The mining boom was fun – job opportunities galore, ever-rising salaries and endless success lulled us into a false sense of security.
Then everything changed. For so many, it feels like that once voracious economic machine has grinded to a halt and discarded us as quickly as it swept us off our feet in the golden years. Layoffs are the new norm and employers are inundated with job applicants.
I like to think I have complete control over my life and work, that I make the difference and take responsibility for my success or failure in business, so it was inevitable that when commodity prices went down, I took it personally. But the reality is I’m just one of many who have experienced the same thing.
So what are we all supposed to do?
There is lots of talk about cultivating innovation to reduce production costs, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to innovate our way out of low commodity prices, which seem driven by over-supply.
This dire-seeming situation we find ourselves in is the exact type of opportunity that shrewd business minds relish, precisely because of the negative way in which most people perceive it.
We will probably never get a better chance to find our true calling, create new ideas and establish ourselves in these areas before anyone else can. When the big machine was whirring and the bucks were rolling, we couldn’t justify stepping out to try something new, but now we have that chance.
The internet has delivered a massive economic shift from a knowledge-based economy to an ideas-based economy. It’s no longer about what and who you know, it’s about how you pull things together and work with people. This means you can become an expert in practically anything as long as you have the right philosophy.
The best approach that I’ve found is three-tiered – understand yourself and your assets, investigate opportunities and connect with others through mentoring.
About six years ago, I found myself leaving behind the multi-billion dollar mining company I co-founded. Sure, I pulled some cash out and could afford to relax, but that wasn’t the point. Everyone needs something to do - retirement is one of the greatest killers.
I identified what I had to offer and started mentoring young undergrads, graduates and professionals. At first I was a little clumsy, but I stuck with it and figured out how to make it work for both myself and the people I was mentoring. I educated myself on what companies want from employees and what makes a good entrepreneur. This expedition into new territory opened up a galaxy of new possibilities for me and it all starts with knowing yourself.
‘Know thyself’ – that ancient Greek maxim has persisted for thousands of years for good reason – it’s the fundamental first step for success and happiness. By clearly identifying your strengths, weaknesses, passions and purpose in life, you can find your niche, ensure you’re heading in the right direction and sell yourself more effectively.
Part of understanding yourself is developing self-awareness in order to fine-tune your behaviour and have a positive impact on others. People are always drawn to those that have these ‘mindfulness’ skills.
The next task is to investigate the opportunities that would suit your various unique assets. Read, write and talk to people about what they’re doing and where you might fit.
Check out industry magazines and business-oriented websites for pioneering ideas that you could bring to your local area and search for career and business opportunities based on your skill set rather than the industry you’ve always been in.
The final step in finding a new career is to connect with others; many others. The easiest way to achieve this is to get involved in mentoring. Ask people who inspire you if they could spare an hour for a coffee to chat about their achievements and where the industry is headed.
Offer your expertise to others as well. Mentoring is more about asking the right questions, than always having the answers. By asking others who they are, who they want to be and how they’re going to get there, you gain insights into answering these questions for yourself.
Mentoring is not about telling people what to do. It’s about listening, empathy and helping people find their purpose. The more you mentor, the more you develop these skills for yourself, which are invaluable in job interviews, entrepreneurial endeavours and business in general.
You don’t have to officially sign up someone to mentor. Just try asking someone where they’re at, who they want to be and how they’re going to get there. It’s rare for anyone to not want to talk about it. They might need some nudging, but that’s part of the gig. See if you can draw them out. What do you think they’re learning? What are you learning? Explore, experiment and see where it takes you.
The latest studies point to emotional intelligence being more important than scholarly knowledge for business and career success. Plus, mentoring can help you develop connections with people that you never could have cultivated otherwise.
It’s no accident that the most popular elective course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, for 45 years running, is Interpersonal Dynamics. Known as the ‘touchy feely’ course, it focuses students on self-awareness, listening, empathy and developing your purpose in life, which are also critical skills for marketing and sales.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about abandoning the natural resources industries, but it seems that us West Australians have a devotion to natural resources that exceeds what is healthy to us both as an economy and as individuals. It’s time we end the cult of commodities and broaden our horizons.
If you’re looking for career advice, or how to make your workforce more innovative, you can read more at www.nickpoll.com or contact Nick Poll on 0417 006 172.
About Nick Poll: With a 28-year career in mining, corporate development and entrepreneurship, Nick is an expert in business and mentoring, with a passion for helping people find their purpose and reach their full potential.