Derek Sivers Changes His Operating System

Not long ago I interviewed Derek Sivers for a blog I wrote for my business book summary client, getAbstract. For those of you who don’t know Sivers, he’s the founder of CD Baby which at the time of its creation disrupted the “old guard” music distribution system. Sivers wanted a new way to promote his own music and in the meantime created a way for other indie musicians to get their music out there when regular record labels wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown. Sivers has long since sold CD Baby and has gone through several iterations of himself, so I asked him to comment on his own personal process of reinvention:

“I call it ‘changing my operating system’ because it’s about looking at the way you do things and make choices, and replacing your previous habits with new ones. For years I had been very head-down in my work, so I decided to go head-up and take in all kinds of new experiences. Say yes where I used to say no, and say no where I used to say yes.” 

Sivers’ approach sounds simple, but, why are so many people resistant to change? I would argue that in today’s ever-evolving world, it’s not an option. You adapt to new situations all the time. It isn’t easy because it seems like every variable is in a constant of flux. Think about it: every time you get a new phone or software update, the entire interface is different. Get into a rental car and your whole world shifts. So, how does this apply to reinvention? It’s never been more important to stay focused on keeping current and looking for ways to apply and add to your skills.

I asked Sivers for his thoughts about how people can reinvent and compete on a global scale. Here’s his response:

Because the world is bigger and more connected than ever, this should give you more reason than ever to find a little niche. Even the smallest niche, now, can have a global audience that’s very worth serving. Imagine being a lawyer that only deals in intellectual property issues around 3D printing. You call your firm ‘3D Printing LLP.’ You write daily blog posts on it. You attend every 3D Printing conference. Soon you are known as the leading expert on the subject of 3D Printing law. Or, imagine being a tour guide that shows ancient Italy to Indonesian tourists. You speak Indonesian and Italian. You publish Indonesian language books about Italy, and allow Indonesian publishers to distribute them for free. You cater exclusively to Indonesian travel agencies, and have a small staff in Rome of native Indonesians, plus some native Italians that have learned to speak Indonesian. These things weren’t as do-able 20 years ago. Now with everyone online, and so connected, you can really make a good living being the leading expert in a tiny niche. Now you’re not competing against anyone. You own your niche.”

Perhaps Holocaust survivor and author, Viktor Frankl said it best:

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

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