Given today’s fast-paced and complex business environment, companies need to be able to adapt to changes quickly and solve complex problems in innovative ways. To do so, many organisations are relying on polymaths— individuals who possess a broad range of knowledge and skills across multiple fields. What exactly can a polymath bring to an organisation, and what are the potential benefits and drawbacks of hiring one?
Benefits polymaths bring
Kamlesh Dangi, group head – human resources, InCred, says, “There are several benefits to hiring a polymath, especially in the early stages of a startup. These individuals possess broad knowledge across multiple areas and can contribute to various roles, making them valuable assets to the team.”
“Polymaths are often able to bring a fresh perspective to problem-solving, leading to innovative solutions that can give companies a competitive edge.”
Kamlesh Dangi, group head – human resources, InCred
One of the key benefits of hiring polymaths is their ability to adapt quickly to new situations and environments. Their unique skill set allows them to learn and integrate new information rapidly, making them valuable assets to the organisations that operate in fast-paced and dynamic industries.
Dangi points out, “Polymaths are often able to bring a fresh perspective to problem-solving, leading to innovative solutions that can give companies a competitive edge.”
Another benefit of hiring polymaths is their multidisciplinary expertise. Polymaths have a deep understanding of multiple fields, which allows them to connect different areas of knowledge and create novel solutions that may not be possible even with a more specialised team.
This can be especially beneficial in industries that require a high level of cross-functional collaboration, as polymaths are skilled at working across departments and disciplines.
A Thiru, C-suite HR professional, has no doubt that “polymaths bring different perspectives to the table”. However, he points out, “They must be regarded as experts in a select few areas. Polymaths can progress faster in their career as long as they are willing to delegate decision-making authority to the concerned members of their team, irrespective of level in the organisation.”
In the traditional context, job rotation — especially a stint in HR — was insisted upon before one could become the CEO of the company so that employees’ interest is never compromised.
“Polymaths can progress faster in their career as long as they are willing to delegate decision-making authority to the concerned members of their team, irrespective of level in the organisation.”
A Thiru, C-suite HR professional
Vinod Parur, CHRO, RR Kabel, also agrees that hiring polymaths or people who possess a diverse set of skills and expertise, can provide an organisation with numerous benefits.
While hiring a polymath an organisation can focus on identifying individuals with a track record of success in diverse areas, and prioritise those who demonstrate an ability to learn quickly and work collaboratively across multiple disciplines.
Parur adds that by taking this step, an organisation can not only identify and hire the right candidates but also develop internal employees who possess the skills and expertise needed to drive innovation and success. Ultimately, having a diverse and dynamic workforce can position an organisation for long-term success and growth.
They can bring a unique perspective to problem-solving and innovation, allowing for more creative solutions. They are capable of easily switching between roles and tasks, providing flexibility and adaptability in line with the changing business needs.
Drawbacks of having polymaths
Parur also warns that hiring polymaths can have drawbacks if not managed properly. “The complexity of the profile can create challenges for an organisation if there are not adequate systems in place to handle it,” cautions Parur.
“The complexity of the profile can create challenges for an organisation if there are not adequate systems in place to handle it,”
Vinod Parur, CHRO, RR Kabel
For instance, he explains, “There may be difficulty in defining the role or assigning tasks, which can lead to confusion or conflicts. Furthermore, there may be concerns around the individual’s ability to focus and give high-level performance across multiple domains.”
Lack of stimulation
Another potential drawback is that polymaths may be overqualified for certain positions, which can lead to job dissatisfaction and a lack of motivation. Companies need to provide sufficient intellectual stimulation and opportunities for growth to retain the polymaths in their workforce.
Lack of specific experience
Polymaths may not have the same depth of experience of level of expertise as specialists in a particular field. This can lead to a lack of focus and a decreased ability to excel in a specific or specialised area.
Resistance to feedback
Polymaths often tend to overestimate their abilities and be resistant to feedback, which can be detrimental to team dynamics and project outcomes.
Dangi also warns of the possibility of polymaths exhibiting a ‘know-all’ attitude, which can negatively impact team dynamics if they are unwilling to learn from others.
“It may even be difficult to find a role that excites them, given their diverse interests, making it challenging to retain them in the long term,” observes Dangi.
Furthermore he explains, “It is important to evaluate the polymath’s attitude and willingness to learn before hiring them as a polymath but if they possess the right mindset and skillset, they can be a great asset to the team.”
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