Jack Of All Trades, Master Of The Potential

Businesses need to continually rethink their hiring process by focusing on attitude, aptitude and application, as opposed to trying to find an exact match for the job title.

Jack Of All Trades, Master Of The Potential

‘Do you have one true calling?’  When you stop and think about it, it’s a pretty powerful, resonant question to ask yourself. It’s a topic that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to, until hearing it posed on stage at TedxBend by Emilie Wapnick.

Wapnick is a key proponent of multipotentiality - a concept that advocates the expression in diverse interests and pursuits, across an individual’s career. As a marketing researcher and strategist, who uses any free time away from work releasing records and touring in a rock band, I am a firm believer in letting your passions dictate your life choices.

‘So, have you ever felt you have one true calling?’

Have you got an answer yet? Don’t worry it isn’t a test; I would be more surprised if you did. The honest answer is that there probably is no such thing as a one true calling. Our choices in life are dependent on a series of circumstances that force choice and a path to the present.

The mantra of co-working office provider WeWork is “Love what you do”, a code for employment that embodies the principle that seems to be reserved for the enlightened few. What if the thing you loved doing can’t be boiled down to something so narrow? What if the reason why you could never focus on one specific role was actually because you like so many different things? What if your remit at work inhibited you to explore your true passion?

As we move through education and into employment we are often encouraged to hone and craft a particular discipline. Over time, we become entrenched in our own furrow and it becomes increasingly difficult to spin the wheel onto a different career path. One great benefit of a career spanning many disciplines is the ability to exercise curiosity, to look at problems through different coloured lenses. This generalists view is a tool when it comes to problem solving. With interests in many fields, it’s a perfect role for the ‘multi-potentialist’ who has spent their time exploring the edges of their interests.

A rich and varied career is increasingly important in the modern environment. All around us, the nature of work is changing rapidly, as digital not only transforms customer experiences, but how we can solve problems, day-to-day. New opportunities are reflected not just by the growth in start-ups, but for new types of roles that are available. It’s estimated that the ‘digital economy’ created 3.5million new jobs in the UK in the last 15 years (Deloitte). However, this sits against a labour market where around half of people currently in employment actively search for new opportunities within 12 months (Harvard Business Review). It’s a scary statistic to digest if you consider this metric to represent a measure of employment dissatisfaction.

Perhaps we could view it differently, as it also indicates a commitment to a rich and varied career?

By convention, job-hopping is a behaviour that is often penalised in the recruitment process. You often hear people talk about ‘getting a couple of years under the belt’. Yet evidence indicates the idea of a one-company-person is a dated reality, as the labour market becomes increasingly skills driven, and more people choose a work-life balance that suits their “true calling”.

I believe that what we need to rethink is what do we truly mean by the term ‘generalist’. Rather than identifying the generalists as “Jack of all trades, master of none”, there is a better definition to be had, preferring the definition-hack “Jack of all trades, master of the potential”.

Every individual person has their own unique set of traits that informs how they view and interact with the world. Although many of us may look similar, we are all very different at the core. Everyone is a specialist in a particular sense, but perhaps we don’t yet have the lexicon to describe this in a work context.

The benefit of doing many different jobs is supported in research. In test environments, those people who are encouraged to multi-task when problem solving, demonstrate greater capability in divergent problem-solving techniques compared to those who are encouraged to focus on one specific task for long periods at a time. This is also backed up in the study of language: bilingualists tend to have better memories, are faster learners and, of course, have a sharper understanding of the nuance of language and culture.

You don’t have to look too far to see how businesses are increasingly struggling to keep up with the pace of change, and that the gap continues to grow. All too often we are encouraged to employ people into narrowly defined parameters, rather than encouraging them to explore the boundaries of their potential. Would you put a former pilot in charge of your media buying, a detective in charge of implementing your loyalty scheme, or a former squaddy in charge of your go-to-market proposition? They are out there, and are highly successful at applying their potential to a range of scenarios.

The ramifications of the fluid labour market required to support an ever-expanding technically led market, is that smarter recruitment is needed. With technology permeating all areas of our lives, the concept of ‘digital’ will dissipate into the ordinary and everyday, and the business agendas will shift accordingly to modernise. Businesses need to continually rethink the hiring process by focusing on attitude, aptitude and application as opposed to suitability with the job title by proxy, a trap that many businesses with a less sophisticated HR offering, find themselves in.