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How Talent Stacking Can Future-Proof Your Career

In today’s fast-paced and dynamic environment, jobs can go obsolete quickly. Rather than clinging to one skill and hoping it’ll stick, a better approach to future-proof your career is talent stacking.

By combining certain skills you gain a unique edge, a diverse skill set that is less likely had by anybody else, and a broader range of job prospects and roles you can fill.

Today’s wealth of online learning options makes this process even easier, so how should you go about creating your personal talent stack?

What is a Talent Stack?

Talent stacking means becoming proficient in a few different skills, rather than an expert in any particular field. It’s somewhere in between being a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-one.

While similar to becoming a polymath, an essential element is that the skills complement each other. It isn’t about learning whatever piques your interest, but leveraging related fields into a cohesive whole.

While people have been mixing skills for centuries, the notion of talent stacking was popularised by Scott Adams, the creator of the Gilbert cartoons.

He writes:

“…I’m not much of an artist, not much of a business expert, and my writing skills are mostly self-taught. I’m funny, but not the funniest person in my town. The reason I can succeed without any world-class skills is that my talent stack is so well-designed.” 

Building a Stack

Because the skills you combine are complementary and not disjointed, your talent stack becomes more than the simple addition of new skills.

An article on Glassdoor, which refers to it as skill stacking, likens the idea to playing a video game in which your character gains new abilities.

Imagine this character can initially jump and crouch. That’s a good start, but still rather limited. But then you add a third ability: running.

Now you don’t just have the 3 distinct skills of jumping, crouching and running—you can combine running with jumping to go soar even further, or combine running and crouching to go into a slide.

Your fusion of skills becomes more than the sum of its parts. Scott Adams combines art, business, and writing. You might mix math and music, psychology and design, or programming and biology.

Before you make any firm decisions, you should have an idea of how they will work together, of what they’ll allow you to do that any of them alone couldn’t.

Why Stack?

It might be an understatement to say that the job market is in a state of flux. Jobs exist today that didn’t a mere 10 years ago, while jobs that had been a staple for years prior have gone extinct.

The growing capabilities of artificial intelligence and machines are a large part of the increased pace of change. This shows no sign of slowing down, so it is imperative to find skills that can’t be easily automated.

Another push towards talent stacking is competition from other people. It is easier than ever to learn online, and this opens up much of the world to an affordable, high-quality education.

As amazing as that is, it also means more people gaining the same individual skills, and more difficulty in standing out from the crowd.

Talent stacking can help avoid both problems—at this point, artificial intelligence is narrow and unable to use what it’s learned in one area in any other; and combining skills makes it less likely others are studying the same set as you.

Hybrid Jobs

Certain employers are already on the lookout for unique talent stacks—or what they call hybrid jobs.

A 2019 Burning Glass report highlights several important statistics about hybrid jobs:

  • They’re growing at twice the rate of the rest of the job market
  • They pay between 20-40% more
  • Only 12% of hybrid jobs are at risk of being automated, compared to 42% of jobs in general

Some of the most in-demand skills they found were data and analytics, business management, and design. They also highlight how many engineering jobs now expect business and leadership skills, and IT jobs are looking for design skills.

It’s not only you who will benefit from talent stacking, businesses will too. Companies and employers are eager to get people with diverse skill sets that can bring unique perspectives and solve problems in creative ways.

Modular Learning

Online education offers a variety of means of gaining skills that don’t take the years of investment a typical university requires.

Now you can pick and choose individual courses at your fancy, and build the education you want or need. You have complete control over the process.

You can find almost any topic at a price that suits you; find the time commitment that fits and learn when and where you want; you can earn certificates or accreditation; get feedback and tutoring; and join groups around each subject.

After you’ve determined which skills you want in your talent stack, you can start layering them up. It’s an approach that goes both wide and deep, it gives you range and proficiency.

Anant Agarwal, the CEO of EdX, writes “students will essentially be able to synthesize their own education with the customized skill set they need to advance their careers, making for a truly unique job candidate.”

Staying Relevant

As the world changes, we need to adapt. Planning four or more years ahead is risky when the job market is continuously shifting. By building a talent stack and engaging in modular learning you gain the upper hand.

Talent stacking ensures you’ll have a skill-set all your own—it means less competition, more creativity, and a better fit for hybrid jobs.

Adding modular learning takes you even further. The quick, bite-sized, and accessible nature of online learning makes it easy to pivot and update your skills over time.

It’s never been easier to become a polymath and lifelong learner. Taking this path ensures you won’t be at the mercy of change, but taking advantage of it.

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