Six Steps to Making it in the Insight Economy

Oct 24, 2017 · 8 min read

A take on successful working in the future of now.

I remember the first time I heard that alien composition of discorded signals, reaching unto the atmosphere as to call on another Universe. Turns out, it did.

The dial-up connection was about to change my world — and yours, too.

From that moment on, in 1994, our 56k modem lit up and called out almost every day after school to form a magic-like bridge to other, previously unknown worlds.

It took a good while for the modem to dial-up, and whenever someone lifted the phone receiver, the connection would die. The connection, however, developed and improved as we grew up. As it did so, it triggered a set of new realities.

The Future of Now

All of a sudden, your perceptive scope started expanding via the world-wide web and IRC. The way you took in information, framed your reality and formed friendships began changing. Your world layered and grew bigger, whilst everything in it became more accessible.

And for many of us early millennials — the guinea pig generation for the new digital order — the virtual sphere kept growing, until it came to define our every experience and action we take.

First it was just fun and games, now a lot of it work.

Technological advances changed everything. The internet, mobile networks, ever smarter devices and finally; mass social media. In that 20-something years we have inhabited two paralleling realities; the virtual and the physical, their interfaces abounded, merging the worlds into one.

The future of now.

New Economy = New Demands

Growing up amid ever developing tech, we crossed over from the post-industrial era to that of information. Thus, we came to face a new set of demands for attaining agency in the fast-reforming, digitalised job markets. They call it the insight economy.

The insight economy entails a data-driven approach to business and organisational processes.

In our age of information and transparency, data comes in heaps and bounds — it’s either “big” or “smart”. The substance matter driving the new economy isn’t, however, raw data, but insight. And insight generation can’t be automated the same way data collection can. Rather, insight is a human product of proper data analysis.

So, what are these demands we now need to consider, assuming we’re out there to “make it”? One thing is for sure: a university degree alone is no longer enough to open doors to those dream positions.

The search for information and knowledge industry jobs has become a global competition. Today, your competitive advantage isn’t about being the best candidate in the area, but arises from your ability to showcase skills and professional persona concisely and coherently. It’s an arms-race to gaining attention to your skillset and status.

In terms of skills — despite the emerged digital infrastructures — we don’t all need to be data scientists. However, it is good to possess an ability to draw from data insight on actual social realities beyond the abstractions.

Obtaining a bit of sociological imagination will take you far in an economy leaning on insight, for within and beyond data there are always real people and experiences to encipher.

The Six Steps to Success

As the headline promised, I will present you with a list of steps to ponder. Internalising these advice hardly guarantees your place in the sun, but they will likely grant you fresh views to professional self-development.

The list is inspired by advice from various thinkers, from Simon Sinek to Bob Dylan. It’s an eclectic mix of thought, but one that will hopefully provide you with some inspiration to attaining (your version of) success.

So, let’s begin with…

  1. Be aware

Especially as a young newcomer to given industry, in order to make an impact, your best bet is to prep yourself as well as possible.

I suggest you to be as thoroughly aware of the conventions, practices, rules and regulations of your field as possible. To meticulously study the practices, norms and abnormalities of given job or industry is to show passion, dedication and awareness. But most of all, to start breaking the rules in need of breaking, you must know them first.

These days, nothing is guaranteed except change, especially in terms of work.

Thus, challenging conventions is a healthy process for companies when done right. As a new employee, it’s likely easier for you to see the inconsistencies, bottle necks and pain points. But in order for you to credibly challenge prevailing conventions, you must first present evidence of being aware of the history and justifications of said conventions.

Only after knowing why something initially exists are you able to argument against it when the conditions demand change.

2. Be authentic

Whether you’re a nerd, a joker or a natural leader; an introvert or an extrovert, aspire to be the most authentic you in all occasions.

This is not to say we don’t need to curb our behaviour or control our emotions in work environments every once in a while. Still, you should let your rational brain trust your intuitive reactions, and let them have an effect on your decision making. To be authentic is to be in touch with your intuition.

Our intuition is a wonderful thing. It’s the most natural right decision we can ever reach. As the famous Zen-Buddhist author, D.T. Suzuki, asserted:

“Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he’s not calculating and thinking.”

Being authentic and embracing intuition will help you in differentiating yourself. It will also help display the insights you share against a human backdrop, to make what you say appealing and assimilable.

