About hedgehogs and foxes: which specialists are the future?

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“It is not the strongest or the smartest who survive, but the one who adapts best to change” – words that are usually attributed to Charles Darwin. The ability to adapt, improvise, change strategy depending on the situation, is the main advantage in a world where machines and artificial intelligence penetrate all areas. It is obvious that in these conditions one will have to study and receive a new education throughout one’s life.

What to learn to remain a professional whose skills will be in demand now and in a few years, regardless of the industry and profession?

About 2700 years ago, the Greek poet Archilochus wrote: “The fox knows a lot, but the hedgehog knows one thing – but important.” The hedgehog knows how to quickly curl up into a ball and release needles at any danger. The fox, on the other hand, acts according to circumstances: hide and seek, flight or attack.

In the labor market, hedgehogs are narrowly specialized specialists who have the skills to solve a narrow and understandable task or a small range of tasks in one functional area. Foxes are versatile specialists with skills from different areas, which they are able to apply to solve non-trivial problems in one or more areas. Who better to be now – “hedgehog” or “fox”?

And the Swiss, and the reaper, and the player on the pipe

It is believed that for a successful career it is best to be an expert in one area. Therefore, for many decades we have been observing the dominance of narrow specialists. But Harvard scholar Vikram Mansharamani is confident that the era of specialists is fading and the future belongs to generalists. First, in his opinion, generalists are better at dealing with problems that do not have a known correct solution. Unlike narrow specialists, generalists are not tied to a certain tradition and template solutions. A generalist, like a fox, uses any method or combination of methods to solve a problem.

Secondly, in an environment of rapid technological development that creates constantly changing needs for human resources, a team of narrow specialists is a less flexible workforce. In this regard, the scientist is concerned that higher education focuses on the development of narrow professional skills.

The secret to the growing demand for generalists lies in their ability to develop new problem-solving patterns rather than relying on familiar ones.

David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, believes that as technological advances inevitably make jobs associated with routine, repetitive tasks unnecessary, the only roles left to human hands and minds will require innovation, creative solutions, and emotional intelligence. . Therefore, Epstein encourages narrow specialists to expand their range, mastering skills and competencies from parallel and related disciplines. In his opinion, the expansion of the range will contribute to the emergence of the so-called deep generalists.

A deep generalist is not the same as a generalist who knows a little about everything. A deep generalist has competencies in at least three, often unrelated, areas and one powerful competency in one area.

He is able to creatively combine and apply his disparate skills to solve problems where the result is obviously unpredictable, generate new ideas at the intersection of knowledge, quickly learn new things and adapt to changing conditions.

A prime example of a deep generalist is Steve Jobs. Attending calligraphy classes in college, he later admitted, served as inspiration for creating beautiful typography on Apple computers. In his product, he combined two areas – design and technology. Elon Musk is another modern example. Earlier examples of the deep universal are Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Newton.

Experts with disparate skills are also called “T-shaped people” ( T-shaped people ). This metaphor was used by the McKinsey consulting company back in the 1980s when hiring consultants. The vertical bar on the letter T represents expertise in one area, while the horizontal bar represents the ability to use your additional competencies at the intersection of knowledge.

Thus, in the future, career growth will be associated not only with expertise in one area, but also with a combination of expertise, competencies in other areas, and the ability to learn. This is not about giving up specialization, but about combining knowledge from different areas and turning everyone into a universal specialist.

How to become a deep generalist

As the job market changes and artificial intelligence becomes more competent, the ability to adapt is paramount. But in addition to the ability to constantly learn new things, it is equally important to have an idea of ​​\u200b\u200bwhat is worth learning. Above average skills in several areas can make you a top performer at the point where those skills intersect.

Scott Adams, the American author of the famous satirical comic Dilbert, calls it a stack (from the English stack – stack)talents. The goal of the talent stack is not to be the best at one thing, but to combine different skills, learning them at an acceptable level, the intersection of which will dramatically increase your value in a competitive environment. In his book How to Fail at Nearly Everything and Still Win Big, Adams describes how he combined his usual talent for drawing and writing, a decent sense of humor, and years of experience in the corporate world to become a world-famous cartoonist.

His particular set of skills made him unique in the animation industry and allowed him to publish a highly successful comic that satirizes the life of office workers.

Here’s how the talent stack works: It’s easier and more effective to be in the top 10% for several different competencies – your “stack” – than to be in the top 1% for any one skill.

When building your own talent stack, you need to choose skills that are somehow related, but not too similar. For example, if your goal is to be in the top 1% of in-demand IT professionals, developing your coding skills to the expert level won’t help you stand out. Most experienced programmers write excellent code. But a programmer who is good at public speaking or writing is less common. These skills will be useful not only for the specialist himself to promote his own brand through speeches at conferences and publications, but also for the employer. Moreover, it is enough to be an average public speaker or copywriter, since the advantage of the stack is in a unique combination of skills, and not in expertise.

So, in an ever-changing technology landscape, perhaps the best thing to do is not to chase the next in-demand skill, but to develop your range of competencies that will make you unique, the best in your niche.

What skills to learn

First, skills in working with digital tools and digital technologies should be developed. Already, we all work with machines, so the ability to learn new systems, customize digital tools and their code is highly valued by employers.

Secondly, you should get comfortable with analytics and data. The market will demand specialists who have the skills to interpret, visualize and transmit data.

Thirdly, you need to know the basics of business and management. First of all, these are leadership skills and project management skills.

Fourth, you need to learn to think like a designer. This is especially relevant skill for technology, business and finance. It needs people who can design user experience for customers when interacting with technology platforms. People will interact more and more with technological services and these services should be convenient to use. So-called hybrid professions and hybrid skills should be mastered.

To understand what “hybrid professions” are, let’s look at how traditional professions work. For example, it is important for an accountant to have basic soft skills, to be able to communicate and collaborate, to have key professional skills such as financial accounting, and specialized skills such as financial control and auditing. However, all of these skills are variations from one area – accounting. A novice or experienced accountant has the same set of skills, just at a different level. Most professions are organized in much the same way.

Hybrid occupations, on the other hand, rely on a stack of soft and technical skills, which are usually not typical for this group of occupations. These can be both newly formed professions and traditional ones that are hybridizing.

For example, a public relations professional today is expected to have a combination of soft skills, such as good writing, and technical skills, such as data analysis. From IT engineers and data analysts, traditionally technical specialists, on the contrary, flexible skills are required: the ability to write well, communicate effectively with colleagues, customers and colleagues.

The consulting company Burning Glass Technologies defines a profession as a hybrid if it has the following characteristics:

  • the specialist must have skills that usually go beyond one profession;
  • these skills often belong to different functional areas;
  • This profession always requires a wide range of disparate skills and competencies.

Hybrid professions have a few more qualities that distinguish them from others. One of them: despite the fact that hybrid professions are technology-oriented, they are more dependent on the judgment and creativity of a person. Hybrid jobs are also rarely associated with routine repetitive tasks and are highly in demand for soft skills.

Thus, now many professions are hybridizing and you need to be ready for this, mastering complementary skills, becoming a deep generalist. The technician should focus on developing soft skills, everyone else should focus on developing digital skills.


One of the fundamental pillars of economics is the law of supply and demand. It applies to the labor market, goods and services, and many other areas. There are two ways to increase value: reduce supply or increase demand.

You may have the most valuable set of skills in the world, but if many people have such a set, then you are an inexpensive commodity. By becoming a deep all-rounder and developing a unique set of skills that few people have, you can stand out, earn more and be confident in the future.

At the same time, it is important to be able to synthesize your knowledge into value for others. Without it, you’ll be left with a polymath with impressive encyclopedic knowledge that has no real impact. Meanwhile, specialists risk falling into the trap of their success. They create a narrow skill set and get paid high salaries for it. But their careers are fragile. As their professions disappear or develop, it becomes almost impossible to switch to another profession without having to start over. On the other hand, deep generalists are “antifragile”. Changes in the environment make them stronger. In a rapidly changing world, they are able to quickly combine existing skills in many different ways.

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