The connecting power of the Internet combined with higher levels of education across the globe will support instant access to talent. In the future there may be no need to employ people or be employed by a company. Professionals will monetize each of their specific skills in different ways, instead of selling themselves to just one company.
There is a lot of debate around the merits and drawbacks of this trend for society. The so-called “gig economy” is receiving criticism from all angles. Services like Handy and Mechanical Turk sell workers a dream of freedom and flexibility, but deliver low wages and oddly restrictive working practices. Even Uber has faced protests from taxi drivers all over the world.
All changes have a dark side. But this trend is clearly benefitting those with the knowledge, skills, and income who can offer their specific skills to companies willing to pay a premium for them. Think about software engineers, able to work flexibly from anywhere in the world to develop high value products. Or remote copywriters, who can be contracted to write emails, articles, or social media posts, on a word-by-word basis.
Salaries are expensive. The more people you have on your books, the more money you have to bring in every month. Imagine a company with hardly any employees. Just a network of talented people on tap, that you can call on when a big job comes in. Imagine how much more efficient you could be.
In the previous issue of the report we explored how Attracting Talent was an issue for businesses. Now we have talent on tap.
Think about your organisation. List all of the things that could be done by remote or on-demand workers. The jobs that come along occasionally and disrupt the normal flow of business. Next time, why not find someone to do that work for you? The time you save can be spent on other projects, or on not working at all. How else might you use this trend to your benefit?
In this rapidly changing world that we keep hearing about, the kinds of employees and teams that we need are changing. There is a clear and increasing trend away from generalists and towards specialists. Away from people with one static skillset, towards people who are able to quickly learn new skills and apply them to tricky problems.
We call this Hybrid Knowledge. The ability to grab knowledge, skills, opinions, and expertise from a range of different areas and mash them together to create beautiful things. This applies to teams as well as individuals. The teams we create and the companies we build need to have this hybrid approach. We need to recruit for diversity in all senses of the word.
We’ve had the idea of T-shaped employees for a while now. Those people with a depth of knowledge in one or more areas, and a breadth of experience to connect effectively with other disciplines. They are still essential components of any effective team. But the most sought after people in the future will be the X-shaped ones.
They are the connectors, the producers, the facilitators, harnessing the “talent on tap” to make things happen. They speak many different “languages”, and are able to bring disparate groups together to drive progress towards a goal. When X-shaped people gather the right T-shaped people, magic can happen.
What kinds of people do you employ in your workplace? Think about the shape of your colleagues, and of yourself. As a team, are you flexible and agile, or rigid and stuck in your ways? Everyone’s got a T or X inside them that they can develop. Take a few minutes to reflect on what yours might be, and work to bring it out.
Collaboration is so core to everything that happens in a modern business, it seems almost unnecessary to label it as a trend. However, spend five minutes walking through most offices in the world, and the need for people to become far more effective at collaborating across distance, time, and disciplines, is clear.
The workplace is only going to become more fragmented. Flexible and remote working will gain in popularity, the generalists will inherit the positions that specialists once held, and the products and services that companies develop will stray wildly from their origins.
In this fragmented world, collaboration will become the new core competence. Working effectively with different kinds of people inside and outside the workplace will make the difference between success and failure. So the employee of the future needs to have exceptional interpersonal skills, fine-tuned verbal and visual communication abilities, and a keen understanding of adjacent disciplines. They don’t need to know everything, they just need to connect with enough people so that together, the team knows everything.
What does communication and collaboration look like in your team? Do you really work as effectively together as you can? Check out some of the links and pioneers below for inspiration. Perhaps bring up the subject at your next team meeting, offering the question: How might we collaborate more effectively?
What is the point in getting a degree? What’s the point in spending 3 or 4 of the best years of your life and thousands of dollars earning a qualification that many employers say isn’t particularly useful?
The world has changed radically since the invention of the University, and this trend shows that it’s set to change a whole lot more. This first wave of disruption in the education industry has dealt a serious blow to traditional models, perhaps more psychologically than practically.
We now have access to lectures from the world’s most prestigious universities through MOOCs (massive open online courses); access to the world’s largest ever bank of information through Wikipedia; and the ability to learn how to do almost anything through YouTube.
As access to knowledge and skills development becomes more open and affordable, we will see more “work-arounds” to higher education as individuals opt for learning-by-doing and real-world experience to gain new skills and faster entry to the workforce.
