Build multiple perspectives into your thought process
Elon Musk is among this generation’s most iconic entrepreneurs. He is ambitious and driven and constantly seeks to create massive impact. The reasons for his success are routinely deconstructed, be it his work ethic or can-do attitude. More and more, however, observers say the magic recipe for his bold business bets lies in what is termed “learning transfer”. Or, simply, his ability to apply learnings from the diverse range of industry segments he has worked in—software, energy, transportation, aerospace—and effectively recast them in new contexts.
The manner in which he connects seemingly disparate dots, gleans new insights and applies them to situations, makes him an uncanny, unusual innovator. It’s a subject Musk, the SpaceX founder, has written about passionately as well.
Of course, few of us may be able to mirror Musk’s success. But his diverse portfolio, and the many advantages that accrue from it, highlight a crucial advantage professionals everywhere must strive for—building multiple perspectives into their thought processes.
If problem-solving is a key attribute for success at the workplace, multiple perspectives can help you become a better problem solver.
The advantage of diverse perspectives comes from the understanding of, or experience across, different industries, thoughts and principles.
Unfortunately, this is not something our current education system advocates enough.
Across much of the modern world, the world of higher education has celebrated unyielding focus—or specialization—as the core of mastery. Yet, problems don’t stay confined to academic branches or disciplines.
An intensely competitive admissions procedure ensures that most would-be engineers are “focused” on core subjects and entrance test coaching as early as class VIII, and might well complete the rest of their education without reading a book of fiction. Similarly, there are literature students who never read about business; and business graduates who might believe that political history has nothing to teach them.
The problem solving that academic institutions teach is still tailored to a world that is black and white. This is why many students who score top grades during school and college and ace admission tests suddenly find themselves out of their depth when it comes to solving problems at the workplace. Effort doesn’t always equal success in the real world of jobs, as it might in college presentations and class tests.
The problem-solving skills that organizations need straddle the whole spectrum: It blends disciplines, collapses boundaries and meshes subjects together. People who can understand connections, correlations and interdependencies, rather than mastering just one skill, are the ones most likely to succeed and flourish.
To start building multiple perspectives, read on subjects that you haven’t before. Begin with a subject you might have been curious about at some point, but which got left behind in the pursuit of degrees and jobs. Don’t consciously look for connections. Build a world view on this new subject. Following your interest is a definite way to create a unique way of thinking.
Second, read from a diverse set of sources. Make a list of the publications you are used to. Add a different set of publications and websites to the list. Broaden your reading. Till doing so becomes a habit, do this with discipline. Set targets for yourself: a new website every week, or month. A genre of books you have never attempted before, once a quarter.
Third, be conscious of how you learn, the pace you learn at, and whom you learn best from. Understand that as your career grows and matures, chances are that you will build successes in domains and subjects you might never have studied.
Few of us work in areas that our bachelors’ degrees trained us for. We all need the skills and mindset to adapt to new environments and build expertise in new areas. For, increasingly, most people have four-five distinct careers. And diverse skills, networks and resources are immensely useful in building a new career each time.
Learning fast and often, then, will be the key to surviving job markets in the future.
This is the second in the eight-part Art Of Work series on building a fulfilling career. Pramath Raj Sinha has founded several higher education institutions and Shreyasi Singh is a business author who now works in higher education. Read the first column in the series at Livemint.com/ArtofWork
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