Monday, October 14, 2013

Education and Experience - Specialization and Diversification: Matrix of Multiple Possibilities

Many young people as they embark upon their educational and experience journeys are often intrigued and stymied in their analysis of what kind of focus and/or versatility in their journeys would provide them with appropriate career growth and satisfaction. There cannot be easy answers to this query as the variables that influence one’s career development go beyond education and experience. That said, education and experience are two of the most profound variables that influence a person and his or her contributions to any system. Education and experience not only add knowledge on a continuous basis but also influence personality development. Any template that helps the aspirants to understand themselves and their career ecosystem better should be a welcome addition to management and organizational literature.  

The template cannot be about which educational course or industry domain is better or worse from a career point of view. The template has to be more generic and independent of such choices. The oriental model advocates specialization in education and experience; it almost frowns upon darting across streams. The western model is open to, and even welcomes, versatility in education and experience. Alternatives are possible when a matrix approach is taken. The author, in one of the earlier blog posts, brought out how a 2X2 matrix provides insightful conceptual and analytical clarity to understand any issue. Interested readers may refer to the blog post, “The 2 Dimensional Matrix: A Universal Analytical Tool”, Strategy Musings, July 3, 2011 (
Four categories
Fundamentally, there are four options for an individual with respect to education or experience. He or she can pursue specialization or diversification in the course of education. He can also pursue specialization or diversification in industry of employment. Individuals can, therefore, be slotted in one of the four quadrants of the education-experience matrix. These are (i) Education Specialization – Experience Specialization (ESES), (ii) Education Diversification – Experience Specialization (EDES), (iii) Education Specialization – Experience Diversification (ESED), and (iv) Education Diversification – Experience Diversification (EDED). For ease of reference and even for representative reflection, these four categories of individuals may be referred to as Mountaineers, Miners, Seafarers, and Explorers, respectively. The nomenclature is supported logically as further discussed below.
The individual who specializes in a particular education stream and sticks to a particular related industry domain is very much like a mountaineer who masters mountaineering and is clear about the singular mountain he needs to climb; hence ESES individuals are best named as Mountaineers. The individual who diversifies into many educational streams but sticks to a particular industry domain is quite like a miner who masters multiple mining technologies to get that best metal or mineral; hence EDES individuals are appropriately named as Miners. The individual who specializes in one educational stream but diversifies into many industry domains is like a sailor who trusts his ship to navigate through the varied seas; hence ESED individuals are logically named as Seafarers. The individual who diversifies into many educational streams and also diversifies into multiple industry settings is like an explorer who constantly learns and embraces the new to achieve the prize catch; hence EDED individuals are reasoned to be Explorers.
The Successful Mountaineer (ESES Executive)
To be a successful Mountaineer in the professional or corporate world, one must have a strong aptitude for the subject or domain and a commitment to contribute through a synergy of academic knowledge and practical experience in the industry. A good example would be a basic degree in mechanical engineering, followed by a post graduate degree in automobile engineering or other specializations such as thermal engineering, metal forming, robotics or mechatronics and a career in an automobile firm. Typically, he or she would commence the career in one of the three core areas of product development, manufacture or marketing and move on to become a functional head and eventually a business head. The linkage of education and experience with the subject and domain aptitude is the hallmark of the successful Mountaineer.
To be a successful career Mountaineer, the professional executive would need to have all the technique and patience of the real mountaineer. The career path for a person specialized in and dedicated to a particular domain, industry, and even a company is likely to be challenging with slow growth and slippery terrain. It requires a perfection of subject knowledge and conversion of knowledge into results to become differentiated. As one would be aware, automotive, aerospace and metals majors recruit each year scores of graduate engineers suited to different functions, and only a handful can reach to the top. It is, however, a feasible target illustrated by the likes of Alan Mulally of Boeing and Ford and AM Naik of L&T, and several other graduate engineers who reached to the top in the respective industries. It pays to be a Mountaineer if education and experience are aligned with aptitude serving as the glue.
The Successful Miner (EDES Executive)
The successful Miner in the professional or corporate world is like a miner in search of precious metals and minerals. He is likely to be highly career focused, motivated to reach to the top by being as broad spectrum as possible in terms of functional capabilities. An individual who pursues a graduate degree in any engineering discipline, followed by post graduate degree in business management or a professional who does chartered accountancy, company secretary and cost accounting courses are driven by an ambition to mine wider and grow faster, picking prize assignments and seeking functional adjacencies in growth. As opposed to the Mountaineer who has committed aptitude, the Miner tends to have flexibility and adaptability as the key drivers.
To be a successful Miner, the professional or corporate executive needs to have, like the real life miner, a fine discriminating and refining power. Knowing more subjects or dabbling in multiple disciplines is not necessarily a sure passport to the top. Successful move to the top is often based on some solid achievements in certain core functional or business areas. The uniqueness of knowing multiple domains must be reflected in an ability to define, plan and execute for strategic goals, with greater end to end connectivity. A large number of senior executives at the top in an industry appear to conform to the pattern of learning more and contributing singularly to a specialized industry. Indian industry and Indian executives, in particular, appear to prefer the Miner model.
The Successful Seafarer (ESED Executive)
The successful Seafarer has aptitude for, and belief in, his core subjects just as the successful real life sailor has control on, and confidence in, his ship. He is also not easily laid off by the vastness of practical applications which his core specialization can explore. Examples of this type of career planning relate to educational specializations that are not industry specific, and instead are industry neutral. Specializations like finance, information technology, legal, electronics and instrumentation which can find scope and need in any industry are the typical Seafarer’s preferences. However, certain gritty Seafarers are wont to use their educational specializations in uncharted seas of radically different industries. Unlike the Mountaineer who has a certain natural alignment of education and experience and the Miner who has a vast functional spread for a unitary industry, the Seafarer has the challenge of his or her knowledge specialization leading to such notable contributions that could help him or her get positioned for growth in competition with Mountaineers and Miners that are bound to exist in an organization.  
To be a successful Seafarer, the individual has to have the innovative ability to apply his specialization to achieve competitive advantage for any industry. He or she also should have the competitive and tenacious spirit to push the envelope and create new areas of contribution to the industry. An instrumentation engineer would, for example, be able to secure new levels of automation for any industry. A finance professional can bring his vast core and collateral functional knowledge to lead the company in any industry to newer levels of financial solidity, costing sharpness, overseas listing and so on. In addition, a Seafarer would need to have an extra set of behavioral competencies to be seen as a strategic manager despite strong functional specialization. If the Seafarer does not possess or acquire such soft skills, it is quite possible that a Seafarer would remain a knowledge worker or a subject expert even in the long term, which, however, need not necessarily be a bad outcome either for the individual or the organization.

The Successful Explorer (EDED Executive)
There could be a view that an Explorer would end up a rolling stone, gathering no mass in the sober, steady corporate and organizational worlds. On the other hand, the Explorer represents the quintessential Gen-Next executive, eager to absorb multiple subjects and dabble in several domains. He is also eager and motivated to constantly search for an organizational home that not merely meets his expectations but challenges him to explore higher trajectories. The new age young CEOs and the young entrepreneurs coming up with new ideas are the representatives of the Explorer category. Some Explorers tend to become turnaround specialists and growth drivers. Most Explorers also become highly successful as consultants with diversified competencies and organizational deliveries.
To be successful, the Explorer needs to be an intensely absorbing person; linking subject mastery and organizational delivery to each moment’s challenge rather than to the nature of degrees or longevity in organizations. The Explorer tends to have a bit of the Mountaineer, Miner and Seafarer characteristics in him but in his own ‘mix and match’ capability. The Explorer is characterized essentially by lateral thinking and an ability to generate new thinking from current situations and adapt past experiences to new situations. Explorers eventually make excellent heads of diversified business conglomerates, and not surprisingly highly successful bureaucrats and public servants. Business stalwarts like JRD Tata and Ratan Tata are legendary examples.  
Talent-Organization Matrix
An ideal organizational format of a growing organization would offer adequate space for all the four classes of performers, the Mountaineers, the Miners, the Seafarers and the Explorers. Needless to say, diversified companies organized in terms of business units offer much greater space for all the four classes of aspirants. That said, their existence or requirement is also contextual. If an organization chooses to be specialized and narrowly focused, it will need, and also tend to have, more Mountaineers. If an organization is narrowly focused but needs new ideas to propel turnaround or growth, it will need and also tend to have more Miners. If an organization is in search of a core competence, it will need, and tend to have, Seafarers. If an organization needs diversification, or is already a business conglomerate, it will have, and need to have Explorers.
The above has important implications for strategy formulation and talent management. There has been a debate whether structure or strategy precedes the other, and the debate has been settled with the validated hypothesis that structure follows strategy. The discussion in this blog post also leads to a debate whether strategy sets the talent needs or talent helps create a sustainable strategy. Potentially, a broad vision for the organization should lead to induction of an appropriate mix of Mountaineers, Miners, Seafarers and Explorers that can develop and execute a required strategy. Young aspirants need to understand that when they choose their unique educational paths and experience pathways, they are not only categorizing themselves into one of the four classes but are also developing into human dynamos that can power organizations in potentially unique ways.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 14, 2013  









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