Mark Cuban recently told Bloomberg TV he believes that the top job skill in 10 years won’t be coding or any current in-demand skill. It also won’t be a skill we’ve yet to discover we need either. All those skills can or will be displaced by efficiencies and automation. The one skill Cuban believes will be most in demand is actually one that has defined our past: “creative thinking.” Which is why he thinks the demand for liberal arts majors will exceed that of programming majors and “maybe even engineering,” in favor of people who can embrace different perspectives and look at data from all sides.
I agree. You cannot build and sustain momentum in an organization without being able to see the next opportunities of greatest potential, sow them, grow them, share them, and then re-sow them into more abundant opportunities. That can never happen successfully without anticipating the unexpected, which requires that willingness to see all things with circular vision. That’s how you identify new opportunities and identify competitive threats that could come from companies in and beyond your marketplace – and understand how all this connects to the people who work for you as well as your customers.
That is what Mark Cuban is talking about: People. Coders don’t have value: They have a valuable skill. People have value – yet we devalue them by constantly stripping them of their identities in the service of those skills we deem important or to fit an often-outdated template that fails to value individuality and thus creative thinking.
How do we do this? We put people into boxes that fit what organizations want without balancing the need to have the individual define the business.
Consider this example of a typical template or nine box chart – a still-popular talent evaluation and classification matrix which “contains employees categorized by two variables (their performance ranking and their potential for advancement).” Tools like these can be useful to a point but their power is often in what they stop leaders from doing: seeing their employees as and thus allowing them to be individuals. In fact, I find most organizations I work with use matrixes like these to avoid focusing on people. The boxes or templates become king, which leads to their becoming less intimate with their people and getting to know them. They’d rather be compliant about fitting those people into boxes.
Simply put, these organizations wrongly believe they can find where an individual best fits by putting them in a box. But no box or system of any kind can ever measure individuals without stripping them of their identities. Stripped of their identities, their employees suppress their authentic selves and work to better fit those boxes. As a result, those employees struggle to find where and how they fit, maximize their potential, and thus generate momentum for the organization. The result is a bunch of people trying to comply and do what they are told. Companies may think they are getting intellectual capital around their employees and consumers, but all they know is how they comply, not how they think and can define the business as individuals.
Because they have no individuality in a box.
So why do so many organizations believe that people can be reduced to boxes when it comes to talent and identity? First and foremost it is easy – manufactured assimilation always is. As Dr. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “I was approached recently by a couple of junior human-resources managers who asked me if I thought it would help performance if their company held supervisors accountable for the way they managed their own subordinates, including how carefully they assessed their direct reports. I certainly did, I said. Then they told me that their executives had recently turned down that idea. Why? The executives said they didn’t want to have to do all that for their own direct reports. It is easier to play along with the A-player model and assume that job performance is hard-wired. It has the drawback of being wrong and bad for business.”
To be clear, measuring things like “creative thinking” is hard – even impossible – using existing templates and metrics, which is why people like to dismiss people like Cuban. Organizations like things they can measure and compile easily. But in today’s workplaces and marketplaces, you can no longer solve with data alone. The truth is we never could. That thinking also allowed us to ignore uncomfortable truths influenced by the abundant differences in the workplace that have influenced the today’s marketplace – uncomfortable truths that we lack the creative thinking and diversity of thought to solve for.
Indeed Cuban is not alone in his assessment of that what some people might call “soft skills” will soon be the most in demand.
For example, “Employees Are Going Soft” screamed a World Economic Forum headline. The article covered a report from The Hamilton Project, an economic think-tank, that “cognitive skills in topics like maths and English have long been used as to measure the calibre of a job candidate. But a report by says that non-cognitive skills are also integral to educational performance and success at work – and are becoming increasingly so. Non-cognitive skills are your ‘soft skills’: things like how well you can communicate, how well you work with others, how well you lead a team and how self-motivated you are.”
But how can we expect anyone to be self-motivated if they don’t know themselves?
If leaders want to use templates and boxes to measure employees, they must at the very least allow individuals to have more influence in shaping them to define the strategy and growth of all people and the organization as a whole. Because, as I have said countless times before, without that strategy change is merely substitution not evolution.
A strategic approach like that allows companies to evolve from mere connection with their people to alignment. Alignment implies reciprocity and encourages employees to look beyond boxes, templates, and even their job descriptions. That’s how we evolve from boxes.
Please note I am not saying systems are bad, just templates of old, like boxes. You can’t run a business without some degree of accountability or the chaos will eventually catch up to you. That’s what’s happening in the discrimination lawsuits Uber is facing.
You can’t have leadership, let alone a successful business, without strong management of and thus accountability to processes and systems. But as a result, management is necessarily restrictive, because those processes and systems tell you what and how to do things. Management is important for saving time and completing the most mundane tasks, as well as for knowing what steps to take when you need to put out fires. Managing people, however, is not the same and cannot be done by template, accountability to job descriptions, and letting the business define the individual.
Relationships must be mutually rewarding and beneficial – no box allows that. They are about giving not getting and creating that mutual success. They are about sharing and taking business to the next level so you can grow and evolve. We must value individuality, allowing that individuality to prosper, multiply, and add value to others. That is the essential skill for all our futures.
It’s time for leaders to stop stripping their employees of their identities.