As the future of professional careers receives unprecedented attention, the writer Ronan Krznaric refers to one of the great questions of the modern workplace.
This is whether we should aspire to be specialists, channeling our talents toward a single profession. Or whether we should aim to be generalists who develop across a broad range of disciplines. In other words, should we be high achievers or should we be wide achievers?
This concept can be applied to a topic that has recently received a great deal of press coverage: that of robotisation. Here, the narrative has been one of robots taking our jobs. Mixed, for good measure, with an unhealthy dose of anxiety.
However, a recent FTpodcast, which polled the views of professional careers experts, disagreed. It made two key points. The first is that robots will be engaged in doing the jobs that humans don’t want to do. These are the three Ds – the dirty, the dull and the downright dangerous. As such, human job roles will become more skilled.
Secondly, through the development of collaborative robotics, intelligent robots will complement human skills, not replace them.
So there will be deep specialists with strong expertise and, in addition, generalist human supervisors who oversee and identify bigger picture synergies.
In other words, in terms of professional careers’ high achievers and wide achievers, there will be room enough for both.
And it’s my view that this model of both high and wide achievement will apply to many industries and professions; from aerospace to accounting and from insurance broking to investment analysis.
The moral of this revised paradigm is simple. As long as we remain curious and treat learning and development as a lifelong habit, we won’t need to think of work as extremes. That is, either a ‘job for life’ on the one hand or a ‘gig economy’ on the other.
Instead, as career specialist Barrie Hopson has commented, careers will be crazy paved. With this in mind, let’s consider the features and function of crazy paving.
Firstly, no two layouts are the same. Crazy paving benefits from being unique in design.
Secondly, if we choose to scan across the surface of our paving we’ll spot some inconsistencies. It will contain dips and bumps, highs and lows, and the occasional rough edge. In health and safety terms, the latter may well represent a trip hazard.
So crazy-paved professional careers won’t run on rails as careers used to. And yes, there will be the occasional hiccup along the way.
But for this, the journey will be more fulfilling, engaging and exciting. There will be opportunities for us to craft an individual pattern in our paving design. Furthermore, we can work toward meeting Dan Pink’s call for a golden trilogy of “autonomy, mastery and purpose” in what we do.
But the really important point from Hopson is this. We’ll all need to become career-aware specialists in our own right – or, to continue the analogy, skilled pavers.
Because, in short, the crazy paving won’t appear out of nothing.
We’ll need to be expert enough to provide the foundations and then lay it down ourselves.