Several years ago, I was asked by a University to coach their students how to become multipotentialite. This rare breed of students had gone through a rigorous and stringent interview process to qualify for the programme. Like a doting parent, they believed these students could change geography, be anything they want. All of them were energetic and articulate, and could change the world in a single leap.

What is this multipotentialite, asked I. I was pointed to a TED talk “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”. Caree coach Emilie Wapnick coined a term “multipotentialite” to describe “generalists”.

Wapnick has romanticised the idea of being interested in too many things and being bored quickly. Her competence as an English major is in communicating and creativity – she now works as a workshop presenter and motivational speaker, while ignoring the fact that many of her other dabblings are quite amateurish interests.

Many of the “multipotentialites” she showcased, too had one deep area of expertise which they transferred to other areas.

When the world exploded with globalisation in 1990s, the great headhunting debate was who made a better manager? Generalists vs specialists. Generalists won hands down.

Soon the marketplace became overcrowded by job hoppers, bored after 1 year on the job and yet not quite made much contributions.

Today a more appropriate description would be I vs T-shaped skills, often attributed to McKinsey.

I-shaped skills are deep knowledge and experience in one context, and not proven or applied to other areas. Wapnick’s dabblings into music and a rock band would be a “dash” “—“, jack of all trades.

i VS t

In both I and T shaped skills, depth of experience is highly valued. A T-shaped professional, will be one with deep expertise but able to adapt that skill across different functions to create a new product. Effective collaboration in a discipline like design benefits from individuals who have combined this with a range of applications in different professional environments.

Steve Jobs is a T-shaped professional. He has always immersed himself in the Silicon Valley context and working with other I-shaped professionals. Not many of us have heard of his way-off predictions regarding the Segway. (Read Adam Grant’s book on “The Oringinals”).

How does one become a T-shaped individual?

1. Deepen your knowledge

In “Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn“, Wlodkowski makes a case that “knowing our subject well enhances our confidence, flexibility and creativity. When a person has really mastered a concept well, he can be playful with it. Spontaneity and improvisation are more possible for the competent. Deep understanding of a subject transforms mere information into useable knowledge”. (p54 2008).

Remaining as an I-shaped individual runs the risk of your job being automated.

2. Update your expertise

Designlab suggests to drink from several fountains. “Design, like most creative disciplines, is constantly changing — in terms of technology, standards, culture, and client expectations. Get subscribed to the top sites and journals in your area. Bookmark, keep a log, experiment, and exceed your comfort zone as often as you can.”

3. Broaden your horizons

Expand the range of projects you take on. Do a stocktake of your current skills. What other industries could you apply or transfer them to. Add Breadth to your depth. Cross-functional skills eg. Understanding finance and how to market your products.

4. Embrace your inner wiring
Figure out your Myers-Briggs personality type to be more self-aware and more generous to those who see the world differently. Train in conflict resolution, change management process to deal with difficulties to build trust and empathy between collaborators.

5. Pick up Softskills
Tim Brown of IDEO suggests that T-shaped individuals have empathy and enthusiasm about other fields. This creates trust.

6. X-shaped?
Many researchers now talk about X-shaped. The X factor or Charisma, rare quality which some attribute to the gift of God.

While T-shaped people are great collaborators, when it comes to hiring a new leader for an organisation, the qualities are more X-shaped. These leaders have depth of subject, professional esteem and credibility. Similarly, they are able to support diverse teams. Many websites cite John Lasseter or Ed Catmull of Pixar as X-shaped. This isn’t for everyone: roles demanding X-shaped people tend to be focused on strategy and team management.

http://trydesignlab.com/blog/how-to-get-hired-understand-if-youre-an-i-t-or-x-s/

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https://www.kornferry.com/institute/2030-the-very-human-future-of-work

It’s human talent, not capital or technology or anything else, that is the key factor linking innovation, competitiveness and growth in the 21st century, says Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Work, he says, shouldn’t be a race between humans and machines, but a part of life that helps people recognize their full potential.

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An individual’s potential is not fixed—it can be influenced, enhanced and unleashed to the benefit of the organization.

As people grow in knowledge, experience and seniority over time, they bring even more value to the business.

In contrast, machines typically operate at a limited maximum output and depreciate over time.

Experts say human talent becomes only more valuable as technology grows. It will be humans, not robots or artificial intelligence software, who will brainstorm new ideas, inspire others and drive organizations to succeed.

Social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, according to a survey of chief human resources officers by the World Economic Forum in 2015.

Investing in skills, rather than just hiring more workers, is the key to successfully managing disruptions to the labor market for the long term. 

Excerpts from 2030: The Very Human Future Of Work by Hazel Euan-Smith & Russell Pearlman & Karen Kane in the series on “The Future of Work is Human”
– KornFerry Institute

What’s your take on whether robots will replace your job?

The story goes that a young Indian Chief having spent 2 years in a Business School decided to implement some of the principles he had learnt.

Planning for a harsh winter, he sent all the braves out to collect wood. As he watched them return laden with timber from the forest he decided to rely on more rigorous research. To comfirm his predictions, he phoned the local meteorological service.

