Today Overall Knowledge Beats Deep Expertise

Why are Millennials carving a non-linear career path that rubs their parents and more seasoned professionals the wrong way? Do they have some insight into or prescience about today’s circumstances that can benefit everyone?

Today’s business problems are more complex and dynamic than ever before. They demand problem-solving skills that combine different ways of thinking. “..Rely[ing] on things being the same tomorrow as they were yesterday…..the modern world is telling us this kind of thinking is increasingly obsolete.” (David Epstein in Range.) With arising situations, challenges, and threats we have never seen, come new work roles for which no position description has ever been written. How could you find a person to fill a certain role if the job has never existed? For instance, contact tracing, or working at an infectious disease warning center.

Skills Not Titles

In my article I’ll Have the Usual, or…? Or, What?, I talked about the benefits of filling a non-entry level position with a person who hasn’t had the title or exact job responsibilities of the position before. The reasoning – with technology pushing quicker changes, a better equipped professional to lead around the changes has to be someone who is more broadly prepared than before, who can think and act more deftly and fast to react to today’s challenges; they can’t have siloed experience in one function.

The idea to fill a job that’s never been invented and to fill a job with a person who’s never had that specific title before, have the same solution and benefit.

The solution for filling the job is to list the skills, qualities and attributes that the individual in the role would need in order to be most effective in that position. Then to hire the person who fits that criteria.

Going Broad

These two things, unprecedented challenges along with newly created or recreated jobs, make the argument for Millennials who switch jobs and companies to gather different experience. What they are seeking is growth, learning and expanding their skill-set. Another benefit for the young professional – this also broadens the available work opportunities. Even if you are a seasoned professional, if you are open-minded, receptive to new opportunities, and willing to work hard, you can join Millennials in their desire for broad training and application.

When I attended college, there was a very popular course and professor, Art and Civilization taught by Norris K. Smith. It ran through two semesters. The course combined art, culture, and history. Norris K., never simply Norris, taught students about combining concepts to create an argument. He urged students to come to their own conclusions and form opinions about how things were connected. Norris K.‘s tenet was the greatest benefit in an education was not to be an expert in just one thing, but to know a little about a lot. It’s broader, deeper thinking and learning than “whack a mole” memorization test-taking. This philosophy coincides with the Millennial view of a career and how to solve bigger challenges of today’s world.

We’re Here

Here’s an example of how companies poised to solve new challenges are taking a broader look for their employees. Bluedot is a company that offers outbreak risk software and predictive technology. Founded in 2008/2009 and in its current operation since 2012, it employs a team of leading experts in clinical medicine, epidemiology, data science, public health, spatial analytics, software development, and designers. If that’s not a diverse enough group of backgrounds, the founder, Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease physician, worked with engineers, veterinarians, ecologists and geographers for a year to develop artificial intelligence to detect 150 different deadly pathogens. It’s a company that fits the profile of combining lateral and vertical thinkers for problem solving, mixing specialists and non-specialists.

As Norris K and David Epstein have explained, valuing broad education in school and work, is not a new idea. And, putting someone in a role based on skills, not job title, I did through my executive search career when there was a limited field of potential candidates with the open job title; that strategy is also not new. What brings this advantage to the forefront of today, is it’s an idea that has become more widespread because of the times and need. First, with the non-traditional career path of Millennials (and perhaps Gen Z’s – too early to tell). And then, from the business viewpoint, with the constantly changing and challenging needs to fill new roles or change existing ones. (“65% of children entering elementary school in 2017 will ultimately work in a job that doesn’t exist today.” ~ World Economic Forum, as quoted from “The Future of Jobs”.)

What skills do you want to hone for today’s environment? Leadership to discover and develop new directions and strategies is needed now more than ever.


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