Leonardo Da Vinci was, according to Wikipedia, a “polymath”, well verse in many subjects. He was a sculptor, a mathematician, an architect, a painter, an engineer, a botanist (yes, a botanist!) and more. Similarly, if you look at famous Islamic thinkers like Avicenna, the same word will come to mind, “polymath”. Avicenna wrote about multiple disciplines including medicine, philosophy, astronomy, geography, psychology, mathematics and so on.
It seems that in today’s global market place, specialization is key to differentiate yourself and gain some form of competitive advantage. People have degrees in engineering, psychology, marketing, or English literature. To complicate things further, once you are on a certain “track” or “path” within your career, it’s usually very hard to jump to a different track. If you are a web developer, you will not search for jobs in psychology obviously, and chances are, most of your readings will focus on programming languages and perhaps on leading teams.
Yet, with the explosion of the Internet and self-publishing platforms, and the choices and empowerment that have come with that, we are witnessing a shift in consumer mindset. The consumer is well educated and is bombarded with pitches and marketing messages all the time. The consumer is now trained to filter out or “shut off” generic marketing messages, and, due to the plethora of distractions his or her life is subject to (Twitter, always-on emails, instant messaging, mobile calls, etc), he or she is looking for simplification. Gerry McGovern, the author of “The Stranger’s Long Neck”, is a vocal proponent of simplification of the most common and easy-to-automate tasks.
Understanding the consumer cannot be limited to the marketing or sales functions of an organization. Now, more so than ever, understanding the consumer’s mindset is a skill which needs to be developed in all functions of an organization. For that to happen, it is pivotal to develop skills such as the ability to write clear and succinct content (Kathy Klotz-Guest has a brilliant blog post on this subject in her blog Keeping It Human(TM)), understanding concepts of buying psychology and others. Now, more so than ever, we need to educate ourselves in multiple disciplines, IT managers need to understand concepts of marketing, publishing, or branding, and marketing managers need to understand concepts of IT, analytics or even, Big Data.
Now, more so than ever, we need to think like…. the polymaths of the past.