It used to be so simple. We created organisations with neat little boxes, specified the needs for each box and recruited accordingly. We trained people in the specific skills needed, and managers weaved those skills together into a fabric that was the product or service we made. It made the organisation supreme, and the employee a replaceable part of the whole.
But life has got much more complex. Things that we used to conveniently ignore – what the economists called “externalities”, and what we now call more meaningfully climate change, inequality and biodiversity are centre stage. Add technology into the mix and the relatively stable economic environment we have been used to for several generations is gone.
It comes to something when we can look back at significant recessions and regards them as blips compared to what we are experiencing now, and probably heading towards, but that is the harvest we are reaping.
When it comes to employees, the impact is significant. As individuals we can longer afford to be replaceable parts, and as organisations it will not serve. A narrow speciality, particularly in the professions, in sales or management is high risk as technology eats into them, and the day when we could conveniently specify and train a narrow set of skills for any employee is fast disappearing. In a complex world, we need people who are flexible, multi skilled and motivated. In short, organisations need people who don’t need them in the way we have been used to.
These people are hybrids. “Plug in” employees who can be quickly effective, and for themselves can quickly switch their skills to other opportunities when the need arises. True hybrids, neither freelancer nor corporate drone, but capable of being either and both.
Creating hybrids is a specialist activity we need to learn. Mixes of skills, of knowledge, of networks. As individuals, we need to be one step ahead of the organisations we choose to work for, because when they have automated and de-peopled as much of their organisation as they can, they will need people who do what the automation cannot. Fortunately, we have all the tools, from online education to professional networks. I have a personal view that we will see the rise of latter day guilds. designing and developing their own specialisms for their members and which act as portals for their members.
Modern Artisans have a craft mentality – a developed marriage of head, heart, eye and hand. They will have a range of skills, anything from architecture through coding, carpentry, philosophy and beyond to zoology. They will have a desire to make work an exercise of purpose and the creation of lasting beauty in what they do. They are people who do not just advise. What they do matters, they become part of it and put skin in the game.
They are pivotal.
This decade is theirs for the taking.