Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Celebrate Your Multi Dimensional Talents

Here's the latest in the series of ad hoc excerpts from my book, 'Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life'

Many executives have managed to create their own portfolios by mixing skills, roles or even jobs. Others have hobby interests or business interests on the side.

I know Jugglers who mix stuff up. A business consultant who chose to work three days a week when she returned to work after having kids. A woman who works two shifts a week producing radio shows; the rest of the time she produces her kids’ lives. An HR Manager three days a week who makes jewellery and organises arts events when she is not sorting out employment contracts. A head-hunter who has a side-job playing in a band that he hires out to his day-job clients. Mixing up his passions. By day the BlackBerry, by night a very different kind of keyboard.

The reality is that most of us have a plurality of talents to match our plurality of tastes. Look at anyone's iPod track listing – we do listen to hip hop and classical music; we do watch The Simpsons and period dramas; we like Atonement and the Sex And The City movie. It's a not a case of either/or. We are multi-faceted. That is part of our personality and our richness informs our professional tastes, portfolios and abilities.

In a post on his website Gary Vaynerchuk observed how he was getting lots of comments from people surprised that he was knowledgeable about technology as well as wine:

‘…And I gave that a lot of thought. How people are branded and pigeon holed into being able to do one thing. I don’t think people realise - we are multi-dimensional people.
I know about the Jets, I know about wine, I know about cheese and tea and other things. And yes I know about business and philosophy. Yes I have built a lot of businesses’.

That plurality is not just driven by our tastes and passions. There are also good economic reasons to have broad talents. A business with multiple products generating multiple revenue streams, or an executive with strengths in more than one area have the potential to be more recession proof.

If tough market conditions threaten the viability of one activity or skill, you can migrate to another. Because if they are getting rid of Operations people but you also ‘do’ R&D, then that can help you survive. You are less disposable. A friend of mine qualified as an accountant but rather than just stay in finance, he migrated to become a general manager, commercial director, and then a CEO. His financial skills are very much part of his DNA but he’s a broader animal. And compare that with his peers from accounting class who have stuck to finance.

It’s like when I was MD of a division of a group. I ran other (unrelated) projects for the group at the same time because I could - and more importantly - because I wanted to. My predecessor just filled the MD post and stopped at that. But why stop there when you have no boundaries? Consider how much more value this offers the employer, they get two jobs doing for the price of one.

So it’s a matter of Narrow Focus Vs Breadth.

I know who I’d rather have in my team.

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