Don’t Just Paint It Black

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Don’t Just Paint It Black

In the early days of car manufacturing, Henry Ford said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”

For Ford, this was an issue of costs and efficiency. By only offering one color, he could lower his costs by being able to buy that color paint in mass quantities at significant discounts versus higher prices for smaller amounts of many different colors. The production line would go faster because cars weren’t going in different areas for different paint colors.

It worked well for Ford at the beginning. But even Ford had to change that philosophy when the market (consumers) started demanding different colors.

And that’s sort of what most of us do at the beginning of our careers. We come out of the university or technical school or just out of high school. We fixate on one type of skill or job. However, in a competitive market, you can’t rely on just one skill or job. You have to adapt to the changing demands of your consumer (your employer or your customers).

But, there is a paradox in this process. You first have to master one skill or area of expertise before you can adapt to something else. For example, a newly minted accounting major starts work in one area of accounting at a company, maybe taxes or payroll or purchasing. Normally, they are not expected to be experts in all areas of accounting. That first assignment will test your ability to master the demands of the assignment and to succeed at it. You can’t move on until you succeed.

Here’s the paradox. You can’t adapt until you succeed, and you can’t succeed in something else until you adapt.

Once you master that first area, then you are allowed to move on to another area while still maintaining your mastery of the first skill. Ford couldn’t move on to different paint colors until he had succeeded in black. Of course, the market forced him to adapt or lose sales to other companies willing to sell different colors.

In the same way, your employer or customer will force you to adapt to different demands or lose your job or sales to someone else who is willing to adapt.

Regardless of what field you’re in, the market will force you to decide whether to adapt or lose. If you don’t adapt (learn new skills, handle new services or products), you may still have a job, but that’s all you will have.

If it’s a business, it will be a very narrow business. These types of businesses succeed only when they have no competition for that service or product, meaning they have a monopoly.

Adapting (learning new skills or changing your business) is hard work. It takes thought, planning, practice and sacrifice. That is why some people don’t do it.

The take away is that you can’t rely on one skill, no matter how good you are at it, to carry you through your career if you expect to see any significant growth in your salary, sales or overall future. You will be stuck in one place for the rest of your career or life. Over time, that place will get smaller and smaller.

There are people like that. You shouldn’t be one of them.

Arnoldo Mata heads Leadership Resource Group and has more than 30 years of experience in leadership training and development. Leadership Resource Group works with nonprofits, governments and private businesses on strategic planning projects that provide focus and direction for organizational growth. He also provides training and services in creativity and ideation.

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