Erik P.M. Vermeulen


“Work Culture” is Finally Changing: What’s Your Dream Career?

Many people feel that they don’t have much choice.

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

We spend a lot of time thinking about our “careers” and we cannot always follow our dreams. That much is clear.

As a result, many people end up feeling trapped in a world created by others. I sometimes have this feeling about my different jobs and notice a similar sentiment in discussions with my friends and colleagues.

Everyone is familiar with the experience. We are unable to say and do the things that we want out of fear of the consequences. We change our behavior to “fit in.” We can’t express who we are, resulting in disappointment, frustration, and anger.

Big and established companies are seen as one of the worst offenders. Deeply entrenched corporate cultures are characterized by hierarchies and procedures that force us to conform.

This standardized, monotonous corporate world is in sharp contrast with the emerging digital world of artificial intelligence, decentralization, and “peer-to-peer” opportunities. This becomes clear when I discuss new technologies. You can immediately feel the excitement in the room.

Innovative technologies are associated with a new culture of creativity and personal expression.

Of course, I also come across skepticism: “The world cannot be changed so easily.” “Best not to rock the boat.” To make a career, it is still better to follow the predetermined path.

But, recently, I am more convinced that this skeptical view is wrong. Even big companies are now recognizing that they must change their workplace culture. They want and need to be internally disrupted, and they are looking for people to help them in what is, inevitably, a difficult and challenging task.

And that means recruiting “disruptors.”

The result? New digital technologies are transforming the “menu” of available career options.

Consider the three main career choices that are available today.

A “Traditional” Career

If you want to follow a traditional career path in the old world of hierarchies, processes, and procedures, there are still plenty of opportunities and possibilities.

Many jobs aren’t immediately affected by technological change. Traditional professional businesses are booming. After all, the introduction and implementation of new technologies are helping to streamline existing ways of operating and working.

So, if you are happy with your current “traditional” career choice, there is no immediate necessity to change.

But, nor should you be too complacent. Technology is growing exponentially. It’s only to be expected that further technological innovations will transform many currently available jobs.

So, even if you are content with a traditional career, you need to be prepared to pivot at any moment.

The “Entrepreneur”

The digital revolution entails the emergence and acceptance of a technology-driven culture. In this culture, entrepreneurs are widely respected and — if successful — very well-rewarded.

As new technologies amplify and accelerate each other, the list of opportunities increases. We can generally distinguish between three types of entrepreneur:

  • Entrepreneurs who focus on the invention or further development of new digital technologies.
  • Entrepreneurs who use digital technologies to create new and potentially disruptive business models.
  • Entrepreneurs who take advantage of the latest technologies and decide to pursue a “creative” or “service-oriented” career by offering products/services directly to the crowd (circumventing the costly, time-consuming and formalized intermediaries that usually stand between you and your ultimate goal of reaching the public).

But starting your own “business” is challenging. There are many costs attached. You need energy and vision to deal with the wide range of administrative, financial, and personal issues that are inevitably involved in establishing and scaling a new business.

Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone.

The “Internal Disruptor”

Recently, a third career choice has appeared. Let’s call it the “Internal Disruptor.”

I spoke at a Future of Finance event last week. I met many financial institutions (mainly banks) that struggle with the “digital transformation.”

Brand loyalty is disappearing. Consumers demand digital financial products/services. It’s all about offering new technology solutions (e.g., mobile banking, 24 hours chatbots, and smart budgeting and saving tools).

In response to this new operating environment, these banks have started to hire programmers, developers, and other technologists to help them with the digitization process. They have also begun to acquire exciting and innovative start-ups.

Nevertheless, it became evident to me that these strategies usually fail if these banks don’t replace their hierarchies and procedures, and embrace an open “technology culture.”

And this is the thing. Banks and other big companies have increasingly failed because they weren’t able to do this. They struggled to abandon and replace the established corporate culture with an innovative technology culture. Hiring “techies” and dropping them into the old structures and processes isn’t going to work. They will leave instead of fighting the incumbents.

The “good news,” however, is that many bigger companies recognize the problem. They can see that the most effective way to innovate is by establishing an internal “disruptor.” This disruptor might be an independently managed and operated organization (lab, subsidiary), it might involve a reconfiguration of an existing division to create a space for disruption, or it might be an acquired start-up that maintains its own identity.

The key is to create an environment for creativity and serendipity (not by controlling but by facilitating the disruptors).

Disruption offers fantastic new career choices for both technologists and non-technologists. Surely, they don’t provide the standard promotion and seniority tracks, but they do offer the possibility of a personally meaningful and fulfilling experience.

Why I Chose to be Involved as a “Disruptor”

Here are some of the advantages that I have encountered operating in this new space:

  • Freedom and responsibility. A “disruptor” offers freedom to collaborate and experiment.
  • Diversity. A disruptor has to justify its existence constantly. Embracing diversity (in qualities, experience, skills, gender, etc.) is the only way to survive as a “disruptor.”
  • Out-of-the-box mentality. The idea of the disruptor is to “disrupt” the parent company. This can only be done by having an open mind and “out-of-the-box” mentality.
  • Sustainability. The disruptor has two objectives: Being competitive in the market and influencing the culture and practices of the “parent company.”
  • Self-learning.Internal disruption is all about establishing a productive ecosystem. This can never be achieved alone. Being part of a well-functioning collaborative organization offers a fantastic opportunity for self-learning and personal growth.

The Takeaway

Career choices are always tricky. Particularly in a world where job security has gone. Even if you are comfortable in the old world, the probability is that — sooner or later — technology will change or disrupt your work.

And for those that pursue the new options of an entrepreneur or internal disruptor, career decisions will be difficult, as well as exciting.

Nevertheless, I find this new world to be a source of tremendous inspiration. We are moving from a world in which the downside risk was “feeling like a prisoner of structures and processes beyond our control” to a world in which the downside risk is “the anxiety of freedom, responsibility, and an uncertain future.”

The new world isn’t always comfortable, but it offers more career choices and is undoubtedly preferable to the disappearing old world of inflexible and cumbersome procedures and processes.

Thank you so much for reading! Please click (and hold) the 👏 below, or leave a comment.

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