by Jeff Hurt | October 1, 2013

In today's rapidly changing world, if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind. Our challenge is to keep pace with the changing tides of our profession. To do that, you constantly have to learn, unlearn and relearn. It's your job to take control of your personal and professional growth to ensure that your skill set is current.

Does your employer define your skill set?

Who defines your skill set? Is it your employer, based on the needs of your organization? As author David Kelly says, allowing the needs of your organization or employer to define your skill set doesn't sound wrong. It actually sounds like the right thing.

But think about that for a minute. Your strengths often serve you and your employer for the moment. As time passes, your profession progresses and often new skills grow in importance for that industry. If we continue to allow the needs of our organization to define our skills set, we might fall behind.

Ultimately, allowing the needs of your organization to define your skill set hurts you as a professional and it hurts your organization.

Avoid stagnation by embracing curiosity

How do you ensure that your skill set is not falling behind in your profession? Too often the growth of our skill set is a by-product of responding to our employer's needs. Similarly, the growth of our skill set is often the reaction to some problem or issue. That growth is limited and based on solving immediate problems.

There is no way to be sure that your skill set is current without knowing what is happening in your profession. You have to embrace curiosity and explore what's happening in the real world around you as well as what's happening on the horizon of your profession. You can't continue to expect the skills you learned in college to serve you in the future. They've become outdated and out of context.

Only allowing the needs of your organization to drive your skill set is a sure way to lead to stagnation.  Doing what you've always done because you've always done it that way will cause you to rot. And no one wants a decaying, declining employee.  

Your stagnation hurts your employer

Repeating the past and expecting different results hurts your organization. You can't continue to get new ideas, new processes, new methods and new products from the silos of your current organization. It is only when you begin to branch out and explore new paths that you get new ideas and fresh thinking.

Innovation comes from practicing new behaviors on a consistent basis. It comes from asking new questions and getting new perspectives. Innovation does not usually come from reacting to some immediate need. It does not usually occur when you are trying to solve a pain point. It comes from accessing new resources, new thinking and new insights. In the end, an employee's stagnation from professional growth minimizes that organization's opportunity for innovation.

It's our job to keep our finger on the pulse of our industry and the world at large. We have to find ways to keep our skill sets up to date or risk becoming stagnant. What ways do you keep your skills set current with trends in your industry? Where do you go to learn new ideas, insights and perspectives? Please tell us in the comments below.

Dallas-based Jeff Hurt is executive vice president of education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. To read more from him, visit