With unemployment rising and increasing uncertainty in the job market, now may be a good time to work out how to give your career an edge. Amidst the instability, one thing is clear: those who have more than one trade or talent to offer the workplace, those who can reinvent themselves, who can pivot to match client and employer demand, will prove to be more hireable.
I’ve spent the last 12 months talking to executives, entrepreneurs and freelancers who have carved out plural—or “mash-up”—work lives. The mash-up worker is agile, comfortable adding new strings to her bow, bringing breadth of disciplines to projects instead of pursuing a one-track single-specialty career. A mash-up work life blends multiple talents and disciplines, creating a plural offering that is more fulfilling and also more enterprising. More than a shallow generalist, the mash-up worker typically has depth of skills in one area, combined with breadth in many others.
I’ve always enjoyed a multidimensional career. I find a single track too limiting so have carved out a working life driven by curiosity and opportunity that reflects my multiple talents. But a mash-up role offers more than just fulfillment; there’s a valuable by-product for every business and organization. The executive who can mash-up different disciplines, applying thinking from one area to problem solve in another, will prove to be more of an asset. It is at that intersection of different disciplines where innovation and idea generation happens.
I talked with creative businesses like IDEO, whose London design director Tom Hulme told me not only do they encourage plurality amongst their employees, they rely on it. Elsewhere in ad agencies, borders have crumbled as previously siloed disciplines like tech and creativity mash-up into roles such as "the creative technologist." At Google’s Creative Labs, strategy director Ben Malbon says he seeks “people fluent in one language, but literate in many.”
So whether you work for yourself or for an organization, if you’re looking to gain an edge, here’s my ten point “mashifesto” to get you started on carving out a plural work life:
1. Embrace your plurality: Fight against the culture that encourages single-specialism careers. Your plurality is a gift. Don’t get forced into making black or white choices; explore the glorious technicolor in between.
2. Be more than your job title: It might be OK that the guy in the corner store doesn’t get what you do, but it is not if the people you meet through your business networks don’t. If you’re struggling to answer that ‘what do you do?’ question, ditch the job title and discover your unifier—the single theme or idea that unites all you do.
3. Embrace the “unplan”: Where uncertainty reigns supreme, have career goals but don’t have a fixed plan for how to get there, you need to be agile enough to allow random left-turns along the way. Those who adopt an agile mindset stand the best chance of success.
4. Celebrate your weirdness: You are your story so don’t shy away from those interesting parts of your backstory—those are the parts that can serve to be your differentiator. Your story is what people will remember you by and share with others to explain who you are.
5. Be “T-shaped”: The future needs “T-shaped” people; those with specific virtual skills but breadth in other empathetic disciplines. The executive who can cross borders to fuse together ideas from one discipline to another can help foster innovation. Not entrenched in a single way of doing things, they have the vision for analogous learning, able to apply an experience from one industry to another.
6. Don’t stand still: Be prepared to reinvent your offering, to reflect the changing needs of your industry and to add more strings to your bow as employers demand them. Being a master of reinvention will serve you well in this period of rapid change so if your current world gets saturated, stagnates or stalls you can stay ahead of the game.
7. Think beyond the resume: Use digital tools to communicate your multiple talents to clients, recruiters and employers. Start a blog to tell your story and use Twitter to reflect your multiple interests. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and sells your full skills. Understand the nuances of your audiences, the styles of the different platforms, the differences between Facebook and LinkedIn, and how your message needs to shift accordingly.
8. Try it on the side: The mash-up is not about “all or nothing” choices; if you don’t have the opportunity to go plural in your day job, try a side project in your spare time or set up an ideas club with colleagues in your lunch hour. Whether it is shaping you next career move, creating some extra cash or learning something new, try it on the side.
9. Don’t stay in your comfort zone: Innovation won’t come from staying in your industry clique, so get out and explore, be curious, go experiment. Leonardo Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, geologist, cartographer, botanist, musician, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, mathematician, writer, designer, innovator, architect, and technician. His curiosity knew no boundaries so he was able to explore everything and anything that interested him. Embrace your inner Da Vinci!
10. Mix it up: Think like a DJ and mix different ideas together to create harmony. Knowing how your multiple skills can work better together and create more value is key to improving your mash-up life. Like a DJ on the turntables or a chef in the kitchen, it is the mixing together of seemingly disparate ingredients that produces the interesting results, find the common denominator that creates multi-skill harmony.
—Ian Sanders is an author and marketer. He helps clients communicate business ideas, writes on entrepreneurship for the [i]Financial Times and is the author of four books. Mash-up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Earn More Money and be Happier is out now (Kogan Page). Follow him on Twitter @iansanders.
[Image: Flickr user The James Kendall]