An investor recently asked me what my competitive advantage was. My challenge was figuring out how to explain—at the risk of sounding embarrassingly arrogant—that my competitive advantage was… me. Not my patents. Not my secrets. Just, me.
What I meant by that was that, today, the only constant is change. Technology is evolving so quickly that any competitive advantage based on it is short-lived. The more valuable and sustainable competitive advantage, then, is one’s ability to innovate relentlessly and adapt in the face of such change.
This is why it’s so important to invest in yourself.
I’ve made countless good and bad investments in myself over the years. Below, I’ll share some of the best ones, and explain why you should follow suit.
Look for a struggle
Studies across diverse fields have demonstrated that working with limited resources can force us to be more creative. For an anecdotal example of how limits breed creativity, think about startups that have been bootstrapped without funding, or the popular trend of tiny homes.
Being open to challenges can create creative results. You might even artificially create new challenges or constraints in order to bolster your creative abilities and become a better problem-solver.
That way, when you have to meet a tight budget or deadline, you’ll have the skills to get the job done gracefully. And when you eventually get a big budget or more resources, you can create far more value.
Learn a new language
Evidence suggests that bilingualism can improve the brain’s “executive function,” which we use for planning, problem solving, staying focused, and many other activities that are critical to professional success.
As a native Spanish speaker, learning English was a necessary investment for my career in business. But the greater benefit of learning this second language was how it shaped my new way of thinking.
Learning a new language made my brain more malleable, and I began to spot patterns and problems that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Anyone learning a new language usually also spends time with and learn from people of different backgrounds, which is perhaps the greatest benefit of all. When you travel, you may connect with other cultures in a more profound way.
Branch out your expertise
Life coach types frequently preach the idea that you should master a single skill and become the best at it, rather than try to be good at multiple things. And to an extent, I agree.
However, there’s a benefit to mastering more than one thing. Justine Musk, an author and the ex wife of Elon Musk, explained this benefit well while responding to a question on Quora. She advises:
“Choose one thing and become a master of it. Choose a second thing and become a master of that. When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other…and b) create a competitive advantage…”
This has held true for me my career as an entrepreneur. Becoming a “master” of both digital marketing and web development is what ultimately enabled me to create my business.
When you have acquired deep knowledge in two distinct areas of expertise, you’re able to connect dots that you didn’t even know were there and find new ways to solve problems that others may not have considered.
Learn computer programming
These days, every industry is a “tech” industry.
But apart from the obvious fact that technically skilled developers and engineers are able to find or create opportunity for themselves in any organization, learning computer programming has a similar benefit to learning a language. When you learn to code, you boost your problem-solving skills, because you learn how to think differently.
Learning to code is a process that trains you to think in a certain way. It teaches you to ask the right questions, accurately evaluate your opportunities and risks, think creatively, and more.
As a technical person, I’ve found that my understanding of coding— and technology in general —has even informed my approach to sales and marketing. This ties back to the previous idea that there is a lot to gain from investing in yourself to dominate not just one, but two, different areas of expertise. Perhaps it’s worth considering computer programming as that second expertise!
Take public speaking classes
While hard skills like computer programming are paramount in the modern world, you might be surprised to find that the majority of employers actually rate soft skills to be more important. And among the soft skills that are most rewarding in today’s competitive workforce? Communication.
Whether your charge is inspiring your employees as a leader, sharing status updates as a project manager, or detailing the technical requirements for a new software build, the ability to communicate clearly is universally vital. This is why public speaking classes are such a rewarding way to invest in yourself.
No matter how good you think you may be at communicating already, public speaking classes will push you to get even better. They open a controlled environment for the kind of constructive criticism that you’ve likely never heard from any boss or employee.
Public speaking classes helped me learn to articulate my thoughts and ideas more precisely, build deeper emotional connections with my audience, and gain a new sense of confidence. These skills have in turn enriched both my personal and professional lives.
Improv classes are a great alternative that can push you even further outside of your comfort zone and challenge you to speak and act with passion.
Like anything worth doing, the key to becoming more creative is to make the necessary time and energy investments. While these suggestions may not fully get you where you want to be, they should be a good way to start.