The past year has been a great upheaval for me, personally. But as I went through the experience, I discovered an insidious malaise that infected my career. Where I thought I had found myself in a stable niche, it turned out that I had become complacent and settled into a rut. The rut was steady, true, but came at a cost—my own professional development and advancement. When the storms of upheaval came, I was shaken adrift from a place of comfort, forced to confront my own complacency, and spurred to action to improve matters. Now, nearly a year later, I’ve reevaluated my role within the industry and my own capabilities and found a position in a large corporation in a far more technical and challenging role than I’ve ever held… and I couldn’t be happier. For the first time in years, I am truly challenged by my work, with real responsibilities and interesting projects that put my AV skills to the test, but with resources to back me. I love it.
You may be reading this and thinking, “Good for you, Dawn, but what does that have to do with my company?”
Well, I’ll tell you. I’m not the only person in our industry that has fallen into the complacency trap, not by a long shot. In fact, I’d say our entire industry has suffered from this problem to some degree over the past few decades and the chickens have come home to roost. We see it all around us—small integrators closing, larger ones losing ground to newcomers in the field from other industries like IT, security, telephony, and so on. We’ve grown fat and comfortable and settled in our day-to-day routine, without questioning our processes and procedures, or our own biases about particular products, or brands, or technologies. We settle. We dig into what is comfortable and avoid what makes us nervous or uncertain. And we get left in the dust due to our inability or unwillingness to change.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” She was not only a naval officer, but she is considered one of the founders of computer programming, and a hero to women in STEM. And she was exactly right. Those seven words—but we’ve always done it this way—have been the death knell for many businesses and organizations. Not merely in AV or the broader field of technology in general, but, across all fields, sectors, and verticals. Those words have stifled innovation, hampered progress, and mired workers deep in their comfortable ruts as competitors and new technologies passed them by.
As an industry, we need to fight this complacency, and many of us are trying. There are some integrators who are making the necessary changes to adapt to the new paradigms we face in an IT-centric, services-driven AV environment. They know that, like sharks, we must keep swimming, or we sink and die. Kudos to you, dear reader, if you work for one of those companies! If you don’t, look around and take careful notes of those who do. Try to emulate them in your own company…or be ready to send those companies resumes as your own company struggles and folds. Sure, it is risky to embrace change and reject your comfortable rut, but as Nobel laureate Andre Gide wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Every company has a comfortable rut, even those who are more progressive and adaptable, are full of individual workers who may think they’ve just found their stable niche but, in reality, have gotten mired in the complacent muck. Trust me, it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes, but it matters. Don’t settle.
Tell me, do you have any professional certifications? Are they current? If you have not, the very first step you should take is to get one. It doesn’t have to be a CTS or CTS-D/-I from AVIXA (though they are wonderful and comprehensive AV industry certifications). What about networking certifications? BICSI wiring certifications? Electrical licensure? A PMP or management certificate like Lean or Six Sigma? Getting and maintaining a certification is about more than just adding an alphabet soup after your name on your business cards and bragging. It is an investment in your education, skills, and growth in your career that can pay off dividends even before taking and passing the exam.
I took classes in graduate school and seminars at tradeshows or vendor shows that provided me with new skills that I applied in my work the very next day. Taking these classes provides you with a stronger, steadier base on which you build your professional reputation; they show a degree of competence and are a mark of being invested in your career. After all, they aren’t mandatory in our AV world like they are in some other fields. Instead, they show that you care enough to put in the effort to seek out new knowledge, enhanced skills, and new ideas. They show that you aren’t complacent, but instead, chasing continual improvement and success.
Complacency is a killer—for individuals and for companies. It keeps you stuck in time, in your rut, spinning your wheels and never progressing to the next phase. And, too often, this mindless grind of “how we’ve always done it” can wear on our happiness and our passion for what we do.
Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” His words apply to us all. Don’t settle. Don’t be satisfied with what you currently know, or how you’ve always done thing. Don’t be so risk-averse that you fail to grow and evolve as the world we live and work in rushes past where we sit, stuck in our ruts. Fight complacency, and you’ll be amazed at what can happen.