Are You A Hybrid Professional? If not, you are an endangered species

03 Sep Are You A Hybrid Professional? If not, you are an endangered species

We all know the world of work is insecure. And we know it is not getting any less so. It matters not whether you are the janitor, security guard, resource manager or CEO – don’t take anything for granted, and certainly not your job.

For much of the last century the group that was arguably most protected was the middle class professional, e.g. the teacher, general practitioner, accountant, architect, anyone who could rightly claim membership of a highly educated, specifically trained, valued profession. But even these groups are feeling the pressure and will themselves soon be under threat from Artificial Intelligence.

The days of the lifetime career are almost over for everyone. Now we need to be adaptable. And creative. The latest survey to emphasise this point came from the World Economic Forum (2016) with research into what will be the Top 10 required skill set for success in the coming decade (from 2020 onwards):

1. complex problem solving
2. critical thinking
3. creativity
4. people management
5. coordinating with others
6. emotional intelligence
7. judgement and decision making
8. service orientation
9. negotiation
10. cognitive flexibility

The WEF’s ‘Future of Jobs’ Report (2016) does a great job at identifying the skills we’ll all need if we are to thrive, let alone survive, in the hothouse of 21st century employment, and I fully concur with their findings. But what the report doesn’t do is tell us just what sort of professional identity is going to be required to accommodate and effectively practice these skills at the highest level.

That said, a clue as to what the 21st century professional will look like is contained in the above list. Because two of those skills were not in the WEF’s Top 10 list of 2015. Do you have any idea which are the new ones?

They are numbers 6 and 10.

For me, these Top 10 professional skills can be encapsulated in just two paradigms:

Critical Thinking and Emotional Intelligence.

That is, the combination of intellectual creativity and emotional reflexivity. By any measure this is a powerful mix, and many of you reading this may consider you already have it.

But to be honest, not many leaders and managers do have this mix, especially male managers. Which is one reason why the likes of Jack Ma says that ‘women are going to be the most powerful gender this century’ and why Alibaba employs many more women than men. 

But regardless of your gender, the reality is you are going to have to develop a very new skill if you intend to surf the wave of 21st century careerism.

And that skill is HYBRIDITY.

An article by Dr Denry Machin published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education (July 2017), titled: ‘The Hybrid Professional’, reports on one of the few empirical studies undertaken thus far into the concept of ‘professional hybridity’. Dr Machin’s study focused on one particular leadership group: Heads of International Schools. His research shows how successful International School Heads develop the ability to navigate otherwise contradictory identities; in this case, between educator and business manager.

“…through hybridity there is the potential to configure non-exclusive, blended and shifting, yet entirely legitimate, identities which cross-cut multiple discourses” (p. 14)

In other words, the hybrid professional does not occupy a singular professional identity but has the emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility to move between identities, and organisational demands, situationally; e.g. they are continually in flux and not devoted to a singular way of being a leader. This means they can develop a wider repertoire of responses to leadership dilemmas and, importantly, are not afraid to do so. They evaluate, experiment, analyse, adapt and evolve. They do not believe that just because a particular response worked for them in the past that it will work in every situation in the future. They have to always remain open-minded, flexible, adaptable, and emotionally aware of the environment (organisational and individual) in which they are operating.

Which all sounds excellent and really compelling. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a hybrid professional if it means you can really practice situational leadership to full effect? And, of course, keep your job as a consequence?

However, it is a lot easier to imagine yourself as a hybrid professional than it is to live out this identity 24/7. The reason being that we all seek existential assurance, ontological purchase and identity validation. And fixed identities are easier to find purchase with than flexible ones. As soon as we start trying to be flexible in terms of our belief systems, culture, value systems, engrained practices, attitudes, and motivations, then we risk disrupting something that is very dear to each of us: our self.

But like it or not, this is the challenge you are going to face very soon. If you haven’t done so already. Because waiting in the wings is AI and that will be as flexible as the scientists can make it.

The ‘my way or the highway’ approach may have worked for unreflective and emotionally illiterate football club managers and hard-headed leaders in the past, and it may well serve some of them for a while yet, but it has no future.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is now upon us, and the professionals who will thrive in this new work paradigm will be those with the critical thinking skills, creativity and cognitive flexibility of the robot combined with the emotional intelligence of the human.

As Darwin put it ‘it is the species that is most adaptable to change that will survive’.

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