Synthesis: The Most Needed, Least Discussed Skill of the Moment

The more organizations I peek into, leaders I coach, and people I manage, the more convinced I am that the ability to synthesize is the most-needed, least-discussed professional skill of this moment. When everything feels like it’s ambiguous, effective synthesizers take in different inputs and shape them into a path forward for themselves, their teams, and sometimes their entire organizations.

Synthesis in Practice

So what is this mysterious skill, and why is it feeling so important right now? Simply put, synthesis is the ability to take in a variety of complex information and then effectively simplify, organize, and translate it into action.

In today’s workplace, synthesis is a constant need. We are being bombarded by so much information from so many different inputs, that our entire day is spent synthesizing—whether we are aware of it or not. Synthesis is required as part of every project, and in support of every big bet and strategic decision. It’s needed to map out our own day effectively, prioritizing and reprioritizing as we go. And it matters after every meeting. We all know the relieved feeling of getting the meeting recap that has distilled a messy conversation down to a few clear and logical decisions and next steps.

It’s also becoming a core part of almost everyone’s job. Fewer and fewer roles have clear roadmaps, laying out what to do over the next month, day, or hour. And more and more roles operate in grey areas, where there is no exact right answer. Two different customers or even two different senior managers may have different ideas about what feature to add or next step to take. For some, these competing inputs can be the source of frustration and paralysis. But for effective synthesizers they are a source of opportunity and creativity. They are the gravel pieces, collected and organized to form a new path forward.

Change and Ambiguity

Thus, in modern organizations, the ability to synthesize effectively is the difference between being stuck and being empowered. When no two people are saying the same thing, the space between these answers can become a source of power and opportunity. It’s a sign that there’s no one right answer. The challenge for the employee is to form their own theory and act on it, but importantly to do so in a way in which others can see their ideas and the information they’ve provided as helping to generate this new direction.

Leaders across sectors and industries are desperate for employees who synthesize effectively, even if they don’t know it. They need team members at all levels with the ability to listen to different perspectives and distill common themes, combine them with their own ideas and insights, and create clear pathways to action.

Bottom line: Show me someone who is crushing it in this volatile, constantly shifting knowledge economy, and I will show you an exceptional synthesizer. They are the ones who others are choosing to follow, and the ones thriving amidst ambiguity. We would all be wise to seek ways to hire for and develop this most-needed and least-discussed modern skill.