This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Degree

“Gone are the days of One and Done” – excerpt from the article by Kavita Mehta (co-founder of The Red Pen)

‘Earlier this month, when my dermatologist asked me what my 15-year-old daughter “wants to do,” I answered honestly, with a straight face: “astronaut, photographer, supreme court justice, barista, marine biologist, and professional trekker.”

He was bewildered by my answer; after all, how would she select a “stream” for 11th and 12th grades or a college major with such a wide range of interests? I can understand his confusion, because, like many parents in India, he believes that nailing the “right” stream or major literally means end of discussion for education and career decisions. I, on the other hand, don’t really care (to a certain extent) “what” my children study at university, nor does it actually matter anymore. What is more important is that they develop the capacity to keep learning, questioning, innovating and creating throughout their lives.

Like nothing we’ve seen before
In the world of modern work, 9-to-5 jobs and careers with a single company are no longer the norm. Instead, the pervasiveness of technology, and the accessibility it facilitates, has changed the very nature of human work. Members of today’s workforce, as well as those of the foreseeable future, control their own destinies — whether it be daily schedule, work location or length and format of employment. With that level of personal control in building a career comes the ever-present need to remain relevant. And, to remain relevant, an individual must embrace change, be willing to learn what is pertinent for a particular industry, place, era or paradigm. That means education, too, takes on a new avatar — the “one and done” framework that prevailed for much of the last century is obsolete. It is being replaced with the notion of lifelong learning, which requires individuals to be flexible, open and cross-disciplinary in their approach.

I laid out my logic to the doctor: Since the jobs of the future will demand a fusion of skills from a range of fields, it is critical that my children know howand when to learn. And then, when faced with a skill gap standing in the way of a goal, they can identify and leverage the right resources to upskill, reskill or just plain old skill. In essence, what I want them to do is become “broad perspective specialists”.

Broad Perspective Specialist 
Tim Brown, the CEO of design firm IDEO, popularized the idea of hiring T-shaped talent to deliver innovative solutions. The thinking behind the T-shape is to have deep specialization in one technical area and yet have broad ability in conceptual areas. By using that same logic to build a career, an individual can develop a competitive advantage that is sustainable and flexible. One way to achieve this is to have the initial university degree focus on developing skills that make the impact of technical or subject matter expertise deeper and more meaningful. These skills include critical thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, giving historical context to current ideas, persuasive writing and fostering a sense of influence. And then, over time, creating multiple areas of specialization enables you to develop from T-shaped, to Pi-shaped to eventually comb-shaped.

My daughter may decide to study psychology at college and yet, she won’t necessarily ever work as a psychologist. By completing a holistic curriculum that also requires math, physics, religion, economics and history, for example, she will be able to use the lens of psychology to better understand why wars were fought (religion and history) or why certain nations are allies and others foes (economics and history) or why people perceive light in ways that don’t always align with the laws of nature (math and physics). She can then deploy that lens to work as a photographer (pun intended!), intellectual property lawyer, social entrepreneur or design engineer — that is, once she completes specialization-intensive courses, micro-degrees or apprenticeships in the associated fields.