In this three-article series, we preview how you can evolve yourself and your career to benefit from the substantial transformations of business and the economy that we can expect in the coming 2-3 decades (as we move into the innovation economy that will be driven by Sixth Wave technologies).
In part 1 published on December 17, 2020, I explained the perennial specialist vs. generalist and analysts vs. creatives debate and then discussed what transformative forces are likely to shape our business environment in the coming decades. In part 2 published two weeks ago, I shared with you the first four of eight daring predictions on how those above-mentioned economic, technological, and environmental changes may impact organizations’ talent acquisition and development preferences. Today, let’s explore the remaining four predictions and what all of this might mean for you and your career.
5. T-shaped people rule in the innovation economy
While generalists will see a resurgence in appreciation, as discussed in part 2, generalist-specialists are likely to have the best chances to do well in the innovation economy.
As we learned in part 1, these T-shaped people combine deep expertise in one domain of specialization with a broad knowledge, skills, and experience repertoire. Hence, they can connect general dots to come up with non-linear, unconventional solutions to tough challenges in their domain of specialization. In other words, they combine the deep expertise to understand and frame a challenge and can fall back on a wide range of general knowledge, skills of experience dots to connect to come up with a truly creative solution.
6. The emergence of the Pi-Shaped people
I also foresee three less obvious career trends to emerge in the coming decades. The first one is the emergence of what we may call “Pi”-shaped people (like the Greek letter π that also carries the number 3.1416). The symbol pi consists of a horizontal bar standing on two vertical legs. Regarding the types discussed in part 1, a Pi-shaped person has deep expertise in two domains of specialization complemented by a broad general knowledge, skills, and experience repertoire.
Due to the transformation of knowledge economy jobs, some specialists will choose to specialize in a new domain (e.g., from being a financial analyst to becoming a data analyst or digital quality assurance manager). Within a few years, they will have become specialists in their new domain while still keeping much of their original domain know-how and also drawing upon their general know-how base. So, because they stand on two legs of specialization, Pi-shaped people can make more connections than T-shaped people — but not as much as a polymath can.
7. The rebirth of the classic ideal: Square to Circle-shaped polymaths
Another career trend that I anticipate is the wider reemergence of polymaths in education and business. A polymath is a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning who is also a specialist in several domains. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian polymath of the High Renaissance who is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. Da Vinci was an outstanding painter, sculptor, artist, scientist, inventor, engineer, architect, and anatomist. Another well-known example of a polymath was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a playwright, poet, novelist, playwright, philosopher, scientist, civil servant, and diplomat.
While polymaths may not go as deep as a domain specialist for each domain, they tend to have outstanding depth in at least one field of specialization and depth in multiple other domains of their interests. On top of this multi-faceted specialized knowledge, they also have a broad general knowledge, skills, and experience repertoire. Insofar, we may call them half-circle shaped people or rounded square-shaped people. (I beg forgiveness that I cannot wrap my head around calling a real polymath square-shaped).
Polymaths tend to operate on higher levels of consciousness. Typically, they are super-creative as they understand that “Everything connects to everything else” (da Vinci). Hence, they are more likely to produce breakthrough ideas in Eureka moments of creative illumination. In the coming decades, humanity needs as many Eurekas as it can get to solve some of our most pressing challenges (such as climate change or sustainability). And because breakthrough ideas often reside in the intersection between two or more domains, I predict a critical number of T- or Pi-shaped people to evolve themselves into half-circle-shaped polymaths.
8. The most influential Sixth Wave leaders will be whole-mind thinkers and polymaths
My final prediction synthesizes all my previous thoughts. I believe that the most impactful creative leaders at the top of the leading Sixth Wave ventures will be half-circle-shaped polymath whole-mind thinkers such as Elon Musk.
They tend to stand on more than one leg and have well-rounded expertise comprising a multi-faceted depth of specialization with wide general knowledge and interests. They feel equally comfortable engaging in quantitative, analytical, and qualitative, creative thinking, and embrace the scientific method as much as using more randomized and heuristic thinking strategies. They value rationality and conscious thought, yet intuitively understand those breakthrough ideas flow from subconscious creative sources. They come close to the ideal of modern Renaissance polymath.
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© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on January 28, 2021. It might be reprinted in the business section of the Bangkok Post within the coming weeks.