Should a copywriter know how to launch and execute a social media campaign? Is it necessary for an art director to be able to program a Maker Bot? Do you think a planner needs enough knowledge of Final Cut Pro to edit her own videos?
A few years ago the answer to all of these questions might have been no. But that may not be the case anymore. In a recent book called Mash Up, Ian Sanders, marketer, author, FT columnist argues that it’s no longer enough develop a single skill. Ian’s premise is that you’ll find a more fulfilling job, enjoy a competitive edge and make more money if you develop or leverage multiple skills.
Forward thinking companies want multi-skilled people
But in the long run, you may have no choice. At innovative companies, diversity is the new expertise. IDEO doesn’t have constrained job descriptions. They expect you to design your career and contributions in the same way they solve problems for clients. At Google’s Creative Labs, which has grabbed some of the ad industry’s top creative talent, Strategy Director Ben Malbon seeks “people fluent in one language, but literate in many.” The same is true at Mullen. In the long run, an art director who can invent and launch a new app might be more valuable than one who can only art direct.
In some cases there are new positions emerging that in and of themselves call for multiple skills. Five years ago creative technologist, social media strategist and experience designer were non-existent roles in most agencies. Chances are that over time, these newer jobs will become even more prevalent, or at least offer greater opportunity.
You may already be that T-Shaped multi-skilled person. If you’re not, here are some simple things you might want to do.
1. Learn more about technology and what you can do with it.
Everything from emerging social platforms to HTML5 to the accelerometer in your mobile phone. The more you become aware of their potential, the more problems you can solve and the more opportunities you can create.
2. Make something yourself.
These days if you can think it you can create it. With resources that include Apple’s software developer kits, 3-D printers, cheap hosting on Amazon and the distribution power of the Internet, you (or your employer) don’t need a lot of money to invent an app or even a platform. Mullen art director Sam Mullins, just launched this. TourBus.
3. Partner with people who do what you don’t.
I had a student last semester who conceived a platform to help students change their housing. He had no idea how to build it, but decided to find some other students who did. Six months later BU Room Swap was up and running.
4. Change where you sit
I’m constantly surprised what a difference this can make. If you are surrounded by people who do exactly what you do all day long you lose out on the serendipitous collisions that open your mind to different ways of problem solving.
Multi-skilled does not mean generalist
However, being-multi-skilled is not shorthand for lacking a deep talent in at least one area. Simply being a generalist won’t get you hired. At least until the typical agency staffing plan gets reinvented. Most plans don’t include generalist or multi-skilled as a job description. They list all the usual positions, from account management to studio artist. A client agrees to pay for a certain number of FTE’s and that determines who gets hired and put on the business. And at the end of the day writers still have to write, designers have to design, and animators have to animate. The objective is to master your craft and learn enough about the other roles and functions that can make you better at yours.
Share your thoughts. Working somewhere that welcomes or demands multi-skilled contributions? Or frustrated in a company that still compartmentalizes people?