Nurture A Darwinian Skill set for The Digital Economy

When I was growing up during school I was constantly told I was a jack of all trades and master of none. At the time I took this to heart.

I naturally got bored working with one skill for too long. If I studied at Hogwarts my petronus would surly be a hummingbird. I got bored easily and tended to dart around in an attempt to move all my skills forward at once. But some of my teachers didn't like this. They would have preferred I mastered a skill I could take to higher education which would translate to a career.

This term ‘jack of all trades’ haunted me throughout my early career. I told myself that I was at a jack of all trades master of some. Like everyone just starting out I was keen to learn but also anxious about my lack of knowledge and experience. As a professional creative, this was compounded by being told all the time that I needed something to define what I did. Some sort of signature or original methodology that marked me out. I feared my inner hummingbird wasn't cutting it. I needed to double down on something and claim it as my own.

10 years later I’m still a creative professional struggling to find my signature. But thinking about specialising in one thing made me think about Darwinism.

Because the Panamanian Golden Frog evolved near noisy waterfalls, it has no eardrums.

Take the poor little Panamanian Golden Frog or the frankly awful London Underground Mosquito. These little critters are highly adapted and cannot exist outside of their very specific environments. Evolution is cruel and countless species have been wiped out due to natural and manmade changes in environment.

Its a very similar situation to when we have a major economy shift. Manufacturing to service based. Bricks and mortar to digital. Many people have faced redundancy. Many people have had to adapt or loose their jobs. So here lies the major risk with being a specialist. Any shift in the economical environment and you could loose your job.

Of course some and pro-active specialists will tend to pre-empt this by learning the new skill. But not all can, or even want to.

So a jack of all trades is more like the Honey Badger or Macaque. They can generalise and adapt more easily to a changing environment and survive where others can’t.

Macaques are masters at adapting.

So after 10 years I feel a lot less anxious about being a jack of all trades. Since being a generalist has seen me through the great recession and a redundancy with only a few weeks out of work.

But what about the next 20 years? What is the working world going to be like for my 2 month old daughter? We don’t know exactly but there will be some massive shifts driven by developments in AI and IoT. Automation will cause major redundancies in certain sectors and global politics is going through a state of change. Theres some big challenges my daughter will have to face. But she can do a lot worse approaching these problems like a Honey Badger or Macaque.


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