A really great summary here from Vikram Mansharamani, particularly around the distinction between generating dots and joining them.
I attended an excellent The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) event last night with Jayne Woodley, Jonathan Trevor and Ross Smith, FRSA on the panel to discuss the future of work. The capabilities we will need in the future was central to the debate.
Harvard lecturer: ‘No specific skill will get you ahead in the future’—but this ‘way of thinking’ willMany of us have been told that deep expertise will lead to enhanced credibility, rapid job advancement, and escalating incomes. The alternative of being broad-minded is usually dismissed as dabbling without really adding value.
By Vikram Mansharamani
But the future may be very different: Breadth of perspective and the ability to connect the proverbial dots (the domain of generalists) is likely to be as important as depth of expertise and the ability to generate dots (the domain of specialists).
The rapid advancement of technology, combined with increased uncertainty, is making the most important career logic of the past counterproductive going forward. The world, to put it bluntly, has changed, but our philosophy around skills development has not.
Today’s dynamic complexity demands an ability to thrive in ambiguous and poorly defined situations, a context that generates anxiety for most, because it has always felt safer to generalize.
Just think about some of the buzzwords that characterized the business advice over the past 40 to 50 years: Core competence, unique skills, deep expertise. For as far back as many of us can remember, the key to success was developing a specialization that allowed us to climb the professional ladder.
It wasn’t enough to be a doctor, one had to specialize further, perhaps in cardiology. But then it wasn’t enough to be a cardiologist, one had to specialize further, perhaps as a cardiac surgeon. And it wasn’t just medicine, it was in almost all professions.
The message was clear: Focus on developing an expertise and you’ll rise through the ranks and earn more money. The approach worked. Many of today’s leaders ascended by specializing.
The future belongs to generalist.
But as the typical mutual fund disclaimer so famously states, past performance is no guarantee of future results. It’s time to rethink our love affair with depth. The pendulum between depth and breadth has swung too far in favor of depth.
There’s an oft-quoted saying that “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like nails.” But what if that man had a hammer, a screwdriver, and a wrench? Might he or she look to see if the flat top had a narrow slit, suggesting the use of a screwdriver? Or perhaps consider the shape of the flat top. Circle? Hexagon? Could a wrench be a more effective tool? And finally, the mere addition of these tools can encourage a better understanding of a problem.