to hold on is most alluring.

Don’t you miss the pin drop? Don’t you miss the Dime Lady, Candice Bergen? How ‘bout that telephone graphic at the end? This was 1993, the landline era, folks—and it was all about long distance and clear connections. Sprint had its point of difference—clarity—and played it up on the airwaves. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have a soft spot for Sprint. I wrote the sprintpcs.com website circa 2000.)

It’s easy to see what would have happened if Sprint stopped innovating in 1993. They would have long been out of business. 

Spring Into a New Situation
Speaking of the “Now Network,” now is a great time to change your work situation. Companies hire more in the March-to-May time period and people who started the New Year with a resolution to change are more likely to find a new situation.

If you and I were in Starbucks and chatting about your career, here’s what I’d suggest: Start by forgetting your resume, past work history, geographic location, salary demands, forget everything. Do some online job searching. Don’t apply. Just pull a handful of job summaries that catch your eye.

Now read through the selected job listings and analyze them. What are they saying over and over again? What buzzwords do they use? How do their top requirements fit your top strengths? I’m willing to bet you’ll experience some “aha” moments.

If what you’ve been saying isn’t capturing the attention of HR and hiring managers, you need to think like an innovator. Look at what’s out there and build to it and what’s on the horizon.
Innovate or die. It’s kind of harsh, isn’t it? But I think TalentZoo readers would agree that many ad careers have faded into the horizon. It’s like that recent episode of 30 Rock titled “Plan B.” Liz laments over the lack of demand for writers. She meets up with a travel agent and auto worker—professions no longer in demand. (In effect, dying.) Truth hurts.

The message for all of us is this: You need a Plan B to avoid a career death, and Plan B starts with innovation. 

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Mike Ogden is a digital/senior writer based in Kansas City. Ad agency stops have enabled him to create for major brands like American Century, Capital One, Sprint, and USAA. Seasoned and sharp with a touch of gray, Ogden, aka Og, is known for creating and championing ideas. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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