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№ 21

A kaleidoscope of competences

Reading time 7 minutes read
In an econmy where the complexity of relevant problems goes far beyond the knowledge of single competences and disciplines, it's time to reimagine how organisational learning needs to look like. Goodbye linear career paths and fixed team structures, hello to fluid learning based on individual passions.

I’m more than my job title. I'm a CEO - yes - but I’m much more than that. I’m a strategist, business designer, facilitator, trend researcher, leader, business designer, strategic designer, researcher (both qual and quant), innovation manager and trend researcher. I have very basic knowledge in programming, I love art, I’m passionate for sport science and understanding the mechanics of movement. I have been working as professor and teacher, at an ice cream parlor, in a surf shop and I know how to roast coffee. No matter if professional training or hobby activities: in all of the above, I have spent at least 6 months to 1 year in practicing it. None of the job titles I had reflected all these capabilities and skills. But all of these things have been influencing the way I work and do strategy.

So yes, I had a clear and thematic focus: Strategy & Transformation. But my way of working has been influenced by a manifold of different perspectives, tool boxes and people.

Where people see an ambitious and straight forward CV, what I have experienced was a journey of discovery. Driven by a variety of interests, passions, self-reflection of my own strengths and also - let me use the VOLDEMORT OF CAREER WORDS - pure randomness and coincidences. What I have become good at doing was just as much influenced by external circumstances, by the people I met along the way, by lucky incidents that let me glimpse into a certain field and let me fall in love with it, as it was driven by my choices, decisions and inherent strengths.
As an example, working very closely with designers in one of my jobs has changed the way I do strategy tremendously. It was not only about what I did in that time, but how I was taught to do it, the way I was challenged, humbled in my opinions, questioned in my outcomes. I learned that strategy is less about sounding smart, but more about creating understanding. My slides will never look the way they did before (hopefully ;)). I adopted a completely different way of thinking. So yes, my theme has always stayed the same: Strategy & Transformation. But my way of working has been influenced by a manifold of different perspectives, tool boxes and people. I created depth and expertise by looking beyond the fields of the domain and my strategy work has profited immensely.

Linear career paths and categories are so 2018

The truth however: It was a privilege and mainly an exception because our working system is not built for this kind of exploration and discovery. Instead, it asks you to decide what box you belong to. It asks you to be part of one team and one team only. Usually the outlines of these boxes are the domains, the hard skills, the disciplines. We make up categories: You’re a UX person, you’re a strategist, they are an organisational designer. This is oftentimes very helpful, because it gives a certain idea of a person and their competencies. However it also creates boundaries what we might expect from that person. Limitations that might also limit that person’s growth when it comes to development, interests and passions. I think this is not only very stupid, but it is also very dangerous when we look at the complexity of current challenges.In a world where in order to well equipped for the futures, we have to have competences that we don’t even know that exist yet, it’s not helpful to rely on categories that made sense in the past. In the top 10 job skills for 2025, being able to learn is on number 2.

We need a system for growth that puts learning in focus

I’m convinced we need a new system that leaves more space and possibilities for people to grow. Grow beyond the expectations of their current role, discipline or background. Grow to cross interdisciplinary boundaries. We need to let go of the idea that knowledge can be updated by sending people to an expensive training once a year and allow learning to happen in the real working life. We also need to lose our idea that interdisciplinary work happens automatically as soon as you put three people with different backgrounds in one room and hope for the best. There won't be any fruitful collaboration unless people are used and trained in translation, exchange of perspectives and having an interest in extending their knowledge.

A system that makes space for exactly this type of collaboration, that centers around continuous learning and building excellence, that's what I wanted to build. A system that allows people to continuously grow and keep learning, while also making the most of their current competencies and strengths. In order to do that, we tore down any fixed team structure that we had in place and created a fluid system for learning: our skill hubs.
Skill Hubs are communities around a certain field of knowledge that is built and shaped by people who are experts as well as those who want to become them. As a group, they have allocated time to invest in expanding their collective knowledge in that field. In the hubs, we hold that space: Working together, sharing experiences, standardizing methods and tools, bringing new trends to the table, developing a critical perspective. This system is separate from the project organization of our company and thus, connects not only different people but also impulses from different projects. We thought about which competencies does our organisation need now and even more - in the future. We found motivated people who are passionate about driving that competence, who are passionate about reframing, developing, questioning, improving practices, methodologies, approaches who coordinate and facilitate these hubs.

