A very good friend of mine, Vaughan Merlyn, operates a blog called IT Organization Circa 2017. If you’ve not had the chance to visit it, I suggest you take the time to do so. Vaughan is a very insightful and clear thinker. In addition, he is a rock musician extraordinaire. In one of his blog entries, Vaughan talks about his experience at a Rock n Roll fantasy camp, and his observation that so many of these accomplished artists have another side of them that might not be as well recognized but still is very accomplished never the less. John Entwistle of The Who (who‚s cartoons have been widely acclaimed) is one of several examples mentioned in that post. Vaughan uses this observation to ask about the balance of skills necessary for professional success in the coming years.
While far from an accomplished musician, I have several parallel careers as well. One of those is my 25+ year career as a technologist, consultant, IT leader. Another parallel profile of mine is as a visual artist (painting and sculpture). Those that know me first as either one or the other are surprised to learn of the other side of myself, and often remark at how distinctly different these to pursuits are. I would counter though, that they‚Äôre not different at all but rather very much the same. Reflecting on my own thought process, I realize that whether approaching an engineering assignment or creating a painting, my process of thinking and perceiving is exactly the same. It‚Äôs a process of conceptualizing, recognizing, processing, and progressively bringing into focus. I will bet that this is the case for more and more people you know and come to recognize in this way.
I think that the ability to blend analytical and abstract thinking is something very necessary for successful management of business today. Further, I think that this ability is becoming more common rather than less so, contrary to intuitive reasoning. If I can burden you with a bit of rumination, let me share with you why I think this is so.
Since the 1800‚Äôs there‚Äôs been talk about the distinct strengths of the right hemisphere and left hemisphere of the human brain (referred to in pop-psychology as Lateralization). We‚Äôve come to understand that (in general) the left side of the brain is very adept at analytical thought and the right side is very adept at abstract thought. That is, a person in the engineering, scientific, or financial fields was stereotypically recognized as being very left-brained, while a musician, artist, or someone in a very creative role was said to be very right-brained. Those that showed a ‚Äúbalance‚Äù in their thinking, those able to dance on both sides of the fence, those that draw from both sides of the brain were often called your ‚ÄúRenaissance Persons‚Äù (‚Äòlike that PC term?). This may indeed have been the trend in the population at large, but I will posit for your consideration that this is changing very fast. Call it an evolutionary step, an adaptation, or a defensive coping mechanism, human beings are changing in fundamental ways that impact the way we work, play, create, and socialize.
You’re no doubt familiar with works such as The Age of Speed‚ and other writings that shine a light on the exponential pace of the times we occupy. Time is indeed accelerating. We are both pushing it as well as being swept by it. With a little reflection, I think one can recognize distinct changes within ourselves that support my claim of change within us.
I can remember in 1981 (not at all long ago, and The Who were already well along in their career) when I was asked to evaluate a group of PC‚Äôs from a variety of manufacturers for use in the company I then worked for. These were the first commercially available PCs, and the beginning of that emerging product market. I can recall thinking to myself, ‚Äúthere is no use for one of these either on my desk or in my home.‚Äù Yes, this was one of thousands of my predictions to fall off target but just think of where we are today in this regard. It‚Äôs barely imaginable to consider writing a document, doing analysis, or most anything else without a computer of some type. What day goes by without email?… and it‚Äôs easily argued that we are now in the twilight of the usefulness of email as more immediate forms of communication proliferate (just ask any 9-16 year old). Our circles of dialogue 25 years ago consisted of our immediate group of co-workers. That is, the group directly in physical proximity to us in our place of work, and who were basically thinking the same thoughts as we were at the time. Today, our thoughts are influenced by an enormous and simultaneous multiplicity of media channels. Our circle of dialogue is far beyond our group of co-workers. It‚Äôs common now to have an intimate dialogue with numerous people one is ‚Äúconnected with‚Äù even though you may never have laid eyes on them in physical proximity. The fact is (my postulation) that our thought processes are more complex both in terms of the degree of connectedness and the immediacy of those connections than ever before. This is somewhat enabled by communication and media technologies available to us, but also driven by communication and media technologies created out of necessity because of the demands of our brains. It is my opinion that this change and degree of connectedness,‚Ä¶ the degree of co-creation,‚Ä¶ the degree of co-thinking is not only accelerating but is becoming a part of our collective DNA, if you will. For evidence, have a look at the way our children navigate work, play, art, athletics, and social life. For them, it‚Äôs all connected and naturally navigated in a way other generations can barely understand.
At the risk of losing the train of thought (because while our brains are certainly evolving, mine is still very very small) I‚Äôll bring this around to your point about necessary talents for professional success. All dimensions of Business thought (those streams of consciousness that contribute to the collective forward progress of the firm) are certainly merging. This has been given more buzzword definitions than one can shake a stick at. Successful businesses adapt to this simultaneous processing of hard and soft information and demonstrate speed and agility in the delivery of product to meet the (also increasingly dynamic) demand. The ‚Äúconsummate professional‚Äù will need the same morphing of synaptic connections to creatively and skillfully navigate the business climate where all dimensions must be simultaneously solved. This requires, to use trite terms, a well rounded and multi-dimensional individual.
In other words, we all will have to use our left, right, and middle brains to be successful through the years ahead. Luckily, the emerging generation is good at it (and thankfully they still listen to The Who).