The Importance of Multiskilling in Today’s World

Recently, one of the physiotherapists working on a project with me, was tasked with developing videos of the sessions that she had conducted. These were not just ordinary videos that most of us take from our capable smartphone, but a video that had to be developed and edited with quotes and statistics; and appropriate music to uplift the sentiments. She did a fantastic job. As good as any professional’s effort. This was Dr. Jincy using one of her multiple skills at work.

How important is multiskilling in today’s competitive and heavily tech led day and age? Be it in sport, the corporate world or even at home. Recollect the ongoing Amazon TV commercial where the wife orders something for her excited and eager husband who only frowns as he discovers a tool kit to do the job a carpenter would do. Here is a wife nudging her husband to use a vital skill or at least to develop one that would take care of the minor repairs at home.

How many of you would believe me when I say that the star India batsman VVS Laxman never played for India in a World Cup match? Well, it is true. But would he have managed to overcome this glaring gap in his playing resume if he was multiskilled and capable of bowling his off spin to add to his fabulous batting skills? I believe that VVS would have made the 2003 World Cup team in place of Dinesh Mongia had he given just a little bit more attention to his bowling skills. Mind you, he has twenty-two First Class wickets and has also managed two in Test cricket.  Ravi Shastri has been quoted in a book, “I used to bowl a lot because it wasn’t easy to get in the Indian team only based on your batting.” Clearly something that our current lot of cricketers need to think about. We lost the recent T20 World Cup in Australia because our team was filled with specialists. And our two ODI World Cup triumphs were possible only because of the presence of players who were multiskilled – Kapil Dev, Jimmy Amarnath, Roger Binny, Sandhu, Kirmani, Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Raina, Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. In both these teams, we had seven to eight players who could bat as well as bowl.  

The sporting world is full of stupendous athletes who could conquer two or more sports at the international level due to their ability to develop multiple skills across sports. A few names come to my mind – Ric Charlesworth (Hockey & Cricket), Paolo Maldini (Football and Tennis), Wilt Chamberlain (NBA & Volleyball), Michael Jordan (NBA & MLB), Sir Don Bradman (Cricket & Squash), Denis Compton (Cricket & Football), Keith Miller (Cricket and Aussie Rules Football), Ashleigh Barty (Tennis and cricket at the Big Bash), Jonty Rhodes (Cricket and Hockey at the 1992 Olympics) and many more. There have also been so many Olympians who have represented their country in two or more events either at the same games or over multiple Olympics. And then we have our very own Chuni Goswami who represented India in football at the Olympics and played cricket for Bengal. Incidentally he captained both the football and cricket teams. Yuzi Chahal, a leg spinner represented India at chess in Internationals as a junior.

Michael Jordan – Though his attempt at baseball was nowhere close to his skill in basketball

Clearly a case, where kids should be encouraged to play multiple sports at an age when they start to step out of the house to enjoy themselves. This is a very common practice and in fact is a structured development program for kids initiated in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Australia. The idea is to allow the child to develop into a well-rounded athlete. This should be an approach between the age of five years to ten years of age or even a bit longer. Post that the child on his or her own will gravitate towards a particular sport of their choice. Sadly, one comes across parents who force their kids to play coached cricket at a very young age, as young as four or five years of age. This in most cases ensures an early burnout and a general aversion to sports in general. Let the kids blossom into their own area of skill development. If one allows this freedom, we may find another Chuni Goswami in the making. Fifty years is too long a period for our country not to have had a multiskilled athlete at the international level.

The late Chuni Goswami

Having multiple skills adds a certain aura around the person; it provides the person with a wider pool of opportunities and more importantly it broadens one’s perspective. I remember when I was working with Marico Industries (one of India’s leading homegrown FMCG brands) during the early stage of my career, the maverick founder and Chairman Harsh Mariwala had introduced a unique concept where the functional heads – in this particular case Vice Presidents across Sales, Marketing, HR, Manufacturing, Finance and IT would rotate their roles in a 3-4 year cycle. I thought this was a truly innovative way to disrupt, learn and forge ahead. No wonder Marico has been the fastest growing FMCG company in India and has been a darling of the stock market. I hate giving examples of politicians and film stars, but what the Narendra Modi Government does with its cabinet reshuffling is something very similar to the Marico model. The Minister’s portfolios are rotated every couple of years. For example, Piyush Goyal who started his stint in the Parliament as a Minister of New & Renewable Energy, moved to the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Affairs; he then became the Minister of Railways followed as the Minister of Commerce and Industry and is now Minister of Textiles. How much of this reshuffling is out of political compulsion and how much due to a visionary approach is for the readers to infer?

In today’s environment of cut throat competition, a hire and fire policy and the major technological disruptions that are round the corner every few months, one needs to be multi-skilled. A great example of multiskilling is the work done by the founders when they start a new venture. They are forced to excel in multiple functional areas, be it in marketing, strategy, human resources, accounting, secretarial, sales and public relations. Most learn as they go along but many have taken that extra effort to develop multiple skills and understanding across functional areas.

Even if you are not multi-skilled at work and as a result lose your job; while sitting at home, good gardening or cooking skills will ensure that you maintain your mental equilibrium and enjoy yourself while you hunt for newer opportunities. The pandemic has had thousands of tales of executives following their passion seriously and converting it into a skillful vocation. The Nudge Sports (www.nudgesports.in) story is no different. As Peter Drucker has famously said, “The Only Skill That Will Be Important In The 21stCentury Is The Skill Of Learning New Skills. Everything Else Will Become Obsolete Over Time.”

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