Twnety-five years ago if you had significant technical skills you could count on a good, well-paying job. That was especially true in manufacturing. But even in other vocations, little more than a well-developed technology was all that was required to rise in the organization and get a good-paying job. Of course the introduction of desk-top computing in the mid 1980s started to change that. Over the next ten years it became clear that everyone in business had to understand and be able to use the digital tools. The US economy was beginning to travel beyond the industrial age.
The most significant changes were still to come. Working as a consultant at some of the leading edge American corporations, the changes were regularly called to my attention by 1990. And they were straightforward. Not only must you have a strong technical competency as part of your background, but you will need both analytic and social competencies. If you're a manager in IT at a firm like the old Pillsbury, you need to be able to manage and communicate with cross-functional team members.
Although my clients at leading companies like 3M, Honeywell, Pillsbury and American Express made me very aware of those needs, 90% of US workers and managers were either unaware or found the demands frustrating or even terrifying.
The salary differential first surfaced in a thorough-going research report from the Dallas Fed as recent as 2003. They identified a talent hierarchy, ranking 6 competencies underlying careers in the following order, from the bottom up: muscle power, manual dexterity, formulaic intelligence, analytic reasoning, imagination/creativity and people skills.The greatest future needs were for people skills, even more than the creative and anlytic skills.
Recently Richard Florida reported on this very subject in the October Atlantic on essay, Where the skills are. Although the article ostensibly describes and locates America's smartest cities, tucked into his essay is an absolutely fascinating and illuminating salary report on careers driven by the analytic and social competencies. Here are the salary stats, based on his study of the US Bureau of Labor detailed information on more than 800 occupations:
- Breaking up each of the vocations by required skills, he found that those in the top quarter as measured by required analytic skill, pay $25,600 more than those in the lowest quarter.
- In shocking contrast, those vocations in the top quartile requiring social skill pay $34,600 more than those in the lowest quarter.
Jobs requiring analytic skills are heavily concentrated in the larger metro areas. And jobs requiring the highest level of social skill are the most concentrated in the very largest metro areas--where, combined with the high prevalence of anlytic skill, they underpin faster rates of innovation and growth.
So, you ask what do social skills have to do with innovation and creativity? Great question. Innovation without social competencies never gets to the drawing board. In fact, it's quite appropriate to say that if you and your team can't sell your idea and your innovation, it'll never get funded or manufactured.
Let's clarify one important issue. Social intelligence is more than emotional intelligence or mere sociability. Social intelligence includes persuasion, social perceptiveness, the capacity to bring the right people together on a project, the ability to help develop other people, and a keen sense of empathy.
Merely being a "good communicator" won't cut the mustard any longer. There are no naturals with the competencies of social intelligence. Florida pulls together his ideas this way: Cities can't work as inovative engines unless they are populated by people who can effectively promulgate, and marshall support for new ideas.