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Creating Hot Streaks in your career

Abhijit Bhaduri | Updated on August 16, 2018 Published on August 15, 2018

“I feel like these streaks just happen,” tennis ace Roger Federer said after winning 32 sets in a row at Wimbledon this year. “You can’t plan for them... Of course, if you give yourself maximum chances, you have super focus... then these streaks are kind of possible.”   -  REUTERS

What does it take to experience more than one winning stretch?

The entire casino has gathered around one table. All eyes are on one person, who is winning. Onlookers egg him on to play one more round. Will he bet everything he has won so far and play one last hand? The gambler is arguing silently with himself. He is a on a “hot streak” — a period during which an individual's performance is substantially better than his/her typical showing. The casino owner sends in a “cooler” — the person whose luck is so bad that his mere presence ends someone’s “hot streak”. This is a scene from the movie, The Cooler .

Sportsmen, financial traders, gamblers are all known to have “hot streaks”. During this streak, they outdo themselves. It happens in creative careers too. In a study published in Nature, researchers studied the careers of 30,000 artists, film directors and scientists. They found that 90 per cent people experience this phase when their work creates more impact than ever before. Einstein experienced it in 1905 when he wrote the e=mc2 equation.


It is likely that careers in music and entrepreneurship also experience such phases, say the researchers. In the age of automation, creativity and curiosity will be foundations on which most careers will be built. People do not produce more during this period. What they produce is of a significantly higher quality like Vincent Van Gogh in 1888 when he painted “Starry Night Over the Rhone”.

So what is the trigger for a “hot streak”?

Skill pyramid

If you imagine your skills in the form of a pyramid, you will find there are some skills that have been commoditised. For instance, sending email No employer will pay you simply because you have this skill. Not having the commodity skills, however, makes a person unemployable. In the middle of what I refer to as a Skill Pyramid lie the marketable skills — skills someone is ready to pay for. When universities hand over a degree, they look to certify the marketability of the graduating student. This has been the basis of employability. Today, a degree is no longer a guarantee of employability. Rapid changes in the world are shortening the shelf life of education.

Demonstrating the ability to upskill and be an expert is far more valuable to an employer. This is the age of niche skills — the skills that people have to learn by themselves or from other experts. These make up the top of the pyramid and are rare to find. They command a salary premium. Niche skills are rare because they often cut across multiple disciplines. This is also why educational institutions take time to re-imagine what they teach students.

Scarcity and abundance

Management consulting firm Korn Ferry recently forecast an upcoming “salary surge” that could disrupt business models. While automation will take over many routine jobs, a combination of factors like greying populations in many countries and skill shortages arising out of restrictions on immigration could lead to a global shortage of 85 million workers by 2030. The wage premium paid to skills that are in short supply could mean an additional $2.5 trillion just to secure talent.

Demand for Artificial Intelligence (AI)-related jobs, like machine learning engineer and computer vision engineer, has more than doubled in the last three years, according to job site Indeed.com. The world does not have enough of them.

A recruiter working for BMW’s autonomous car project in China spoke to me about the challenge of bringing in these experts from Silicon Valley. They put forth their demands and create the terms of employment.

Multi-disciplinary, boundaryless

What is common to the jobs that are in high demand and safe? They require a combination of deep domain expertise, ability to build and collaborate with other experts and solve problems that cut across sectors. People who can develop the systems that make Artificial Intelligence work already command a premium.

Take a person like “Mind Reader” Nakul Shenoy. He learnt magic for 10 years, formally studies communication, taught himself psychology and user experience (UX for short) design and juggles UX design and usability interviews with a career as a mind reader. He may be a good example of what future careers will demand.

HSBC recently released a list of six jobs that will be needed in future (which do not exist today). They all demand a mosaic of skills. A “Mixed Reality Experience Designer” will need skills in aesthetic design, branding, user experience and 3D mechanics.

An Algorithm Mechanic will need “skills in risk management, service design, and financial literacy, rather than technological proficiency.” Problems are becoming too complex to be solved by one individual or one discipline.

People who have the ability to reinvent the contours of their own discipline will keep building deep expertise but keep bringing in ideas from other disciplines. Marketable skills are usually single discipline-based. Drawing from multiple disciplines like a polymath will be the foundation for 85 per cent of the jobs Gen Z will do — they just have not been invented as yet. They will all be multidisciplinary and boundaryless in their application.

The science of careers in a world disrupted by the digital tsunami is still emerging. With enough data points, may be machines will find a way to predict what triggers a “hot streak” for the individual, just as new jobs and niche skills evolve.

The role of HR will be about creating the culture that enables people to experience hot streaks. Maybe a combination of machines and humans will help individuals discover a new mosaic of skills that will help them experience more than one hot streak in their career. One thing is clear — the future belongs to experts who straddle many worlds.


Tips to trigger a ‘Hot Streak’


1. Prepare the frontline and leaders: HSBC runs a weekly programme, ‘Digital Thursdays,’ for frontline employees. For senior managers it has a Digital Leadership Program to give them a greater understanding of digital trends and how these relate to customer needs. Technology impacts change, choice, speed, power and shape. Re-imagining the business along these five dimensions cannot be done through annual retreats any more.

2. Don’t be embarrassed to say “I don’t know”: Leaders often view attending workshops as a signal to the world that they have learning gaps. In many organisations, senior leaders sit apart from other participants and keep responding to emails on their phones to signal that their presence is only to encourage the participants — the leader does not need to learn. This is the mindset of a leader from the analog world. In the digital world, being ashamed to admit “I don’t know” is a sign of obsolescence.

3. Practitioners, academics and consultants: Create opportunities for practitioners to engage with academic institutions. One such panel of advisors for an IIM suggested that labour law courses must include talks by practitioners about nuances of labour laws of other countries to supplement Indian labour laws that are already being taught. Bringing in consultants who work across sectors creates opportunities for the entire leadership team to get updated.



Abhijit Bhaduri is a leadership development expert who advises some of the largest corporations in the world

Published on August 15, 2018
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