Eight trends make Mastery essential in Digital Age

“Average is officially over.” Thomas Friedman

We have entered a new era—the Age of Mastery. Eight trends have converged to redefine the nature of work, and the workforce—creating an imperative for the individual to become extraordinary at what they do. This article focuses on those trends and, hopefully, provides useful prompts to think about your life.

Before I jump in, you should know, I am an unabashed optimist—I believe people everywhere have the opportunity to become extraordinary at what they love to do. Everyone can design their lives to live like a Master and experience real success and fulfillment. In the Age of Mastery, we have access to everything we need to make that happen. Exactly how this happens is covered in my book, Hack Mastery, and is the focus of the Way to Mastery workshops I do for companies and individuals.

As you read about each trend, I encourage you to ask yourself: What does this trend mean for me? How will it impact my job or my industry? What steps can I take now? What am I willing to devote myself to? What is my heart telling me? What is stopping me from doing what I need to do?

#1 We are more connected than ever

Today, we are hyper-connected. We can reach almost anyone regardless of location, education, or status. Connectivity is one of the major gifts of the digital age. We have unrestricted access to ecosystems specific to our interests and passions.

Caveat: What you bring to the conversation matters.

#2 Technology gives and technology takes

Technology is giving skilled workers more tools with which to express their creativity, enabling them to collaborate quickly with other like-minded hyper-specialists. Technology is liberating the genius of new-age artisans, empowering people from all walks of life to re-imagine their future.

Caveat: Technology is replacing low-skilled, low-value jobs.


#3 The nature of work is changing

Work is being broken down into smaller and smaller increments and performed by individuals with honed skills and abilities.  Two new roles are emerging:

  • Hyper-specialists: These are Masters of a Niche—experts with specific competencies, extreme skill, and deep knowledge. [Harvard Business Review]

  • Versatilists: These are Masters of a Domain--experts with broad insight and in-depth process- and industry-oriented competencies. They work in unison with specialists, often building alliances, integrating ideas, and facilitating outcomes. [Gartner]

Caveat: Opportunities for generalists—those who have a broad scope and relatively shallow skills—is diminishing. 

#4 temporary Work is permanent work

Today, temporary labor makes up over thirty percent of the workforce, according to many sources. Businesses and organizations of all types are seeking workers with the right mix of skill, knowledge, and emotional intelligence, when and where they need the talent and expertise. Similarly, people are seeking opportunities to use their best skills and knowledge, when and where they want.

According to Staffing Industry Analysts, $3.5 trillion was spent globally in 2015 on workers employed by staffing agencies, independent contractors, temporary workers sourced directly by client companies, statement-of-work consultants, and human “cloud workers.” These categories are collectively known as the Gig Economy.

Caveat: To thrive in the Gig Economy requires entrepreneurial prowess resilience and personal accountability.

#5 A permanent job is temporary

Even “permanent employment” is increasingly short-term. Millennials make up thirty percent of the workforce and change jobs on average every 2.6 years. Baby boomers long ago abandoned the idea of lifetime employment and change jobs about every five years.

Caveat: Employment security is a thing of the past.

#6 Freelance entrepreneurs are emerging.

Online marketplaces and corporate platforms for freelance workers are furthering the march towards worker self-sufficiency. These platforms are designed specifically to match buyers and sellers of services via the Internet. Now, when we are extraordinary at what we love to do, regardless of how obscure or narrow our niche, we can find people and companies that want our services. For many, freelancing is part-time work, however, for a growing number of individuals, freelancing is their sole source of income. One study estimates that one in three US workers were freelancing. [Freelancer Union and Upwork, 2016]

Caveat: The freelance marketplace favors people that are highly skilled, work fast, extremely flexible, effective transactional communicators, and inexpensive.

#7 Globalization is raising the bar

Initially, globalization and outsourcing only affected blue-collar workers when manufacturing moved to countries with low-cost labor, such as China and Mexico. Now, few segments of the workforce are immune to the consequences of outsourcing. Technology has enabled knowledge work to be done remotely, creating more competition for the best jobs. Employers are seeking the best talent—regardless of where that genius lives.

Caveat: This means that whatever you do, you have to create real value. You have to be extraordinary.

#8 People with new skills are needed now

The United States does not have enough people with the right skills to fill all of its job openings, even though the jobless rate is somewhere between 4.7% and 9.7%.  Still, organizational leaders rank talent acquisition and retention as top priorities, and state that lack of skilled labor is the greatest obstacle to growth.

Learning options are abundant, but it is up to each of us to build a curriculum that works. Established universities and colleges are evolving, but struggle to bring value to the workforce—more than twenty percent of new college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Corporations spent $356 billion on workforce training in 2015—but studies show that such training is frequently ineffective. Skills-focused schools and boot camps, like General Assembly and Code Academy, are making a small dent but with limited scope. Online education is exploding around us; it’s cheap or free, but unproven.

Caveat: It’s fun to dream about advanced and continuing education, but it’s not easy. Ultimately, it is up to you to develop the skills and knowledge you need to thrive. Learning is your real job in the Age of Mastery.


what does it all mean To You?

Even as the challenges mount, opportunities are growing for all of us. Never before have individuals been better able to pursue their dreams. Almost everyone has access to the resources they need to thrive—education, people, money, opportunity, tools, and support. All we have to do is to get on the virtuous cycle of learning and growth, and nurture ourselves to stay on the path as we pass through the stages—Beginner to Novice to Competent to Expert to Master. As we grow, we will come to know true success and fulfillment.

As Pulitzer-prize winning author Thomas Friedman says, “Average is officially over.”  I say, “Hurray to that…let’s be exceptional!”


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