Chris Messina (who invented the Twitter Hashtag) wrote a post last week describing what he called the ‘Full Stack Employee’. This is, says Chris, the type of employee that has a powerful combination of skills, are adept at navigating the rapidly evolving and shifting technological landscape, and ‘make intuitive decisions amidst information-abundance, where sparse facts mingle loosely with data-drenched opinions’.
Whilst not necessarily having deep vertical expertise in more than one domain, such employees have an intuitive understanding of the value of design and UX, engineering and algorithms, but also narrative and storytelling, and can work with simple prototypes to develop learning. They are able to dynamically deal with shifting priorities and expectations and prioritise well. But they also have a strong curiosity, an appetite for new ideas, best practices, and also a desire to be more productive and happy in their work. It is this curiosity and desire to stay on top of developments in their own industry and others that separates them out.
In ‘How Google Works’ Eric Schmidt describes the people that can have the biggest potential impact in a business - so-called 'Smart Creatives' are the product folk who combine a triumvirate of skills around technical knowledge, business expertise and creativity: 'when you put today's technology tools in their hands and give them lots of freedom’, he says, ‘they can do amazing things, amazingly fast'.
Lord knows with 'Smart Creatives', 'T-shaped' and 'Pi-shaped' people, and now 'Full-Stack Employees', we're not short of monikers to describe people who may have strong vertical expertise, but also have lateral empathy, knowledge and attributes that mean they can work well in rapidly changing, ambiguous environments.
But the point remains a good one. As Chris Messina says, the conventional seams between disciplines are becoming ever more blurred, the set of skills necessary to succeed are broader and more nebulous than they’ve been before, and so being a polymath has real value to businesses. It may sound like a big ask to accommodate so many attributes in one person, but it is increasingly employees like this that make the difference within and for organisations, and as Chris says:
‘the nature of work is changing, and the highest value employees are those who can handle ambiguity and synthesizing enormous amounts of information into strategically useful tactics.’
Nobody's saying that those with deep, vertical expertise have little value - an organisation needs many different types of people to thrive after all. But I like this idea a lot, not least because I have always found it hard to categorise my own skills and knowledge or even career focus into a neat box labelled with a job title.
Photo Credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML