I was sitting by our outdoor fireplace a while back, talking with a long-time friend (who is about my age) regarding his desires to start something new. Like many of us who have worked for others over many years, he’s looking ahead and wondering if there isn’t something he should be building for himself.
He was also facing the dilemma that more seasoned professionals often face as they pass the mid-point of their career and start looking at the late-stage: Will my skills become obsolete? Am I expendable? If this current position is eliminated, can I be marketable? These questions can be particularly acute if you’re in the ever-evolving technology field.
He had passion about one very different direction, but during our discussion, it was quite difficult to see a business model there. It was too big a side step, without much established expertise, and it would require changing long-standing business models that would prove extremely resistant. There are things that we often really WANT to do (I have several), but for which there is just not an evident business model. And it’s different looking at such challenge in your fifties, than it is when you’re 24.
So we settled on a few questions, which actually began to tease out a pretty promising direction:
1. What core expertise have you deeply developed over the last (20+) years?
2. What can you do that a young hot-shot just starting out can’t do, with their lesser experience level?
3. What are the valuable people and knowledge connections that you’ve developed that can translate into business growth?
4. What skills do you possess that transcend a given technology, platform, or market sector?
5. What existing pain will business money-spenders gladly pay to get rid of (and you know how to solve that problem)?
He mentioned something he was quite good at – a strategic problem that, with his experience bridging both the technology side and the end user/business side, he could solve for just about any company. An “evergreen” problem that would require a smart consultant to solve, irrespective of the particular platforms in use.
In fact, the business need was crying out for a new intermediary – someone who could intelligently understand and bring together people and resources for the greater benefit of all.
Suddenly, an experienced professional who was worried about obsolescence began to look like a really smart guy who could help solve a thorny problem that exists everywhere. Not by trying to do something brand new – but by identifying a “hidden” skill that is absolutely not a commodity.
If you’re thinking of being a later-stage-in-life entrepreneur, it’s tempting sometimes to look far afield and make some huge leap into uncharted waters. But the fact is, the channels you’ve been successfully navigating for years probably have the best possible opportunities awaiting you. There are people with lots of money to spend who need a smart, experienced resource to come in and fix problems that a twenty-something can’t possibly understand.
Obsolescence? – pfffffft. You may be perfectly suited to take a big leap forward – on the same trails that you know far better than anyone else.