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How to pivot your career to succeed in the coming decades (Part 2)

In this three-article series that started four weeks ago, we preview how you can evolve yourself and your career to benefit from the substantial transformations of business and the economy that we can expect in the coming 2-3 decades (as we move into the innovation economy that will be driven by Sixth Wave technologies). 

In part 1, I described the “classic dilemma” of choosing between specialist vs. generalist and analysts vs. creatives careers and then fleshed out the transformative forces that are likely to evolve our business environment in the coming decades. In today’s part two, I make the first four of eight daring predictions on how those above-mentioned economic, technological, and environmental changes may impact organizations’ talent acquisition and development preferences and explore what this might mean for you and your career.

1. Right-brain directed thinkers will become more important

In recent years, humanity has progressed from a knowledge-driven to an innovation-driven economy. Compared to the knowledge age, the innovation age offers more exciting job opportunities for creative thinkers. Why?

Creativity is the starting point of innovation. Creativity (a novel, original, and meaningful idea) flows out of an individual brain and, if acted upon, transforms into an innovation. Moreover, creative businesspeople are more likely to come up with new solutions and creative responses to successfully maneuver their business through the highly-dynamic VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) that SUCCS (i.e., is characterized by speed, uncertainty and risks, change, complexity, and surprises). So, those creative types in your workforce are likely to gain in number and significance in the coming years.

2. Top analysts will remain in high demand

During the past decades, analytical thinkers were in high demand and well appreciated in business (just think about how many people have the word “analyst” in their job title (credit analyst, portfolio analyst, business analyst, data analyst, financial analyst, research analyst). 

Continued advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analysis will drive the automation of many routine analyst jobs by the end of this decade. Put in other words, quite a few analytical jobs will be replaced by AI by the end of the decade, which sounds like a scary prospect — especially if you’re an analyst. But if you’re a top credit analyst, economic analyst, or investment portfolio analyst, or if you’re a passionate lawyer or doctor, then don’t despair. The most proficient and passionate analysts will not only keep their good jobs but might be busier and in more demand than ever as they will need to deal with the tough, non-routine cases that AI leaves to human expert analysts to resolve. Of course, the Sixth Wave industries will also create lots of new positions requiring analytical skills (such as data analysts).

3. The rise of whole mind thinkers

Say you’ve worked in an analyst role so far but don’t see yourself at the top of your profession (either because you lack extensive experience or profound passion for the job). Should you aim to move into a more creative role? Nope. Instead, strive to become a balanced whole mind thinker who feels equally at home working on the left and right side of your brain. This is because many digital jobs are conceptual in nature and require whole-mind thinking.

So, as an analyst threatened by AI-automation, consider building up creative cognitive skills. Enroll in training courses in creative thinking, visual thinking, concept mapping, and qualitative methods to balance your well-developed critical, analytical, and quantitative thinking skills. And also learn about new analytics topics related to one of the Sixth Wave technologies (digital tech, human tech, and cleantech).

If you’re a creative thinker, consider moving in the opposite direction. Upskill yourself by taking more quantitative, analytical training courses: Take courses in critical thinking or analytical thinking, learn how to code in an in-demand modern programming language, or acquire foundational know-how in AI, big data analysis, or machine learning to complement your excellent creative skills and evolve into a balanced whole mind thinker, too.

4. The pendulum swings back and forth on the specialist vs. generalist continuum

After WWII, during the Fourth Wave of technological progress driven by the petroleum, electronics, and aviation industries, broadly educated and skilled generalists seemed to have an edge in climbing the career ladders of multinational corporations. However, compared to generalists, specialists arguably had it easier to make a good career and got paid more in the past 30-40 years, during the time of the “knowledge economy” and the Fifth Wave of leading technological development driven by IT and digital networks.

In the coming 2-3 decades, the career pendulum will likely swing back to more favor generalists (as particular  companies in fast-moving industries such as Google tend to favor smart generalists with a growth mindset

Why? Generalists promise to better cope with the accelerating speed, exponential change, mounting complexities and uncertainties, and regular surprises in the early 21st-century business environment. Moreover, unlike specialists who have acquired in-depth expertise in one domain that may become obsolete due to technological shifts, generalists’ breath of knowledge may be favored in a fast-changing market environment. 

Finally, in the innovation economy, creativity as the starting point of innovation is vital. Here, broad generalists have a more diverse range of knowledge, skills, and experience dots to connect into more original solutions than specialists who often only come up with conventional linear solutions that stay within the narrow constraints defined by the tunnel of their expertise.

Interim conclusion and outlook

Today, I made the first four of eight predictions on how talent demand will shift in organizations as the Sixth Wave of leading-edge technological developments and the innovation economy come into full swing in this decade. We discussed that in the coming decades, creative talents will likely gain in importance, that analysts might either obtain enhanced responsibilities (if they’re at the top of their profession) or face the risk of being made obsolete by AI, that integrated whole-mind thinkers will be in high demand especially in the digital technologies, and that the generalist-specialist pendulum is likely to swing back to favor more a generalist career approach.
Come back to this column in two weeks, when I will dare to share my final four predictions on T-shaped, Pi-shaped, and Circle-Box-shaped businesspeople and what archetype will lead the most progressive Sixth Wave ventures.

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© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on January 14, 2021. It might be reprinted in the business section of the Bangkok Post within the coming weeks.

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