Companies like General Assembly and CreativeLive have built strong businesses around teaching industry-specific creative and technical skills through short, online and in-person programmes. Platforms like Quora and WolframAlpha are using crowd knowledge and big data to answer tough questions.
However, the challenge for young people remains the same: how to gain enough experience to be useful to a prospective employer. That problem hasn’t quite been solved yet. Perhaps you could tackle this issue in your own company.
Think about the opportunities that you give to young people. What are your internship or apprenticeship options? How might you make them more effective as learning and training experiences? How could you use them to transform your recruitment and hiring process?
In a rapidly changing world and business environment, the qualities needed for effective leadership are also changing. The world is more connected than ever, yet more fragmented. When we look at the qualities that the world’s best leaders have, there seem to be many differences between them.
Anne Wojcicki. Founder of 23andMe, an at-home DNA testing kit service, has a commitment to putting advanced medtech in the hands of ordinary people. She’s hugely ambitious, with a goal for her company to become the Google of personalized health care over the next decade. She balances drive and passion with scientific rationality, and her loyal employees share her grand vision for the future.
Joel Gascgoine. CEO of Buffer, a social media scheduling tool for marketers, has a commitment to radical openness in his company. They publish their salaries, revenue, source code, and equity formula for the world to see. Their goal is towards greater productivity, more transparency, and a happier work culture.
Arianna Huffington. Co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, the first commercial media company to win a Pulitzer Prize. She models balance and wisdom for her employees, working to create a culture of sustainable creativity. She has created a company that is best in class, whilst also supporting people to lead balanced lives. Not an easy thing to do.
Jeff Bezos. The controversial CEO of Amazon has been almost universally criticised for his aggressive business practices. But he has kept a relentless focus on delivering the best possible experience for his customers, and on growing Amazon from an online book store to “the everything store”.
The leaders above are all very different, but have one thing in common: a clear vision and focus on delivering value for customers and for the world. Professionals want different things, and they will eventually gravitate towards the kind of leader that they want to work for. Some thrive at places like Amazon, and others at places like Buffer. Diversity and fluidity is the key.
Think about the kind of leadership that you have in your workplace. Does is support the kind of culture that enables you to thrive? If not, how might you change it? Or where else can you go?
With the streams of data running through the world increasing in volume and openness, there are no more excuses to continue relying just on intuition when designing solutions to problems. Data and design are fast becoming more intertwined, and there is a surging demand in the digital industries for smart designers who can interpret data to understand human behavior, and use that insight to drive decision making. Big and small data are here to stay, and those who are able to wield it effectively will have a massive advantage over their competition.
Think about times you have spent online and been surprised at the lack of personalization. Are you one of the many who expect smarter and more personalized, data-driven service experiences? What companies are lagging behind consumer expectations? Are you or your clients?
There's a new class of talent percolating through the market: they call themselves the hybrids. They refuse to be pinned down to specific roles, often coming with curious job titles like 'Creative Strategist' or 'Experience Designer'. This class of talent is a blend of generalist and a specialist, what the design-firm IDEO call T-Shaped people. Imagine that "T" with vertical bar representing depth of expertise in a single field, and the horizontal bar representing a breadth of knowledge about a range of fields. They are superb collaborators and communicators across disciplines.
Fancy titles or not, the rapid change in the industry leads to an increased demand for professionals with a flexible, hybrid skillset. Take a piece of paper and draw your own "T". How deep is your specialism and how broad are your generalist skills? Look for the skills adjacent to your specialism that you could deepen, to collaborate more effectively with colleagues.
At Hyper Island we recently surveyed over 500 thought leaders and industry practitioners worldwide on their future business challenges, trends and competence needs. What we found may prompt some organizations to re-think their talent strategy from the ground up. The resounding agreement among those surveyed is that personal and cultural alignment are the most important factors when it comes to tomorrow's most wanted employees, and not skillset. Surprised? Of course skills remain crucial to produce high quality work, but flexibility, creativity, drive, and value-based decision-making are more important. Do you know how to find the right people?
Take a look at your recruitment practices. How well have they been designed to attract and filter the best talent? Consider doing things differently, and moving away from the traditional CV, interview, and internship model. How would you want to demonstrate your abilities and personality if you were applying?