In his insightful book “Think for Yourself,” Harvard lecturer and global trend watcher Vikram Mansharamani addresses a critical shift in our approach to skills development. He argues that over-specialization and excessive reliance on experts can lead to a narrow perspective, overlooking broader contexts and interconnected issues.
He advocates for a multidisciplinary approach, encouraging individuals to engage with various perspectives and fields. Mansharamani emphasizes the importance of reclaiming personal decision-making from experts, suggesting that while expertise is valuable, it should be used as a resource rather than a crutch. The book calls to balance deep expertise with wide-ranging perspectives, especially in complex and uncertain situations.
Stifling Innovation and Its Consequences
The pursuit of depth, rooted in the scientific management method, has inadvertently hampered cross-functional collaboration and creativity. This phenomenon, particularly evident since the 1970s, has slowed innovation’s pace significantly, with the notable exception of digital technology.
The Stagnation of Purchasing Power
Simultaneously, there’s been a stagnation in the average worker’s purchasing power over the past four decades. The Pew Research Center highlighted a concerning trend: “In real terms, average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would be today.” This financial inertia contributes to a broader economic and social malaise.
The Great Resignation: A Symptom of Deeper Issues
The recent wave of mass resignations, or ‘The Great Resignation,’ is symptomatic of deeper systemic issues. Burnout, poor management, inadequate recognition, and systemic injustice have made many reconsider their career paths.
Some believe the massive amounts of resignations were caused by:
- Existing burnout ─ While 42% of employees were already experiencing burnout before the pandemic, that number skyrocketed to 72% a few months into lockdown—mainly due to increased anxiety, heavier workloads, and people taking less time off.
- Bad managers ─ Managers influence an employee’s job satisfaction, well-being, and likelihood to stay at a company: 57% of employees have left at least one company because of their boss.
- Poor recognition ─ 69% of employees say they’d be more likely to stay at a company if they received more recognition.
- Systemic injustice ─ People who have been historically marginalized are being vocal about how much safer they feel working from home, where they can escape (to some extent) the stress and burnout of constant microaggressions and the sense of not belonging.
Research by Zety sheds light on the various reasons behind this phenomenon, including low salaries, limited career opportunities, and poor workplace environments. People were quitting because of:
- Low Salary (67%)
- Limited career opportunities (66%)
- Not being valued by my manager (65%)
- Relationship with my colleagues (64%)
- inadequate pandemic health measures (64%)
- Poor employee benefits (64%)
- Wanting to change job industry entirely (62%)
- Negative interactions with customers (57%)
- Being forced to return to on-site work (55%)
- Seeing other colleagues quit (54%)
The High Cost of a Profit-First Mentality
The relentless focus on productivity and profit maximization has taken a significant toll — not just on technological progress but also on general well-being and environmental health. The pandemic has further illuminated these issues, forcing a reevaluation of priorities.
Reimagining Our Future
This brings us to a critical juncture. Ignoring the fundamental economic principles has led us into a quagmire of global challenges, including high inflation and a disengaged workforce. Economists like Joseph Schumpeter and Carlota Perez state that business leaders must recognize that economic progress stems from meaningful technological innovation, not from overexploitation or cost-cutting.
The Path to Meaningful Innovation
Creativity, the lifeblood of innovation, thrives on diversity. It demands a variety of disciplines, viewpoints, and backgrounds at the decision-making table. To foster innovation, we must encourage communication and collaboration across silos and value multipotentiality to broaden our perspectives.
Value Creation in a New Business Cycle
As we approach the end of a business cycle, our focus should shift from capturing to creating value. Embracing our differences and committing to a shared, purpose-driven future is crucial for moving forward.
A Personal Reflection from the Internet Industry
Reflecting on my entrepreneurial journey in the internet industry, I recall the tough decision to diversify into application development, anticipating industry changes. Despite challenges and the need for a bit of luck, diversification was a strategic move, highlighting the importance of adaptability and foresight in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape.