The majority of the tools I use to do my work didn’t exist 10 years.
The code editor I use, Visual Studio Code, was only released a year ago.
Responsive web design was coined by Ethan Marcotte in 2010. Now, just 6 years later, responsive web design has become synonymous with web design.
Google Chrome, which now dominates the browser market, was released in 2008.
Sass, Gulp, and Node.js didn’t exist 10 years ago. Nor did the iPhone, the Kindle, or iPad. Neither did Twitter.
It’s hard to imagine a web without jQuery and Amazon Web Services (AWS), yet both of these had only just started out 10 years ago.
“There is so much stuff that has yet to be invented,” Amazon boss Jeff Bezos once said. “There’s so much new that’s going to happen. People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.”
It’s hard to argue with that statement. The pace of change is ever increasing. And it’s not just the web industry that is being affected by this rate of change, many other industries are experiencing similar growth.
As a freelance web developer and business owner, I occasionally think about what the future holds.
The vast majority of my income comes through bespoke WordPress theme development. WordPress could disappear over the next few years. That’s pretty unlikely, but not impossible. The rise of platforms like Squarespace could continue to squeeze the bottom end of the market, drying up work. Perhaps AI website builders will take off, making my job redundant. Or maybe the open nature of the web will come under threat to point where we no longer have permission to share what and when we like.
I’m not scaremongering; these are just possible futures for the web.
Which leads to inevitable question: if everything is changing so quickly and the future is so uncertain, what skills can we invest in today that will serve us in 5, 10, or 20 years from now?
Tools and technologies come and go with the tides of change. This tweet perfectly sums up the problem when we only focus on tools and technologies:
I felt like saying this. pic.twitter.com/mHJ1rENoX1
— Hisham (@hisham_hm) December 13, 2015
I wanted to explore the skills we should be thinking about when it comes to the long-term game. Here’s what I came up with:
Learn, unlearn, and relearn
The world 10 years ago was unrecognisably different, and will be equally unrecognisable in 10 years time. If I’m still building websites, the way I’ll be building them will be completely different. New tools, new techniques, new best practices.
It therefore stands to reason that those that can adapt and learn new things quickly will thrive.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write,” said writer Alvil Toffler, “but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
We all learn in different ways, so it’s important that you find a way that works for you. You could learn best by reading books, having a teacher guide you in a course, or on job using trial and error, or a combination of these. Whatever way you decide to learn, the need to be a life-long student has never been more important.
Create an environment for your best work
In order to “succeed”, you have to do good work. You need to create work that matters and work that’s valuable. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and it doesn’t need to be ground breaking, but it does need to be best you can do.
The ability to do our best work is under threat by the constant stream of interruptions that fill our day.
And that’s why it’s crucial to create an environment that protects us from the incessant barrage that is the outside world. We need to build habits of concentration and focus, while breaking bad habits such as multitasking and the urge to check Email and Twitter every 5 minutes.
Our work will be much better if we can apply more intensity for longer stretches of uninterrupted time, but this requires deliberate effort and careful structuring.
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy,” writes Cal Newport in his latest book Deep Work. “As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
Look after your physical and mental health
In order to do our best work, we need to ensure our brain and body get the support it needs to keep operating at a high level.
When you fly on an aeroplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. Before even helping your child or a loved one.
It’s a powerful metaphor that extends to your physical and mental health: if you don’t help yourself, you won’t be able to help others.
Share your work
The best way to promote your work is to share it. Share the journey, the process, the behind-the-scenes. Teach what you know. Share stuff you think might be helpful or entertaining.
Sharing is like advertising, but without the cost. And it’s like networking, but without the yuckiness.
By sharing your work, you’ll meet amazing people. You’ll attract people who care about the same things that you do. And you’ll open a world of possibility.
Imagine blogging weekly for 2-3 years about what you learn while building websites. That body of work will be far more valuable than any CV or portfolio. It shows your thought process and what you’ve been working on. This is one of the most valuable things you could be spending your time on.
There’s an unwritten rule in the universe: the more you give away, the more that comes back to you.
Create your own online space
Share your work anywhere you can, on any platform that makes sense. But don’t forget to build your own online space.
Social networks are great, but the problem is you don’t have any control over them. Remember MySpace? Or GeoCities? Who knows how long Medium will be around for.
I’ve had so many great opportunities come from my blog. My only regret is not having started earlier.
“It’s who you know” might well be a cliché, but it’s true. We live in a hyperconnected world. Seth Godin has dubbed this the “connection economy”.
Your words have an impact on others, just as the words others use have an impact on you. So surround yourself with smart, kind, and supportive people. Surround yourself with the people you want to be like and the people who inspire you.
Don’t “network” for the sake of networking. Build real friendships. The better your friendships, the more likely you are to derive personal and business benefits from them further down the road.
You probably already write every day. If you send text messages, emails, or social media messages, you’re a writer. But I’m advocating that you practice writing more intentionally, perhaps by writing a blog or by writing a private journal.
Everything starts with writing. Need to a deliver a proposal to a client? That’s writing. Need to create a website to sell your services? The most important part is the writing. Want to get on someone’s radar by sending a carefully worded email? That’s writing, too.
Personally, I’ve found that daily writing helps in so many areas of my life. It helps me reflect on my life and my business. It helps clarify my thinking. It forces me to keep coming up with new ideas. And it’s also one of the most enjoyable parts of my day, because it’s just me and my thoughts.
Exercise your creativity
There’s a myth that you’re either born creative or you’re not. I don’t think that is true.
Speaker and author Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity “as the process of having original ideas that have value.”
‘Original ideas’ doesn’t mean coming up with an idea that no one has ever thought of before. It might be applying the right idea at the right time. Or it might be taking two existing ideas and putting them together to make something new.
Creativity manifests in many different ways, but like all things, it’s something that needs to be practiced.
The act of being creative is fulfilling, and brings joy and happiness. And creative people attract fans (people like new stuff) and money (people pay for stuff they like).
Change your mind
Steve Jobs was famous for changing his mind, often to the chagrin of his employees. But it was arguably one of his most important qualities.
“He would flip on something so fast that you would forget that he was the one taking the 180 degree polar opposite position the day before,” Cook said of the late Steve Jobs. “I saw it daily. This is a gift, because things do change, and it takes courage to change. It takes courage to say, ‘I was wrong.’ I think he had that.”
I try and live by the motto strong opinions, weakly held.
Strong opinions are formed after thinking long and hard about a subject. When I have weak opinions, it’s usually on topics I have little interest in or haven’t given much thought to. I like to write in a strong voice because it communicates more clearly and effectively. And I like reading others who have have a strong voice, too.
Writing in a strong voice invites discussion. It encourages others to reach out when they have a different point of view. And I love this, because sometimes I’ll change my mind.
It’s hard to change your mind, especially when you’ve publicly expressed your opinion. But failure to change your mind in light of new evidence is one the quickest ways to send you down the wrong path.
Push past the resistance
Whether we’re trying to create or share our work, the voice in our head will be taunting us. You’re not good enough! Who do you think you are to write this? No one will listen, anyway!
Samurai say that fights are won internally. They face an internal struggle before they even face the enemy. And we will too.
Every day I try and push past this resistance. The 30 Day Writing Challenge is a great example. I’m publishing what I write every day, despite the voice in my head that keeps saying “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Our fears and anxieties want to stop us moving forward. And since they won’t go away, we need to push on anyway. Learn to ignore the voice in your head.
So, that’s my rather lengthy brain dump on the skills and mindset I’m trying to implement in my life.
What skills are you trying to develop for tomorrow’s world?