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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 Originals”).

How does one become a T-shaped individual?

1. Deepen your knowledge core

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/

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?

We are all in sales now.

Says Daniel Pink.

“To sell is human – the surprising truth about moving others” by Daniel Pink

Analysing his work week, Pink realised that as a writer he spends a big portion of his time selling in a broader sense – persuading, influencing and convincing others.

Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. We deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients.

We’re in the business of “moving” people to part with resources – whether it’s tangible like cash or intangible like effort or attention or support.

In a survey of 9057 respondents, he commissioned, two findings emerged:

1. People are now spending 40% of their time doing non-sales selling -persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of profession, we are devoting roughly twenty four minutes of every hour to moving others.

2. People consider this aspect of their job crucial to their professional success – even in excess of the considerable amount of time they devote to it.

Dan Pink ask the following questions
1. Do you earn your living trying to convince others to purchase goods or services?
2. Do you work for yourself or run your own operation even on the side ?
3. Does your work require elastic skills – the ability to cross boundaries and functions, to work outside your speciality, and to do a variety of different things throughout the day?
4. Do you work in education or health care?
If you answered yes. Then you’re in sales. Because you’re in the business of moving others.

If selling is part of our work experience, what must we do?

Perspective-taking of the other person

  1. Attunement

Attune to the other person. Best way to start a conversation, he suggests: Ask – where are you from? Attune to culture differences.

Watch, wait and wane.  Mimic but don’t lose sight of your objective and do it with deftness, dont let the person think you’re imitating them. Mood map

2. Buoyancy

Before you attempt something, rehearse Interrogative Self Talk.  

Instead of positive self-talk such as “I’ll be the world’s best salesman”, take on a different tack – Ask questions.

According to researchers Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of University of Illinois and Kenji Noguchi of University of Southern Mississippi, when given task to solve anagrams, the self-questioning group solved nearly 50% more puzzles than the self-affirming group.

Why?  Asking questions – interrogative, brings out answers which are strategies for carrying out the task. Daniel Pink suggests asking yourself “can I do that?”.  (Note: I suggest to rephrase that question to “how can I do that?”.  Unlike Pink, I have found that people with low self-efficacy sometimes answer, “no, I can’t.”

Ambivert and be positive.

After the sale: what is your Explanatory Style?

Martin Seligman found out that people who give up easily, even when they can actually do something, have a negative explanatory style.  They explain bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. It can diminish performance, trigger depression and turn setbacks into disasters.

Optimists instead attribute bad events as temporary and something external.

3. Clarity

Good salespeople are skilled problem-solvers. They assess prospects needs, analyze their problems and deliver the optimal solution. Or so we used to think.

Today’s world, information is abundant, so its less on problem solving than on problem finding. The Conference Board, a few years ago, asked public school administrators and private employers, what are the most important competencies required in today’s workforce.  Administrators ranked “problem solving” as number one.  Employers instead, ranked it number eight.  

Their top ranked ability was “problem identification”. [Interestingly World Economic Forum also ranked problem solving as Number One.  But Critical thinking as number two.  Nothing on problem Identification. ]

According to Haas School of Business in University of California, Berkeley, “being able to see what the problem is before you jump in to solve it” or “framing a problem in interesting ways” is very important. It triggers the ability to sort through data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces.

Skill valued in the Past: Answering questions

Skill valued Now: Asking questions, uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues and finding unexpected problems.

How to be a better salesperson?
Identify frames of reference for the other person.

  1. Clarity depends on contrast. Frame your offerings in ways that contrast with its alternatives and thereby clarify its virtues.
  2. Everyone loves choices.  But too much choice is bad. [See Jam experiment by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University. While more customers stopped by the jam booths with 24 choices, only 3% bought jam. At the booth with more limited selection (6 choices), 30% customers made a purchase.]
  3.  Use the experience frame.  Experiential purchases make people happier than material purchases.  Framing a sale in experiential terms is more likely to lead to satisfied customers and repeat business. If you’re selling a car, “go easy on emphasizing the rich Corinthian leather on the seats. Instead point out what the car will allow the buyer to do – see new places, visit old friends, and add to a book of memories.
  4. The label frame – in 2004, social scientists from the Interdisciplinary Centre in Israel, the US Air Force Academy and Stanford University recruited participants to play a Prisoners Dilemma game.  For one group, they called it “Wall Street Game”, and the other “Community Game”. In the Wall Street Game, 33% of participants cooperated.  In the Community Game, 66% reached the mutually beneficial results.  The label helped people put the exercise in context and hinted at what was expected. In an experiment of 5th grade students, a similar thing happened. Students who were labelled “neat” were more likely to keep their classroom clean.
  5. Clarify other’s motives
  6. Try a jolt of the unfamiliar
  7. Curate information
  8. Learn to ask better questions
  9. Find the 1%
  10. Ask 5 “Whys”

To improve your influencing skills:
Books suggested by Dan Pink

  1. Influence by Robert Cialdini
  2. Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  3. Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  4. Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
  5. Nudge: Improving decisions About health, wealth and happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein