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Specializing for Adaptability

How The Big Shift changes the way we perceive ourselves and our work, both individually and collectively.

Our current world of work often becomes increasing more complex and confusing because of the limitations of our current beliefs. When we learn to let go of these outdated beliefs and step beyond them, we’re able to shift our entire perspective of what’s possible in the process.

Additionally, we need to move away from an educational system that trains people to do only one thing in only one place. By doing so we create path dependencies that increase individual fragility. Specialization is beneficial in predictable, low-volatility environments, but in uncertain, high-volatility environments, specialization can slow or inhibit adaptation. The optimal state involves people with an array of specialties who can learn new skills and switch between specialties quickly and efficiently.

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Taking a reflective step back from this, we need to move away from a business system that values this which is causing an educational system to value it in turn.

And the focus isn’t so much on finding “an array of specialities” for an individual but rather reframing the meaning of specialization within the larger context of this new age based upon what’s valued within it which is adaptability. Thus the meaning of specialization transforms from being something within a specific domain of knowledge to something that allows one to bridge an “array” of different knowledge domains.

Illustrating how The Big Shift transforms an individual’s sense of identity.

What I’m talking about here is something I’ve discussed and illustrated years back with a simple diagram called The Big Shift (which ties into John Hagel’s & John Seely Brown’s work). This future that is emerging presently causes a radical shift, like an earthquake shifting a building off its previous foundation, whereby our identity is no longer defined within a single job within a single domain. Instead our identity now slightly overlaps an “array” of what used to be considered different jobs (with different domains of knowledge each accompanying them).

Another more common name for this “slight overlap” is hyperspecialization.

And this new meaning of specialization that allows us to flexibly adapt across many different domains of knowledge is more commonly known as our passion.

In other words, an individual’s passion paradoxically allows them to hyperspecialize and do so across many different domains of knowledge at the same time.

Thus they are no longer trapped at a professional “dead end” of eventual obsolescence within the confining beliefs of the old world of work but are instead freed to flexibly adapt and explore endless possibilities specifically optimized for them within this new world.

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