Specialisation is dead. Long live creativity.

Left right human brain concept, textured illustration. Creative left and right part of human brain, emotial and logic parts concept with social and business doodle illustration and art paint splashes

The Polymath’s Journey.

In my 20+year career I’ve worked at an Investment bank, been an accountant, toured the world as an internal auditor, been a risk manager and a logistician, specialised in Innovation Management during my MBA, returned to the workplace to do supply chain planning, change management, continuous improvement and capability development, and now I’m a consultant and business coach.

To an HR manager, I’m an anomaly, to an algorithm I’m confusing. On the surface I look like someone who has lost the plot and certainly the focus. But wouldn’t it be incredible to see what we could achieve by embracing randomness, difference and alternative perspectives instead of trying to rationalise it?  

Where specialism still matters.

The fist draft of this article was published in 2016, and everything about it rings even more true today. I have updated this piece to reflect our 2020 global reality post pandemic, but certainly what’s abundantly clear is Artificial Intelligence is increasingly standardising the way your business operates, and so to your competitors. Machines are far better at completing the routine and mundane work than humans, and the fun fact is that people do not like doing that stuff anyway.

Let’s not be naiive though. although no one likes sitting all day copy pasting information from one system to another, people also dont like uncertainty. Uncertainty causes irrational rational behaviour, like saving instead of spending, even though spending is how we’ve designed our global economy to sustain itself. It’s a bit like the global economy is a giant ponzi scheme. but I digress.

As much as people want more pleasure from work, they also want more certainty from it. So how can we give people both, while still being profitable? This is one part of the shared value connundrum.

The industrial age loves a specialist. Constant repetition and improvement of the same tasks makes the cost structure tighter, the process faster, and profits larger.

The modern digital era favours specialism too but even faster, more data driven, with insights to feed more machine learning algorithms and integrated system automation. The transition to the digital age has sent traditional firms in search of data analysts, programmers, artificial intelligence algorithm developers.

The trend is clear, but do we truly understand all the opportunities of this new economy?

The new, new deal.

The 17 sustainable development goals present the scope of the opportunity that awaits us as humans to have creativity, economy, health, and everything else necessary to sustain life on earth. We have a systemic challenge that will not be solved by deep siloed thinking. We need to rethink economics, finance, food, opportunity, politics, law, cities, transport, and the very nature of work.

The expansion of Agile thinking into traditional functions such as HR, finance and operations is an acknowledgement by organisations of the need to shift perspective.

Design thinking skills and user experience have also gained vast prominence on business and university agendas over the past few years, along with the power skills; emotional intelligence, curiosity, creativity, communication and learning agility.

We need to create jobs that challenge the traditional ways of working, even while we optimise those ways of working.

Our organisations needs to be both lean and agile, with units that deal with optimisation and efficiency, and those that focus on sustainability and creativity.

Alex Osterwalder and the team at Strategyzer write in their latest book the Invincible company that organisations need to have a portfolio of explore, and a portfolio of exploit. Managing both portfolios well is essential to business continuity, and creating societal shared value.

The future is already here.

The list of top ten brands and top ten companies by market capitalisation is shifting dramatically as digitisation takes hold. We used to be a world led by product brands such as Coca-Cola and Marlboro, but today the list is led by firms who have multiple business, cutting across every aspect of human existence, such as apple, amazon, Microsoft, facebook, tencent, and alphabet/Google.

Google is not an ad company, but a multiplatform ecosystem in its own right. Their interests have taken them into data mining, automation, knowledge management, robotics, medicine, automobiles and a host of corporate ventures through which they can impact every aspect of our lives. Remember when Amazon was a bookseller? now its a mammoth online retail, cloud computing, drone technology and marketing among others. At Apple, Steve Jobs drew as his input experiences with yoga, palaeography and graphology to bring a different type of thinking to the table.

What sets them apart? Data. They are uniquely able to determine our psychological profiles so they can predict and deliver what we want or need before we have even acknowledged it to ourselves.

In the future your teams will be creatives not workers – so start treating them as such.

The reality is that today’s future ready businesses are richly diversified and intensely connected. They are using the knowledge they are gathering from a host of data points, to shape the future in a way only they can predict, while traditionalist still rely on models of cost optimisation through specialisation. By having a digital base, modern tech companies are able to pivot more readily than traditional players, whilst having a head start in designing the future they predict we will want.

Although the expected proliferation in connected devices maybe slowed by the global pandemic, it is another dimension of a systemic move to certainty, which goes against the core principles of sustainability. balancing this ying and yang in our current reality requires new ways of thinking.

What types of employees will help traditionalists make a key paradigm shift? My theory is that it’s the ones who can connect the dots and see patterns independent of a firms current and perceived trajectory.

It’s the ones who can draw from rich sources of data and experiences, beyond the current scope of the company, and create new paths for future sustainability. It’s the digital natives, the free thinkers, and the one’s less likely to follow traditional patterns. Welcome the polymaths and creatives to the fold.

Are we truly ready to think differently?