Season Your Workforce
Could you ever have predicted that the fastest moving selection on fast-food menus would be a burger made of oils, soy and starch?
Years ago, well before almost anyone had considered the possibility of a beef-alternative hamburger there were a few people thinking quite a bit about it. They’re now sitting at the beginning of a booming business growing so fast that they are struggling to meet demand.
How does it happen that some people are able to look around and notice a hole needing to be filled even when it’s so tiny you need a magnifying glass to see it? How do these people see the same things others do but pull them together and come up with a completely new product or service or way of doing things before others realize there’s a need for it?
My theory is that these people are good at holistic thinking. Most exceptional executives share this trait as do others spread throughout most organizations. Yet, they are still few and far between.
This kind of holistic thinking often comes from liberal arts graduates. It’s fine to fill your organization with all the STEM people and other technical types who’ve spent years focused on perfecting their skills but rapid and never-ending change also requires people with a breadth of interests, knowledge, and experience. That’s why older generalists often have an edge. They’ve seen, learned, and experienced much more than the average person so have lots more to draw on when mulling over problems or noticing that hole that cries out to be filled.
I’ve noticed that some people–including somer right out of college or high school or even with almost no education–who have spent years wandering the world, trying a wide variety of jobs, or completing internships or social impact projects in emerging economies also exhibit quite a bit of the same ability. The ability to rapidly synthesize seemingly unrelated information into a unified solution.
Don’t get so caught up with specialists that you forget to sprinkle a seasoning of generalists with wide experience into the mix of your organization. Who knows what great new idea they will come up with that no one else could imagine.