expert generalists are more likely to be successful in the future

Christel Deskins

A lot has changed in the last six months — uncertainty is the new normal. Change is nothing new but the recent development is massive. The year 2020 will go down in history as the year that changed established systems, beliefs and conventional wisdom in all areas of life. We […]

A lot has changed in the last six months — uncertainty is the new normal. Change is nothing new but the recent development is massive.

The year 2020 will go down in history as the year that changed established systems, beliefs and conventional wisdom in all areas of life.

We are going through a historic transition — if you don’t adapt fast, you may be left behind. With the current global transformation, remote work-styles, and the uncertainty about work, the future will allow for (and incentivize) multiple career bets.

The rapidly evolving world requires us to drop conventional mindsets, let go of old rules of work, learn new skills fast and develop new habits that can help us thrive in the new world of work.

Our working lives will be different for a long time — you don’t have to miss out on anything: you can adapt, reinvent yourself and benefit from your skills.

Today, right now, it pays to be an expert-generalist

The term “expert-generalist” was coined by Orit Gadiesh, a corporate strategist and chairperson of Bain & Company.

She defined an Expert Generalist as someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, topics and capabilities.

Expert-generalists thrive in almost every environment. They prepare themselves for many scenarios. They use their diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas to succeed.
If you have time to improve your career, you can use it more efficiently to improve your skills in any discipline of interest to you.

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else, ” says Leonardo Da Vinci.

Steve Jobs famously ran Pixar and Apple at the same time. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have been investing in multiple businesses for decades. Elon Musk runs multiple companies (Tesla, SpaceX, and others). The same goes for Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos.

Some of the most successful founders today still run multiple projects. The new world of work is positioned to reward expert-generalists.

You can also multi-path your career to stay relevant. Make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty good” skills until no one else has your combination of skills.

In an insightful post, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, a well-known comic strip says if you want something extraordinary [in life], you have two paths:

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist.

The future ahead of us is no longer narrowly defined by core skills but through complementary skills and learning agility.

“When you don’t know what the future will bring, or when the path you thought you were on takes an unexpected turn, it makes sense to pursue a diverse portfolio of options rather than just sticking single-mindedly to one,” writes Herminia Ibarra, who has been studying career change for the past two decades.

Transferable skills as future careers

An exciting way to go about diversifying your income in difficult times is to explore activities you enjoy that you can teach others online for a fee.

What are your most valuable skills (both hard and soft skills)? Transferable skills are often what provides new opportunities to switch roles quickly.

What do you enjoy when you are not working? Do you like to draw or paint, or play a musical instrument? These hobbies you enjoy in your free time can be packaged as online learning courses. They can become viable career options.

When exploring ways to supplement your income, investigate your passion, as it can become an incredible career that does not even feel like work.

Many transferable skills like how to negotiate, lead, adapt, sell, solve problems, communicate and organize projects can be applied to a wide range of industries. Everyone needs them to thrive in our changing world — if you are great them, think about teaching others how to develop them.
Instead of looking at job titles and careers going forward, look at the skill sets and things you’ve learned over the years that can be passed on.

“Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains,” argues David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

If you identify yourself as one career title such as a writer, you may be missing out on all the other jobs you could succeed at that also require writing as a portion of their duties.

When you consider your next career move, don’t just think about what you do now — analyze what’s you’ve accomplished in the past, everything you are good at and the skillset you’ve gathered over the years to get ahead.
Carry out a skills audit to highlight your unique and transferable skills and start thinking about how you can develop these skills, sell them or highlight them to make a successful career transition.

In an era of exponential change, pattern recognition can help you build a multi-path career.

In a shifting economy, one powerful hack is to think broadly, identifying overlooked skills that can help you build a thriving career.

“Leaning into those interests and keeping an open mind about where they might lead you is critical for self-innovation and career survival,” says John Schwarz is the founder and CEO of Visier.

Key takeaway

The careers of tomorrow may look vastly different than they do right now, but those who can stay flexible and open-minded have a better chance of succeeding despite the uncertainties.

Don’t focus on a single career path — diversity if you can. In a downturn, multiple options or paths give you flexibility.

The traditional model of career advancement may not be your best bet right now. Today, we are witnessing a major shift.

To survive the changing world of work, broaden and deepen your set of skills. It’s the only way to build a meaningful and lasting career in the 21st century.

This article originally appeared in Medium.

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