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Fighting Irrelevance in a Changing World

By Scott McKain – Dynamic Speaker on Innovation, Sales & Customer Service

Death concerns me. Irrelevance, however, absolutely terrifies me.

Scott McKain, Dynamic Speaker on Innovation, Sales & Customer Service - The Sweeney Agency Speakers Bureau

As I had the privilege of introducing my friends, the Oak Ridge Boys — as the evening’s entertainment for the Hall of Fame banquet at the recent conference of the National Speakers Association — I was moved to make a statement to the hundreds of professional speakers in the audience.

“The most difficult achievement in both the music business and our business,” I told the crowd, “is to combine a career with longevity with one of consistent relevancy.” 

The Oaks have certainly accomplished that. For example, the producer of their latest record is Nashville legend Dave Cobb, who currently has the #1 album in America with his production of the movie soundtrack of the hit film “Elvis.” The Oak Ridge Boys still perform to sold-out crowds and continue to release new music successfully.

At the same event, however, I heard more than one speaker declare that the deadliest place to be in business is “male, pale, and stale.” As a white man, I already check two of those boxes. I certainly don’t want to be anywhere near having the third one on my list.

It begs the question: How do you stay relevant in a rapidly changing marketplace? (Regardless of gender, race, or age?)

It seems to me there are four keys critical to staying on top of the game and making an ongoing contribution to those efforts that matter to you:

1) Pay attention. You must be tuned in to what’s happening around you and how it might affect your world. This is easier said than done, as we all have limited bandwidth and can only focus on so many things simultaneously. But you’re bound to miss something important if you’re not paying attention.

I was recently a speaker for an event where one of the other speakers was so out of touch that the meeting planner walked to the front of the room and cut his presentation off. The primary reason was he had not a clue how his commentary was offending the majority of the participants. Regardless of whether or not his positions were reasonable, his total inability to “read the room” meant his ideas had zero chance of making the impression he desired. You must pay attention to the situation around you — and respond with relevance to that situation.

2) Be adaptable. Once you’ve identified a change that could impact your relevance, you need to be able to adapt quickly. This may mean changing your approach, your product, or even your entire business model. The key is to be flexible and open to change rather than being set in your ways.

I’ve seen too many businesses that were once successful but refused to change. They failed miserably as the world passed them by. On the other hand, I’ve also seen companies that have been able to adapt and reinvent themselves time and again, staying relevant (and successful) in the process.

3) Keep learning. In order to stay relevant, you need to keep learning and growing. This means continuously expanding your knowledge and skillset, so you’re always ahead of the curve. It also means being open to new ideas and different ways of doing things.

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Several years ago, I wrote about my “reverse mentor.” Formerly, the word “mentor” implied an older sage who could hold the hand of a younger person and walk them through the minefield of difficulties typically expected. However, the world has changed so rapidly that I sought out a smart, newer professional to keep me learning about what was critical to a generation younger than mine. Being open to learning from younger professionals — and disciplining yourself to not start ANY sentences with words to the effect of “Back in my day…” — is essential to relevancy.

4) Be relentless. Finally, you need to be relentless in your pursuit of relevance. This means never giving up and always finding a way to stay ahead of the curve. 

Frankly, you will encounter some who erroneously believe that a simple aspect over which you have no control — your age — will make you irrelevant. I believe we need to fight ageism with as much passion and dedication as we should oppose all other forms of discrimination.

In today’s world, it’s not enough to simply be good at what you do — instead, strive to be the best. That’s true no matter your age — but it is increasingly important when some may presume a correlation between longevity and lack of relevancy. If you’re not relentlessly striving for improvement, you need to either find a way to become better…or plant your flag and depart the field of battle.

However, if you can commit to these four keys, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your relevance in an ever-changing marketplace — 

no matter your level of experience.

About Scott McKain

Scott McKain is globally recognized as an authority on how organizations and professionals create the distinction required to attract and retain customers and employees.

Scott’s presentations benefit from over three decades of experience, combined with his innate talent for articulating successful innovative ideas. McKain has spoken and consulted with leaders of the world’s most influential corporations, presenting his business strategies in all fifty states and twenty-two countries… from Singapore to Sweden; from Mexico to Morocco… from the White House with the President in attendance – to conferences in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


To learn more about Scott McKain contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency  www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]