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How to pivot your career to succeed in the coming decades (Part 1)

Where are you in your career right now? Perhaps you’re a late Boomer and now are in the golden years of your career shortly before your retirement. Maybe you’re a member of Gen X and in the 2020s enter the peak-earning years in your career (or at least, that is how they ideally should turn out to be). Or you’re a Millennial (Gen Y) and are now entering your mid-career, or a Post-Millennial (Gen Z) who is at the start of it. 

Interestingly, the year 2020 marks a turning point that will significantly transform businesses and economies as we know them. (And the COViD-19 pandemic and related economic crisis may accelerate these transformations). The upcoming changes will impact what kind of talents organizations are likely to select to work in their teams or lead them in the coming years. Depending on where you are in your career, they may force you to transform, or at least pivot, your career approach to increase your odds for sustainable success in a shrinking job market. So, in this two-article series, let’s preview how you can evolve yourself and your career to benefit from the likely transformations of business in the coming 2-3 decades. 

Today’s part 1 sets the scene for our subsequent discussions by first describing the “classic dilemma” of choosing between specialist vs. generalist and analysts vs. creatives careers and then flashing out the transformative forces that are likely to evolve our business environment in the coming decades. In part two, I predict how the upcoming macroeconomic and environmental changes may impact the demand for generalists vs. specialists and analysts vs. creatives and make suggestions on what this all might mean for you.

The specialist vs. generalist career

At some point during your career, you need to decide if you want to become a specialist in a particular niche (which can be a knowledge domain, profession, or industry) or if you prefer to stay broad and pursue a career as a generalist. What is the difference?

  • Specialists know everything about something. They are “I-shaped” people with a “microscopic vision” who have deep expertise in one particular domain of specialization. Over time, many specialists narrow down their focus even further and become niche domain experts who know all about a tiny bit of something. But such narrow specialization comes at a cost: If no one needs their specialized niche expertise anymore (for example, due to technological progress), they may become obsolete.
  • In contrast, generalists know something about everything. These “flipped I”-people have a “peripheral vision” (widely scanning the environment) and a broad general knowledge, skills, and experience repertoire that allows them to work in many different roles, industries, and business functions. On the flip-side, they lack the depth of expertise in one area of specialization.

Apart from the two extreme archetypes, a third model has emerged in the business literature in the past two decades: 

  • If you know everything about something and something about everything, then you’re a “T-shaped” person. These specialist-generalists combine deep expertise (typically in a domain that they feel deeply passionate about) with broad general knowledge, skills, and experiences in other business and life areas. They look at the world with both a microscopic and peripheral vision.

TIPS, Thinkergy’s talent & innovator profiling system, loosely reflects these differences in the TIPS Work Style with its three style expressions Brain, Brawn, and Brain & Brawn. Because they are more big picture-focused and broadly interested, many Brain-workers practice a more generalist approach to their careers. In contrast, Brawn-workers tend to pursue more specialized careers because they typically are rather small picture-minded and more narrow in their focus and interests. 

The analyst vs. creative career

Another aspect that plays a role in positioning yourself for your career is your preferred cognitive style. As before in our generalists vs. specialist discourse, we may distinguish between two extreme types of business thinkers that we may call “analysts” vs. “creatives”:

  • “Analysts” are predominantly left-brain-directed thinkers who prefer to engage more in quantitative, analytically thinking, thereby progressing in a sequential, step-by-step fashion. 
  •  “Creatives” are predominantly right-brain-directed thinkers who enjoy engaging more in qualitative, creative thinking. They practice a more heuristic and randomized style and create solutions by jumping back and forth in a more free-wheeling, radiating way.

As before, we can distinguish a third type here, too: 

  • Some businesspeople equally enjoy and feel comfortable with engaging in both quantitative-analytical and qualitative-creative thinking. They can flexibly alter between thinking more sequentially and randomly. We may call them integrated whole-mind thinkers. 

TIPS captures these differences in the TIPS Thinking Styles, which come in three style expressions: Figure, Fantasy, and Figure & Fantasy. Figure-thinkers are more left brain-directed, while Fantasy thinkers are more right brain-directed. Finally, people who employ both Figure and Fantasy are balanced whole-mind thinkers.

The changing career environment

In the year 2020, we’re at an exciting crossroad that will lead to major shifts in the economy in the coming 2-3 decades:

  1. In the first half of the 21st century, businesses have to maneuver a highly dynamic environment that noticeably differs from the rather static business environment of the second half of the 20th century. In the early 21st century, businesses operate in a VUCA world (full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) that SUCCS (i.e., is characterized by speed, uncertainty and risks, change, complexity, and surprises).
  2. In recent years, we have also begun shifting from the knowledge economy to the innovation economy. Nowadays, individuals, businesses, and countries alike need to demonstrate their ability to innovate meaningful new value propositions continuously.
  3. The year 2020 also marks the advent of the Six Wave of leading technological development. In the coming 2-3 decades, new leading-edge technologies will drive economic growth and lead to the rise of new companies who will dominate the new markets with their innovative products. In the Fifth Wave, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the Internet, and digital networks powered economic growth and prosperity and saw the big five tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) rise to the top of the Fortune 500 index. The upcoming Sixth Wave is said to be driven by (more) digital tech (such as artificial intelligence and robots), cleantech (from a cleaner environment over cleaner energy to cleaner food and overall consumption habits), and human tech (genomics, biotechnology, and technology-based augmentations of the human body). And many companies with the highest market valuation in the stock market are now in their infancy or don’t even exist yet. 

In short, we can expect significant economic, environmental, and technological changes in the coming 2-3 decades. For many of you reading these lines, this is the time that you will still be involved in building a career or harnessing the fruits of your work before retiring.

Interim conclusion and outlook: Changes in business will lead to changes in how to design a successful career

How may these new technologies and changes in how we do business impact your careers as a specialist or generalist, or as an analyst or creative? In part 2 of this article, I dare to make eight predictions on how those mentioned above economic, technological, and environmental changes may impact organizations’ career preferences and explore what this might mean for you and your career.

  • Would you like to learn more about TIPS, our talent and innovator profiling system? 
  • Have you become interested in finding out what your TIPS profile is? Would you like to get TIPS-tested for $89?
  • Contact us if you would like to learn more about our TIPS training programs (that we also offer as interactive online courses).

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on December 17, 2020. It might be reprinted in the business section of the Bangkok Post within the coming weeks.

Credit Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash