The man is on a “hot streak” someone whispered. The entire casino has gathered around one table. All eyes are on one person. He is winning and the onlookers egg him on to play one more round. Will he bet everything he has won so far and play one last hand? The gambler is arguing silently with himself. He is a on a “hot streak” – a phase when period during which an individual’s performance is substantially better than his or her typical performance. Even the onlookers do not change their position for fear of ruining his luck. The casino has to win, but today the gambler seems to be defeating the house. The casino owner sends in a “cooler” – the person whose luck is so bad that his mere presence ends someone’s “hot streak”. This is a scene from the movie “The Cooler”.
What are “Hot Streaks”
Sportsmen, financial traders, gamblers are all known to have “hot streaks”. During this streak, they outdo themselves. It happens in creative careers too as we recently discovered. In a study published in Nature, the researchers studied the careers of 30,000 artists, film directors and scientists. They found that even in careers that are creativity driven, there can be a “hot streak”. 90% people experience this phase when their work creates more impact than ever before. Einstein experienced it in 1905 when he wrote is e=mc2 equation.
It is likely that careers in music and entrepreneurship will also experience such phases say the researchers. In the age of automation, creativity and curiosity will be foundations on which most careers will be built. People do not produce more during this period. What they produce is of a significantly higher quality like Vincent Van Gogh in the year 1888 when he painted “Starry Night Over the Rhone”. What is the trigger of a “hot streak”?
If you imagine your skills in the form of a pyramid, you will find there are some skills that have been commoditised. For instance, no one gets impressed if you tell them you know how to send emails. It is a skill that is commoditised. No employer will pay you simply because you have this skill. Not having the commodity skills, however, makes a person unemployable. In the middle of what I refer to as a Skill Pyramid lies the marketable skills. They are skills someone is ready to pay for.
When universities hand over a degree they are looking to certify the marketability of the graduating student. This is what has been the basis of employability. Having a degree assured the employer that the person could do the job. Today having a degree is not a guarantee of employability. Rapid changes in the world are shortening the shelf life of education. A top business school invited me to create a “cutting edge” course in HR that did not involve technology (because technology related stuff was the fiefdom of the Information Technology department – not HR).
Demonstrating the ability to upskill and be an expert is far more valuable to an employer. This is the age of niche skills – the skills that people have to learn by themselves or from other experts. These make up the top of the pyramid. These are the skills that are rare to find. They command a salary premium. This is the golden age of experts who can solve problems across sectors. Niche skills are rare because they often cut across multiple disciplines. This is also the reason why educational institutions take time to reimagine what they teach the students.
Scarcity and abundance
Korn Ferry recently wrote about the upcoming “salary surge” that could disrupt business models. While automation will take over many routine jobs, a combination of factors like greying populations in many countries; skill shortages arising out of restrictions on immigration could lead to a global shortage of 85 million workers by 2030. This wage premium paid to skills that are in short supply could mean an additional $2.5 trillion paid to secure talent.
The same Korn Ferry had written about global labor shortages of “85.2 million skilled workers by 2030, resulting in lost revenue opportunities of $8.452 trillion – the combined GDP of Germany and Japan.”
Demand for AI related jobs like Machine Learning engineer and Computer Vision Engineer has more than doubled in the last three years according to job site Indeed.com. The world does not have enough of them.
A recruiter for working for BMW’s autonomous car project in China spoke to me about the challenge of bringing in these experts from Silicon Valley. These experts do not wait for the employer’s offer letter. They put out their own demands and create the terms of employment the employer must meet if they wish to hire the expert. In recent times experts at Google, Microsoft etc forcing employers to drop projects that clashes with the personal values of the experts.
Multi-disciplinary and Boundaryless
What is common to the jobs that are in high demand and safe. The jobs that require a combination of deep domain expertise, ability to build and collaborate with other experts and ability to solve problems that cut across sectors and industries will matter.
Creativity, Expertise and Social Skills will be the basis of careers in the age of AI.
People who can develop the systems that make Artificial Intelligence work already command a premium.
The experts know what turns an ordinary card trick into magic, says “Mind Reader” Nakul Shenoy. He learnt magic for ten years, formally studies Communication, taught himself psychology and User Experience (UX for short) design and juggles UX design and usability interviews with a career as a Mind Reader. He may be a good example of what future careers will demand.
HSBC recently release a list of six jobs that will be needed in future (which do not exist today). They all demand a mosaic of skills. The skills that a “Mixed Reality Experience Designer” would need cut across disciplines.
“Designing these complex three-dimensional interfaces and making them slick and intuitive will be a major new employment area for the future, requiring skills in aesthetic design, branding, user experience and 3D mechanics.”
If you want to be an Algorithm Mechanic for a bank, who will tweak the logic behind algorithms, you will need “skills in risk management, service design, and financial literacy, rather than technological proficiency.” Problems are becoming too complex to be solved by one individual or one discipline.
These are the experts who will be in demand. People who have the ability to reinvent the contours of their own discipline will keep building deep expertise but keep bringing in the ideas from other disciplines. Marketable skills are usually single discipline based. Drawing from multiple disciplines like a polymath will be the foundation for 85% of the jobs Gen Z will do – they just have not been invented as yet. They will all be multidisciplinary and boundaryless in their application.
Upskilling As A “Hot-Streak” Trigger
- Prepare the frontline and leaders: HSBC is running a weekly program called ‘Digital Thursdays’ for frontline employees. They have a Digital Leadership Program which helps senior managers have a greater understanding of digital trends and how these relate to customer needs. Technology impacts change, choice, speed, power and shape. Being able to reimagine the business along these 5 dimensions cannot be done through annual retreats.
- Don’t be embarrassed to say “I don’t know”: Leaders often view attending workshops as a signal to the world that they have learning gaps. In many organizations, the senior leaders sit at a table apart from the other participants and keep responding to emails on their phones to signal that their presence is only to encourage the participants – the leader does not need to learn. This is the mindset of a leader from the analog world. In the digital world, being ashamed to admit “I don’t know” is a sign of obsolescence.
- Practitioners, academics and consultants: Create opportunities for practitioners to engage with academic institutions. One such panel of advisors for an IIM suggested that labor law courses must include talks by practitioners about nuances of labor laws of other countries to supplement Indian labor laws that are already being taught. Bringing in consultants who work across sectors creates opportunities for the entire leadership team to get updated.
The science of careers in a world disrupted by the digital tsunami is still emerging. With enough data points, maybe machines will find a way to predict what triggers a “hot streak” for the individual, just as new jobs and niche skills evolve. The role of the learning and development team will be about creating the culture that enables people to experience hot-streaks. Maybe a combination of machines and humans will help the individual to discover a new mosaic of skills that will help the individuals experience more than one hot-streak in their career. One thing is clear – the future belongs to the experts who straddles many worlds.
This is from my column for Business Line. A version of this appeared in The Business Line dated 15 August 2018