Are you knowledge worker? Getting paid for your thinking, analysis and information-skills?
Do you have a growing task list requiring long periods of focused attention?
Do you feel your capacity for concentration-filled work dwindling due to constant interruptions and distractions?
Image Credit: Luis Llerena/ UnSplash.com
In this age of information overload, the one capacity that human beings are fast losing is ‘attention’. Attention-ability affects productivity, which affects performance. It’s common knowledge now that the current human attention span is less than that of a goldfish. How did we end up here?
Did you know that most of the careers and professions we know of today did not exist 100 years ago? Did you know many of these professions were not around 20 years back?
Image Credit: UnSplash.com
Ever since human beings moved out of caves and started settling and building civilizations, more and more professions have emerged to serve the needs created by scientific advancements and human aspirations.
Till about the first half of the 20th century, the generalist was king. The person who had the widest range of competencies and most number of skills had the ‘guru’ status. They held all key positions, they had the respect of the world. They ruled.
Then a shift took place. Gradually a growing calls of specialists emerged – people who had deep know-how in a particular field or skill, could unravel the most intricate details of that craft, but were not required to be well-versed in pretty much everything else.
Actually generalists and specialists have existed in every civilization and age, and region. Only, earlier, specialists were few and under the rocks, but with the coming of the information age, they came to the limelight and started spreading in fame and recognition.
However, now a new phenomenon is already germinating and will grow in the near future. It’s the class of the Specialized Generalist (or generalized specialist….whichever you prefer).
You see, 2 things are here to stay at least for the next century –
the exponential growth of information and
pace of disruptive change.
To make sense of these two phenomena, and ride it, our society requires a class of cutting-edge professionals – individuals with highly detailed skills and knowledge in key areas – niches in which they have deep mastery, coupled with a broad understanding of a large number of interrelated skills and information that are part of the surrounding ecosystem. They must be able to dive deep into their chosen calling, but also swim comfortably on the surface of other disciplines.
Take any industry as it exists in 2015, and you will realize the truth in this – every industry has a few factors that demand 2-3 ‘generalized-knowledge’ domains. For example-
healthcare: doctors need specialized clinical skills couples with generalized knowledge of data, improvement, and some managerial competencies if they wish to grow into leadership positions.
Software: engineers today increasingly need marketing and business development skills along with the core coding and programming chops.
Finance: Book-keeping plus an understanding of future trends in your industry.
Business: Entrepreneurial plus managerial skills, with a flair for arts, humanities and design.
Generalized specialists will be in demand in the future. If you want to come out on top and succeed in your profession, you need to do 2 things:
Identify your niche: what’s that small corner of the ocean in your industry that you can claim expertise in?
Identify the critical factors in the ecosystem: In your niche, what’s the biggest pain? What are the ‘make-or-break’ factors? Can you find innovative ‘pain-killers’ for these factors?
Make sense of the trends, not only what predicted, but also your sense of where it is going: With all the technological and global disruptions, where’s your industry headed? what will it look like 10, 20 or 30 years from now?
Generalize in this ecosystem: What aspects of the perimeter of this ecosystem should you become aware of?
Here’s the thought to carry along:
“Specialize in your niche, and generalize in the ecosystem”.
As I look back 5 years, I realize how far I have travelled. In terms of lessons learnt, insights gained, personal experiences and the like.
Image Credit: UnSplash.com
While my chronicles may not be as profound, still there are useful bite-sized lessons that I can always refer back to.
Here are some key lessons I have learnt about life and leadership in the last 5 years of working and living:
Most things in life have many shades of grey.Accepting this fact is the first step in dealing with it effectively and gaining from it eventually.
A few things in life are black-and-white. And you must insist on keeping them that way. Most of your pains and self-inflicted struggles will stem out of your inability or unwillingness to prevent greyness from creeping into what must remain black-n-white.
Leadership and communication are always situational.The best answer to how you deal with any event is “it depends”. On the people involved, their station in life, your station in life, their level of humanness and maturity, your level of humanness and maturity.
Related to 3 above, tact and diplomacy are important skills.The straight path may not be always the right path. Detours, roundabouts, long-winded routes are all part of the process.
Related to 4 above, the need to be tactful doesn’t give you the permission to breach ethics to get your thing done.
People will respect your leadership to the extent you behave like a leader.People like to follow strong, decisive people. Not necessarily those who have all the answers, but those that are willing to take charge of a situation and own it.
You will come across many people who either dislike you, envy you or unable to recognize/ appreciate your work and abilities. Don’t let them creep into your mindspace at any time.
Nothing is what it seems (usually). If there’s one skill in life that stands head and shoulders above all else, it’s the ability to see patterns, read between the lines, get inside others’ heads and notice subtleties everywhere – in conversations, interactions, happenings, personal dynamics.
There is an opportunity residing in everything. If you are flexible about rules and authority, and realize that future is built on geometric progression and not simple addition and multiplication, you can ride on the back of any event and come out wildly successful. This also makes it easy to digest some unpleasant and uncomfortable decisions and behaviors and idiosyncrasies of the present time.
Related to 9 above, keep an open mind always.
When dealing with people, always think in terms of what can be, not what is. Everyone’s on a journey. If you can extrapolate what station a person will be in the future, and also see where your station will be, you will always be able to come up with new exciting possibilities of connecting the two together. Of course, this assumes compatible ethics and values.
Always break boundaries.Expand the limits of your game. Play outside the norms. You become exceptional and valuable only by adding insane value uniquely.
Establish personal boundaries which you will not allow anyone to breach.And then convey them whenever you can. Others may resent them, but they will also learn to not step on them.