They are scientists, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers (both electrical and mechanical). They are lawyers, accountants, philosophers, sociologists, historians, and nutritionists. They’re chefs. They’re zen. They’re programmers, IT, IS, designers, videographers, and marketers. They are probably experts in AI, ML, Blockchain, and automation. A few are detectives, writers, strategists, and poets. They are all project managers, project planners, project executors, trainers, interpreters, and translators. They’re consultants, and they’re entrepreneurs and they probably already work for you.
They are all of these things and, most surprisingly, they probably didn’t go to university.
A master of none
One of the most common phenomena I’ve come across in recent years is the Talent Stacker. These are individuals who, in another time, would be referred to as a “jack of all trades.” You know the saying – A jack of all trades but a master of none -, and in the world of specialisation, the master of none is often unemployed or worse, unemployable. However, the extended version of the saying is:
“A jack of all trades but a master of none, but ofttimes better than a master of one.”
…and in the era of digital transformation, it’s the Talent Stacker who is your greatest asset. It’s these individuals who can call upon their diverse interests and see correlations between two different concepts, in two different disciplines across two various fields where no obvious connections exist. And, infuriatingly, when these connections are pointed out to us, they’re painfully obvious. It’s this gift that makes them indispensable.
Taught Vs. Learning
The Talent Stacker is seldom taught – but is an obsessive learner of everything and anything – and their university is the internet. It’s worth noting the difference between being taught and learning. Many things can only be learned and not taught. For example, anyone can be taught the facts about history, but to understand history requires a thirst for knowledge. Learning requires digging down through multiple layers of “why” to get the root knowledge – knowing when to discard learning with updated data – and then to continue the process indefinitely. Real learning is a passion, and passion cannot be taught.
Furthermore, anything that can be taught can generally be automated. Being taught something typically involves a variation of the if-this-then-that principle – if this happens, then do that. It’s also the basis of computer programming. If we can teach a machine how to do it, then we can replace the human currently doing it. In short, learning requires a drive to understand – thus making it much harder to be automated. By being a master learner, the Talent Stacker’s role is almost impossible to automate.
The problem is that a Talent Stacker role doesn’t exist because it doesn’t currently fit a clearly defined job description. So where do these individuals usually thrive? Well, entrepreneurship, of course. Finding problems and seeing the “obvious” solution nobody else has seen lets them be the genius founders of the likes of Uber, Airbnb, and even Facebook. They’re the challenger thinkers of industry and society, and we reward them generously with high valuation startups and companies.
But what about the Talent Stackers who don’t want to go into business? Every company talks about innovation and innovative thinking, yet very few of them build an environment conducive to change, let alone hiring actual innovators, or worse, even having an innovator function. My advice to you is if you are serious about innovation, find the Talent Stackers and give them the freedom and opportunity to innovate.
Trigger Warning: they probably don’t have a three-year degree.