We are inherently flawed, inhibited and imperfect, and that’s exactly what makes us interesting. And it’s often our quirky whims and fancies that spur the best, most original insights.

3. Be Passionate

Okay, so this one is a no-brainer, but still worthy of repeating. To be passionate is to find your why. Your raison d’être in career terms.

Passion is not to be confused with undirected excitement or extroverted dazzle. Passion may be calm; a calculative state of mind, but one that is intensely focused on making the best out of whatever you’re working on. Passion is doing something for motives largely external to material rewards.

Following money alone on your career path is no way of finding true satisfaction in your work. And without true satisfaction, there is no real success.

Or, as Bob Dylan put it:

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”

4. Be patient

Digitalisation has brought along unprecedented immediacy to all walks of life. Hence, it is especially challenging to maintain patient in or for anything these days. Though it seems everything today is attainable in a press of a touchscreen, the most valuable outcomes still require a great deal of patience.

Careful constructing of your professional profile takes time and effort. So does finding the right job. You need to establish a network of peers and clients, create content to support your claim to expertise, and have appropriate means to conveying said expertise.

To be hasty, is to expect success after setting up a mere professional profile page. Top be patient, is to start with setting up a profile, and committing to interacting, producing, sharing, consuming and curating insight to highlight your knowhow and passion.

Being patient and productive will evetually pay off in positions and rewards that level out the hard work you put in.

5. Be training

Being authentic is not to be unchanging, for stagnation kills. And in order to change and develop, training is required.

Change is often a painstaking process, but a necessary one. Change on an individual level requires a great deal of self-monitoring and adjusting. Just as we (should) train our physique, we ought to train our mind.

Sinek advices you to start subjecting yourself to approach challenges in a manner alternative to your existing ones; to start telling yourself, for example, that the nervousness you experience upon performing, is actually excitement. Thence, your shortcomings start to become your strengths, as your approach to them begins to change for the positive.

My annexed advice to you, is to be resilient in whichever way you train your mind. It’s equally ineffective to read one article about “brain training”, as is to go to the gym once or twice. Both will give you a concept, an introduction, but will have few to no actual effects to your state of being.

In order to improve and develop, you must make a habit of training.

6. Be better

Being better equates to understanding better the world and the people around you. And to understand better, is to actively challenge that which you already know.

Therefore, I strongly dislike the negativity imprinted to the term “turncoat”. Let me explain by a quote from Hunter S. Thompson:

“When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.”

In order to outdo yourself; to gain new perspectives, assume new knowledge and hone your thought-processes, you need alternative views to challenge those prevailing ones. To outdo yourself, to be a better you, is to undo yourself; to turn your coat when the situation requires it.

Just think of the “science” of phrenology, or flat earth theory. Had we not turned our coats with respect to these — at their time prevalent — beliefs, we’d now inhabit a world much darker to ours. (And just because you fell deep into that goth thing at high school, don’t mean you need to embrace the black nail polish for the rest of your life.)

However, subjecting yourself to alternative views is no stroll. Especially within social media, the content you “naturally” receive is algorithmically targeted to match your well-known views and tastes. It’s all too easy to dwell in an echo chamber, made up of likeminded people and views.

Within or outside social media, to gain new knowledge and views; to see the flip side of the coin, you need to actively keep turning it. As Francesca Gino explained in an HBR article addressing the idea of radical transparency,

“we often fall prey to what psychologists and decision researchers call confirmation bias: the tendency to focus on evidence that confirms our beliefs and assumptions rather than looking for data that contradicts it.”

Keep flipping the coin; reading, listening and watching. Absorbing and internalising. And never taking information at face value.

Be better to people around you, too, for good people enable groups to become teams, and teams to become communities that make people feel secure and belonging. In order to become the best possible employee, expert or leader, you should emphasise the need for community, for we are inherently social beings.

+1. Be visible

Here’s a bonus: Be visible, be out there.

This is not to say you must attend every dreary cocktail and networking event the field has to offer, for our successes are no more bounded by physical presence. Rather, this is to say, take all the advice above, make them your story and share it.

Find that something you’re passionate about, start learning and training to become the best at it, and share your knowledge and experiences. Crystallise your insights into inspiring content and let your field know what you know and do.

The more productive and interactive you are, the closer you get to stepping into those shoes you pictured yourself in at the first mention of success.

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By Eero Alasuutari
Growth Hacker and general philosopher for Struu.
A knowledge addict with a knack for random trivia and all-things-creative.

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