Three principles outline the work in the hubs:

  1. These hubs are open for anyone: no matter if you’re a strategist, a designer or the people & culture manager. (Why would we limit curiosity and the willingness to learn to some?)

  2. Also we invited people to choose more than one hub to participate in. Because who is really able to be limited to one skill and competence only? We want people who are able to translate between domains, who cross-pollinate, who connect the dots.

  3. At any point, you can change the hubs you’re active in.

Why? Excellence happens when people not only do the things they are really good at, but also the things they are passionate about. As we all know from own experience this can change. For some more than for others. Rigid career paths do not really cater to this evolution of one’s self. They assume your competences stay the same, but just get better with experience. But no-one learns in linear paths. We as an organization profit from very skilled people, continuous improvement in our core competencies, staying up to date with changing needs and hybrid thinkers who are able to translate between disciplines.

Excellence happens when people not only do the things they are really good at, but the things they are also passionate about.

The funny thing: whenever I share this setup with other people from the industry, the first question I get is: ok, but how do you avoid that you only have people in one hub that have no experience and knowledge? I find it highly interesting because it’s a question that is based on fear and the willingness to control. It’s about avoiding mistakes before they can arise. It’s a question of (paternal) protection. It’s a parenting move. Funny thing: nothing like that happened. If you let people be responsible for themselves, they usually develop a really good perspective on what their competences are and where they have room to grow. With every person being part of a hub we can be sure, that there is tons of motivation because it requires a certain time invest and engagement. And as every experienced business person can tell, motivation is the biggest catalysator for quick learning. So, no it hasn’t been a problem and I’m pretty certain it won’t be.
We have people who just focus on one competence because they wanna realize mastery and deep expertise. We have people who contribute in two hubs as complementary fields of knowledge, we have people who have such a widespread interest or just haven’t found their ideal profile, who engage in three. The most common choice is having one hub for your current strengths and expertise and one complementary hub to extend your knowledge cross-functionally and integrate ideas and concepts from other practices. We create hybrid thinkers and practitioners.

Not some ego trip

But there is one very important thing. It’s not a choice made on egotistical terms. There is the side of being responsible for the success of the whole, for the organisation; not only yourself. Your contribution and learning also needs to be valuable for the collective interest of the company. It’s not some shortcut for some ego trip. One way of getting feedback if your competencies are valuable is your work in different project set ups and the way your unique profiles can contribute to a project’s success. Making sure there is a good balance between what you wish to learn and what the organisation needs is part of everyone’s individual job.
As with any other element in our system, autonomy and freedom of choice is directly linked to responsibility. There is not one without the other.

Things unfolding

So far, it's going really well. Lots of things happened that I could have never predicted or designed - much better things. We have a hub whose sole purpose is to continuously disrupt our own practice and make sure we deliver beyond expectations. We have super interesting profiles: researchers gone org designers; business designers who expand their consultancy by sustainability practice; project managers who learn branding. We found that we need a hub that helps people find their consulting style and personality and maximize their impact with clients. All of these things make overall strategy work better, more profound and more colorful. But don’t be fooled. It’s not always easy. It’s a struggle, it requires daily effort in giving guidance and navigation because people are not used to work in freedom and it can be overwhelming; it requires a lot of self-reflection of every single person. It requires taking on more responsibility than before. It takes invest in time and money for the organisation. Documentation is tricky, because we act evolve faster than we document. And tieing it to the staffing process has been a challenge, but one that made allocation to projects so much better in total. Making all these experiences makes one thing very clear: we are so used to working in linear systems that we need to actively look beyond. Embracing the kaleidoscope of skills is a journey of discovery and surprise.

Illustration take away box

Key Takeaways

  • Obviously, this model is focussed on interdisciplinary work within strategy consulting. It might not cater to any job and field of knowledge. However, I'm a big advocate of rescuing strategy practice from its ivory tower of elitism. There's just not this one studies or one university that is needed to practice. Embracing different world views and background has always elevated the work I've seen.
  • There is a big diffference between enriching your expertise with different impulses and perspectives vs. not having a focus and ending up having no expertise or only superficial knowledge at all. So the questions to answer are: What's your leading interest and field of expertise? What do you want to be known for? And then how can that field of expertise benefit from diverse aspects from other fields? How can you integrate those aspects into your domain and routines?
  • If you're not sure what your passion is or might evolve to: I enjoyed the read and hands-on guidance of the book: Love + Work by Marcus Buckingham: