A Guide to Having a Crisis-Proof Career

Do you want to make your career crisis-proof? Do you want it to thrive even in difficult times? The key is to be quick to adapt to changing conditions. Change is the only constant in the market and you are crisis-proof only if you can quickly adapt to new conditions.

As I wrote in my post about learning and people skills, these quick-to-adapt people are called versatilists. But how can they be crisis-proof? And how can we be one of them? We will answer these two questions here.

Wikipedia has a good description of versatilists:

To illustrate this using a math phrase, the versatilist has a higher area under the curve rating. Think of a person having some level of knowledge/experience in 15 knowledge areas. That person may have a very high competency (score 5) in 3 areas, a medium level of competency (score 3) in 5 areas an introductory level of competency (score 1) in 4 areas and no competency (score 0) in 3 areas. This creates an area under the curve of 34. This is different from a specialist who may score very high in 1 area and have no competency in others. This is also different from a generalist who may score a 1 or 3 in every area. This breadth of knowledge and experience is what enables faster changes to other roles.

From the description, there are two characteristics of versatilists:

  1. Versatilists have wide interest
    Unlike specialists, versatilists don’t limit their interest to only one area. They are interested in many things. You can quickly recognize such people when you talk with them. They show enthusiasm for many different topics and not just one or two.
  2. Versatilists build competencies in their areas of interest
    Generalists also have wide interest. But unlike generalists, versatilists build competencies in their areas of interest. They are not satisfied with just knowing a little about those fields. Instead, they improve themselves to the point where they can do something meaningful. Of course, their level of competency is not the same from one area to the other, but they improve their competencies in more than just one area.

The magic of versatilists is they can combine their different competencies into unique offerings. It’s like cooking with many available ingredients. If you have only one or two ingredients, the number of combinations you can create is very limited. But if you have many ingredients, there are a lot of possible combinations. Let’s say there are three ingredients you could have: A, B, and C. Here are the possible combinations for different numbers of ingredients:

  • With 1 ingredient (A), there is only 1 possible combination (A).
  • With 2 ingredients (A,B), there are 3 possible combinations (A,B,AB).
  • With 3 ingredients (A,B,C), there are 7 possible combinations (A, B, C, AB, AC, BC, ABC)

As you can see, the number of possible combinations increases exponentially with each additional ingredient.

That’s why versatilists are crisis-proof:

Versatilists are crisis-proof because they can quickly create new offerings that meet new market demands.

This, in my opinion, is the main advantage of versatilists. When market changes, they can quickly create a new combination to adapt to it. People might be astonished with how fast they switch roles but they actually just create a new combination from their portfolio of competencies. Their portfolio of competencies becomes a base upon which to create many potential offerings. They can then choose one of them based on market demands. Specialists, on the other hand, have a hard time to adapt since they have only one – or a few combinations – to offer.

So how can we be a versatilist? As you can see above, the important thing to have a portfolio of competencies. It’s just like investing. Financial experts suggest you diversify your investment and not put all your eggs in one basket. Similarly, you should diversify your competencies and not bet your future on just one. Add to this a strong network of friends and you will always have good opportunities come your way.

Here are some tips to build your portfolio of competencies:

1. Start early

As with investing, the earlier you start the better. The reason is that it takes time to build your portfolio. You can’t have a strong portfolio overnight.

2. List your base competencies

Base competencies are the competencies that become the elements of “combined” competencies. In my case of blogging, for example, the competency needed can be broken down to at least three base competencies: writing, personal development, and information technology.

What you need to do is listing all your base competencies regardless of your level of expertise.

3. Develop your base competencies

After listing your base competencies, you should work on improving them. Read books, practice, and learn from other people. You don’t have to be a world-class expert in any of them. Remember, the strength is in the combinations.

4. Add new base competencies

Besides developing your current base competencies, you should consider adding new competencies to your portfolio. Find something that’s related to what you already have. Or find something that can complement what you have.

5. Watch the market

Market always changes so you need to watch it closely. Where is it heading? What new demands might occur in the near future? This post has some ideas on how to do that.

6. Develop unique offerings based on market demands

When you see a growing demand, you can look at your portfolio of competencies and find how you can combine them to make something that meets the need. It’s like trying to combine available ingredients to create the kind of meal requested by your customer. The more ingredients you have, the bigger the chance that you can find the right combination. This post gives you an example.

Photo by muha


  1. Wauw, that picture is so beautiful, and… powerful!! 😀

    Claus D Jensen

  2. I agree. Not only that change is the constant in the modern business world, but a lot of it happens very fast and is unpredictable. This is why long term plans are all good, but we need to also adapt them quickly to the changes around us, if we want to stay on top of the wave.


  3. Donald,

    There’s a lot of posts here about how important is passion and how important it is to feed and incentive one’s passions throughout the years.

    But, of course, there are some people that are less passionate than others. I mean, there are people that are more apathetic and passive. They have passion for one or two things, but they are more of quiet persons (seems that they lead a life without setting themselves on fire).

    Have you ever seen something or have some tips on how to develop this passionate spirit? How this people can set themselves on fire?

    Thanks and rgds!

  4. Claus,
    Yes, I like the picture myself 🙂

    Very fast and unpredictable. These words from you precisely describe the world we live in now.

    If someone already has passion for one or two things, that’s a good start and they should improve themselves there. Later they can expand their passion. For that, a key trait is curiosity. Curious people are interested in many things and can easily expand their passion to new areas. Here is an article I wrote on developing curiosity:

  5. This is a very interesting article. Those individuals with a greater ability to adapt thrive. In my own field of work, I find that people who are versatile and multi-skilled are geneally more ‘protected’ from change than those who can only do one thing.

    Thanks for the insight.

  6. I’m a fan of versatility. I think building anticipation skills helps a lot, even if it means just paying attention to growth spots and decline in industries.

  7. Mark,
    That’s right. Unfortunately, it’s easy to be comfortable with just one thing, especially if it now works.

    I agree completely with you. What’s the point of being good at the wrong things? Thanks for bringing it up!

  8. Hi Donald, I just love this article …. when i compared this article with the changes in the contemporary era i found that life is just direclty belongs to your article , if we are not changing with time then time will leave us far behind …… very nice article …. keep it up … and thanks again for such splendid thoughts….

  9. Excellent point! I have always believed this. The key here is to become aware of your competencies, and to have a learning plan to systematically build the ones that you have, and then to systematically build others. Add to this the goal of 1% improvement per day in your key competencies, and you will be on your way to a well diversified competency portfolio.

  10. Vipin,

    If we are not changing with time then time will leave us far behind

    I like the way you put it. Glad you like the article, by the way.

    Your idea of 1% improvement per day is interesting. It could open the way to exponential growth.

Comments are closed.