“Tell me, what is the weather predictions this winter? Is it going to be a bad winter?”

“Yes” replied the forecaster ” it will be a bad one”

So the Chief told the braves that they didn’t have enough wood and sent them back into the forest again. They returned with more wood but once again the Chief had doubts and he called the forecaster to confirm.

“It is going to be a really severe winter” replied the forecaster.

The Chief look at the wood store, decided that more was required and the braves were dispatched back in to forest.

This time the Chief decided to ask the forecaster for more proof. “Are you sure it’s going to be a really severe winter”

“Look” said the forecaster “its definitely going to be the worst winter on record – the Indians are gathering wood like crazy!”

What signs are you relying on, to prepare for your future?
Who are your sources? Are you relying on multiple sources or relying from the same well that validates your bias?

I kind of miss President Obama. His eloquence. I’m reading a book “The gift of the Gap – how eloquence works” by David Crystal.

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Danny Yung’s Tian tian xiang shang 天天向上 exhibition at Raffles City, Singapore. Photo by me. Phrase means daily self improvement. Always looking up.

Another great book which I will review soon is “Talk like Ted” by Carmine Gallo; on the art of Storytelling.

Back to Crystal’s book. He describes Structure as essential to a good speech, using strings of pearls to connect ideas.

Obama’s victory speech in 2008 had an effective 41 words and 4 word punchline.

If there is anyone out there
Who still doubts
         That America is a place
          Where all things are possible
Who still wonders
          If the dream if our founders is alive in our time
Who still questions the power of our democracy,
Tonight is your answer.

Parallelism with “who still”. Chunking works with your telephone number and with speech.

Shakespeare invented it first. (All literature students know its called poetry. You have it in most cultures. Including Chinese and Japanese.)

Power of threes and fours.

Churchill used it.

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
In war: resolution
In defeat: defiance
In victory: magnanimity
In peace: goodwill

More than four, opines Crystal, the sequence loses its unity. And rhyme, I add.

Order, order, order
Before and after

Variation
☆Campaign, problem, challenges, new dawn
☆From the general and abstract, to the particular and concrete.
☆Invite the audience by repeating a catch-phrase; several times. Eg Yes, we can.
☆Appeal for action

This is our chance to answer that call.
  This is our moment
   This is our time

To put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids
To restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace
To reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth

    That out of many, we are one
     That while we breathe, we hope

And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us
That we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people. YES, we can

☆Obama’s word on dream links in spirit Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

Political eloquence has its critics. Lloyd Bentsen, criticising the Ronald Reagan administration, using alliteration:

America has just passed through…… an eight year coma in which slogans were confused with solutions and rhetoric passed for reality.

For more pearls, gems and precious insights, read Crystal’s book. He’s a Professor of Linguistics and broadcaster, amongst many literary achievements.

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.

We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.  – Mark Twain

1. Try to be surprised by something every day.

It could be something you see, hear, or read about. Stop to look at the unusual car parked at the curb, taste the new item on the cafeteria menu, actually listen to your colleague at the office. How is this different from other similar cars, dishes or conversations? What is its essence? Don’t assume that you already know what these things are all about, or that even if you knew them, they wouldn’t matter anyway. Experience this thing for what it is, not what you think it is. Be open to what the world is telling you. Life is nothing more than a stream of experiences – the more widely and deeply you swim in it, the richer your life will be.

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Starbucks making a dragon with hula hoop.

8 tips to make your life more surprising, from Tania Luna, Surprisologist

2. Try to surprise at least one person every day

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My brother surprising us with an Octopus mask.

Yesterday I had a prompting to gift a friend E a Egyptian perfume flask. Turns out it was her birthday, I didnt realise it. I didnt heed my instincts and will pass it to her next week.

3. Write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others

On my blog?

4. When something sparks your interest, follow it.

Really takes effort. Before being surprised, you live with the mundane.

5. Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to

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Every morning my goal is to water the custard apple tree. Three fruits spotted.

6. Spend time in settings that stimulate your creativity.

My garden. What setting stimulates you? I find learning and reading stimulates me. Doing my Precepts homework. I’m covering the Book of Daniel and Acts.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199607/the-creative-personality

You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.”

The Ground Book/地の巻:
“It is difficult to realise the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.

– Miyamoto Musashi 宮本武蔵, Book of Five Rings

Skills are good to have but they should not be kept in your special trophy wall. If you want to be creative, you need to step out of your comfort zone and make decisions that are based on what is happening at this very moment and what was a success last month.

Besides if you use the same methods and “tricks” you will become quite predictable. Instead, try new approaches and learn how to fail. Use your skills to break new ground, not recreate beautiful stuff to get self admiration. When really failing, you sure will not forget about it and there is always a lesson to learn from this.

http://geofflivingston.com/tag/musashi/

http://dudye.com/10-things-miyamoto-musashi-can-teach-you-about-creative-strategy

Interesting video of a Japanese chef Jun who bought a rusty knife and sharpens it. Watch Jun make a radish rose with his sharpened knife. That’s skill.

How to polish a knife: Watch as a rusty piece of Japanese metal becomes a sharp, shiny blade

What do you think are important 21st Century skills?