As society and technology change there are a growing number of tasks in any organization that don’t fall within anyone’s remit. They emerge from the chaos of an ever-changing market, and in time are fitted into the organizational structure. But when they first appear they aren’t anybody’s responsibility. From the company Twitter account to implementing green initiatives, these innovations have in time become part of key teams, but at the start everyone could look at them and say ‘that’s not my job’.

When thinking about personal development it’s tempting to ignore these new tasks and even to avoid them. After all, they don’t fit in with the job you have or the plans you’ve made to develop in that role. But the truth is that these tasks can be the best opportunities for personal development.

Seizing the future

There are many benefits to taking on these tasks.

Firstly they encourage you to develop new skills and thing in new ways. You can’t tackle new tasks without developing new ways of thinking, which will help you to create new solutions for the work you already have.

Secondly, these new tasks seldom stand in isolation.  The company Twitter account is obviously useful for marketing and PR, but it’s also a great tool of analytical information about both the company and its competitors. It can be a way to tap into the latest trends in any area of work, trawling hashtags and the profiles of industry leaders to see what skills and approaches they are advocating. The people who grabbed hold of Twitter in its early days often went on to become major players.

Any department that seizes on a new opportunity is likely to gain the edge over competitors, and the people leading that change can become leaders in their field.

But there’s also a career development element at play. True, when you take on a new task you don’t know whether it will be the next big thing or a brief, useless fad. But if it is the next big thing then, sooner or later, your company is going to have to put someone in charge of managing it. And if you’ve already proven your skills and knowledge then you’ll be well set to take that post.

The bigger picture

Behind all of this is a broader skill, one that you’ll need if you want to be an early adopter of technologies and techniques, and which you can become stronger in by seizing these opportunities.

That’s the ability to innovate.

Innovation is vital to modern business. Competitive battles are won and lost based on the ability to find new ways of reducing costs and risks for customers, not just in the here and now but across the lifespan of a product. There are courses you can take and books you can read that will develop your skills as an innovator, which will give you the tools to encourage new ideas. But innovation is more than a skill set. It is an attitude, an approach, a way of working, and nothing nurtures the habit of innovation like using it.

If you take on new tasks, technologies and ideas that are still in their early stages of development, then you’ll be innovating every day. You’ll have to be, just to work out how these things function. You’ll see technology changing fast, and you’ll think faster to keep up with it. You’ll constantly be faced with new challenges and opportunities.

The habits you develop can then be taken back to your existing work. You’ll find yourself applying and developing new approaches as your brain becomes more agile, more adept at finding unexpected angles.

So seize the opportunity, turn ‘that’s not my job’ into ‘that will be my job’ and watch your innovation grow.

Originally appeared in Fast Company June 2014:

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