We’re often told there is one way of excelling in our careers – a focused approach on developing expertise in a particular subject area. Over time, this benefits from the compound effect. Step by step we gradually improve, to the point where a form of mastery is achieved in our chosen subject.
This makes sense. We all know of the surgeon, the legal expert, the sportsperson or musician who has achieved an eminent career by taking such an approach.
However, there is another route marketers can take, which can be equally productive – combining or ‘stacking’ a range of talents in a unique way.
Author, cartoonist and entrepreneur Scott Adams talks about the benefits of talent stacking in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
He argues persuasively that by combining a range of complementary skills together, you can develop a unique professional skillset. In his case, business nous via an MBA, good drawing and communication skills, amongst others. He readily admits that he is standout at none of these, but within the top 20% for each.
The idea of a talent stack is that you can combine ordinary skills until you have enough of the right kind to be extraordinary. Scott Adams
The key here is complementarity – for example, for marketers it could be matching strategic skills with a deep understanding of branding. Combining consumer behaviour and psychology with advertising, or melding aspects of data, technology and digital marketing.
The World Economic Forum states that the ‘ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals’.
In an economy where jobs are emerging and becoming obsolete with increasing rapidity, having a range of skills and talents provides flexibility. The opportunity to move from one complementary area to another. To switch between sectors.
Knowledge workers… will have to learn to stay young and mentally alive during a fifty-year working life. Peter Drucker.
This approach has links with the synthesizing mind, popularised by Howard Gardner and others. Here you take skillsets in diverse areas and provide value through the novel and unique insights this offers.
Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, argues that the key to success is to build knowledge and skills and combine them in an interesting way. To be an expert generalist allows you to make connections that your peers will miss due to a siloed view of the world.
Beatles guitarist George Harrison was a master at combining aspects of the guitar in a unique way. Having first built a comprehensive knowledge of current guitar styles through The Beatles’ early years as a cover band, his explorations lead him to the sitar. The instrument, then relatively unknown in western music, provided standout elements in tracks such as Norwegian Wood. Not content to stop there, Harrison learned to master slide guitar, a sound that would eventually become his signature on classics such as Something and My Sweet Lord.
Stepping back from these dizzying heights, how can we build a similar approach into our own careers?
There are a few key steps to take. Firstly, look at your core competencies. Are there complementary areas you could develop knowledge in? Are there aspects where you have moderate knowledge, but with an investment of time could develop and broaden these skills to provide added value?
Next, set a list of goals and identify the top three priorities within these. Then clearly map out a plan and process that will allow you to chip away at them on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Personal development coaches such as Brian Tracy, Pat Divilly and others suggest identifying a portion of each day which you set aside just for this purpose, be it the 2% rule or the golden hour. The core purpose is to give you time for the deep work and focus required to build your skillset effectively.
If you haven’t already started, the next best time to begin is right now. Use the compound effect, take daily steps towards your goals. You’ll be surprised at just how effective this approach can be.
About the author
Steven Roberts is head of marketing for Griffith College and a certified data protection officer. Steven has over 15 years’ experience working in management, senior marketing and strategy roles in the education, heritage and tourism sectors.