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Don Tapscott photographed at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, 2007. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Don Tapscott photographed at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, 2007. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Leadership advice

Tapscott: How technology is changing your career Add to ...

This is Part 6 in a series of interviews with the gurus of leadership and management theory.

Don Tapscott is a Toronto-based consultant who has written 13 books on the role of technology in society, including Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, and Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World.

The leadership guru interviews

In this article, he talks about how he was prodded to be on Twitter by a younger mentor – he notes he’s no Ashton Kutcher but has 30,000 followers – and how you can also design your life to keep in tune with our more collaborative, less hierarchical world.

You have talked about the importance of applying design principles to our life and our career. What does that mean, and how can I do it?

Back when my dad was in the work force, work and life were pretty straightforward. You graduated, had a chosen field, kept up in that field, and were set for life. Today, you are set for about 15 minutes.

If you take a technical course in university, half of what you learn in the first year is obsolete when you get to the fourth year. So when you graduate, it’s not how much you know that counts but your capacity to think and solve problems, put things in context, understand the relationship between things, and learn life-long because you will need to reinvent your knowledge base multiple times throughout life.

Back in my dad’s day, life was very different too. He came home from work and didn’t have to choose whether to check e-mail or play with me. There were no BlackBerrys at the table, tempting us to not have face-to-face communications. The organization chart of the baby boomer family was clear: Mom reported to dad, and the kids reported to mom. There were three TV stations.

Flash forward today and life is infinitely more complicated. There are millions of TV stations; we are overwhelmed by information. Between the beginning of time and 2003 there were five exabytes of information recorded. There were five exabytes of information recorded in the last 24 hours. Now a lot of that is people playing with cats on YouTube, but a lot as well is important information. So we need to develop filters. We need to figure out how to manage all this media.

Put all that together and there is a case to be made that each of us, when thinking of our careers or our lives, needs to use design principles and techniques to forge a life that we actually want. It doesn’t mean working out every aspect of your life. It means establishing a set of principles, guidelines and rules so that when you end up at the end of your life you feel it was a good life – it took some interesting turns, and unpredictable new directions, but was a life that was fulfilling, satisfying, principled and consequential.

We know from recent research on brain plasticity that how you spend your time determines a lot of the wiring of your brain. Arguably, you can design your mind by ensuring you spend adequate time doing deep thinking, having moments for private reflection, reading an article from beginning to end and not just skimming. Those are part of the ways you can design your life.

Many people might find this impossible. Life just happens to them. Their bosses decide their future. They can’t design their life because they are too hard-pressed financially to switch jobs or return to school. Do you really believe we can design our lives?

I think we can, and we must. Of course there are limitations. The biggest factor in determining how prosperous your life will be is what family you were born into. That’s pretty much luck. But Stephen Leacock said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Luck to me is the intersection of opportunity meeting preparation. You prepare for your life in a way that makes additional and new opportunities available. I don’t think life just happens to you. Life is something that you can shape. I absolutely believe that.

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