What do Beyonce and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln both have in common?
You might never have guessed it but they both place a lot of attention on what it takes to be irreplaceable.
In Beyonce’s case, her “Irreplaceable” is the ultimate kiss and wave goodbye sendoff. The hit song was all about how no one is irreplaceable in her life (least of all her fickle love interest who took one too many chances in the car she bought him).
From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the focus is on how to make yourself essential. The title of a 2019 whitepaper published by the university says it all, “Plan Your Impact: Stacking Your Skills To Make Yourself Irreplaceable.”
Both have relevant lessons for us In the current economic climate. Now, and in the foreseeable future too, knowing how to up your irreplaceable factor is a smart career strategy.
Build a skills stack by mastering many skills
“Stacking”, as a concept, has its origins in startup culture. And the startups borrowed the term from the computing industry.
Simply put, a stack is a set of software tools and components that are needed to run a proprietary platform.
The term has been broadened to include whatever is needed to do a job or run a company. High growth startups, after all, don’t just happen. There are many technology tools in the background helping them perform.
Approaching your career through the prism of building a skills stack can pay dividends for you too.
In a general sense, life is a continual game of skill stacking.
Learning to read and write in the early years of junior school are still skills you employ today. No skill you learn is ever wasted. In fact, your brain’s neuroplasticity ability has astounding ways to completely rewire how you think based on you learning new things.
In a 2020 (and beyond) sense, as we see “work” and employment transform in front of our eyes, skill stacking is a way to align yourself with the changing requirements of employers.
What this means is that you build a set of skills that are complementary, and contribute to making you a more effective and efficient professional.
Tim Herrera writes and edits the Smarter Living column for The New York Times. He says that skills stacking is “the idea that instead of focusing on your efforts on becoming singularly great at one specific skill or task, you should strive to get proficient at a few related skills that can be woven together into a wider skills set that does make your singularly good at your profession or some general life ability.”
That’s a long sentence, but it touches on what we know about work in the 21st century.
While job titles may still exist, careers in the 21st century are no longer rigidly defined by core skills. Interwoven skills and learning agility are the keys to unlocking opportunities as your progress. And as the future of work, impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, continues to change.
The knowledge transfer superpower of generalists
We need both experts and generalists to keep the world going.
But, in terms of modern economies and what skills are most attractive to employers, the generalists may just have a competitive advantage.
David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized (sic) World, knows why. He says, “Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains. Our most fundamental thought processes have changed to accommodate increasing complexity and the need to derive new patterns rather than rely only on familiar ones. Our conceptual classification schemes provide scaffolding for connecting knowledge, making it accessible and flexible.”
In other words, new knowledge begets other pieces of new knowledge and new competencies. You’ll also increase your confidence with new skills.
A skills stack also helps you see the world differently. Having a broad understanding of more than one subject will mean that you can pick up patterns and links between different industries and roles. Quantity over quality is the way forward.
Scott Adams, author of How To Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big, says, “Success-wise, you’re better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one.”
The unique potential of a hard skills and soft skills combination
Actively creating a skills stack for yourself means looking at combining hard skills with soft skills too.
Both are in demand.
Hard skills are the easy ones to teach and measure. And they’re the ones most often mentioned in job specs. Skills that encompass numeracy/mathematical ability, writing, reading or computer literacy, are considered hard skills.
Soft skills, and there’s a fair degree of disagreement around this term, are built around core competencies in listening and communicating, building rapport, leadership etc. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, has stated that the largest skills gap in the US is around soft skills.
Hard skills are easily quantifiable by employers. It’s your list of hard skills that will get your foot in the door for different opportunities. But soft skills are the ones that will open up paths to progression for you and help you build a richer career. They’re important in any market.
Commit to lifelong learning
Along with the concept on a skills stack, come two other terms that are also being discussed in the mainstream.
These are “upskilling” and “lifelong learning”.
People learn from the minute they’re born, but the terms upskilling and lifelong learning are linked specifically to the workplace.
Continuously building your skills stack doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment.
Occasionally a degree or diploma program might be exactly what you require to take the next steps in your career. Often though, investing a few hours a week to learn a new skill will see you develop new capabilities quickly. The key is to be focused and deliberate about what you’re studying.
Skills that are translatable across just about any industry include public speaking, knowing how to negotiate effectively, coding, designing and copywriting.
Don’t forget that one of the ancillary benefits of learning new skills is the networking opportunities it opens up too. Just by committing to learning a new skill, you could place yourself right in the path of your dream employer too.
Look at the skills you have today, and map out what additional competencies will add to those to create a highly unique and valuable proposition in the workplace.
That way your irreplaceable factor will increase exponentially. We’re convinced that even Beyonce would agree!