In my first year on the job at Ryerson University, freshman student Bailey Parnell playfully sat at my desk, looked me dead in the eye and declared, “I’m going to take your job.” I laughed it off. But truth be told, I have never stopped thinking about that scene. Bailey is absolutely right, and she knows it. If I don’t play my cards correctly over the next 5-10 years, she will render me obsolete. She is, effectively, the biggest threat to my professional career.
This past July, I wrote a piece about what Anderson Silva’s loss at the hands of Chris Weidman meant to me. In last night’s rematch, Weidman effectively ended Silva’s career via devastating TKO. Audiences watched in utter shock as Silva broke his shin on a kick to Weidman’s knee in the second round. It was a completely unexpected outcome for us, but not for Weidman – “I did work on checking kicks,” Weidman said in the post-fight interview. “I figured if I (caught) him on my knee, it could really hurt him. Crazy how that happened.”
As a bookend to a year pitted with the crippling of giants, the whole scene played out as a poignant reminder of why it behooves us to embrace uncertainty. Allow me once again to read really, really far into this…
Oh how the mighty have fallen. This past year, we were witness to massive failures: Blackberry buckled, Sony bled and Blockbuster died. This past year, an exasperated Justin Bieber almost retired, Jay Z’s credibility eroded and Lady Gaga flopped. This past year, the Microsoft Surface bombed, the NSA were caught with their pants down, and experts grew convinced that there’s an exodus from Facebook taking place. The new kids on the block – the Netflix’s, the Drakes and the Snapchats of the world – are dethroning the reigning champions.
This is hardly a new phenomenon; the rise and fall of power, the ebb and flow of influence, is constant. But at this particular junction in our history – a time of accelerated progress – failure will happen harder, faster and more frequently. We’re at the beginning of a massive restructuring, and the rules are constantly changing. This is a time of great upheaval, volatility and uncertainty. We are Generation Flux. Rigidity is plain hubris – a death-wish.
Weidman vs. Silva II played out as a microcosm of the changing-of-the-guard that is happening, or going to happen, across every industry. It was a rehearsal of how the next 5-10 years will play out, a rehearsal of the scenario in which the stubborn veteran goes head-to-head with the rookie, and loses unceremoniously. This patch of time will be rife with disappointments. We’ll see a steady volley of topples via TKO as the old guard gasses out, loses momentum and gets blindsided.
The power is shifting. And the fatally stupid thing to do now is to rest on laurels and buy into condescending discourse that discredits the next generation. Classic hubris. I look to the realms of hip hop and tech to gain insight on the best ways to deal with this uncertainty. The answer seems to be to embrace it –
Kanye is regularly acknowledging that Drake is the heir apparent to the throne. In the Toronto leg of his Yeezus tour, Kanye kissed the ring and referred to Drake as “the god of rap.” Jay Z famously referred to Drake as “the Kobe Bryant of rap.” Drake himself is aligning with younger acts and going as far as adopting their flow to remain hyper-relevant. For similar reasons, Yahoo! acquired Tumblr. And just as they neutralized the threat of Instagram, Facebook made a power move to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, only to be turned down. Disarming isn’t the answer.
Chaos is a beautiful thing, as I mentioned in July – it’s the primordial soup of innovation. Play it to your advantage. Rookies: As the big guy loses foothold, study his follies, train with the best, learn how to check his killer move, and then take him for everything. Veterans: Jump into the ranks with the freshman class, understand them, collaborate with them.
I’ve adopted discomfort as my baseline. It’s not a question of if Bailey Parnell will displace me, it’s a question of when. It is inevitable. But being uncomfortable keeps her in my purview at all times. The uncertainty of a zero-sum game with Bailey motivates me to work harder, faster and smarter. In the two years that I’ve known Bailey, she has become my reverse mentor – I study her moves, I pick her brains, I take notes. Right now, I’m doing everything in my power to stave off an obsolescence scenario.
This is Bailey’s time. This is Weidman’s time. This is Snapchat’s time. This is Drake’s time. This is Netflix’s time. The youngins are coming for everything and will not hesitate to remove you from their path. Disarming simply prolongs the inevitable; they’ve got a nearly-homicidal drive to win, a product of evolving in a turbulent time. They know that sometimes to create, one must first destroy. And Weidman wouldn’t hesitate to shatter Silva’s shin all over again.
Embrace uncertainty, my friends.
I wish Silva a speedy recovery and Weidman a long reign.