The Skills That Matter

Some of you know that my professional training was as an educator.  Hopefully that shows on the screed from time to time.  In fact, my wife and eldest child are also trained teachers and my youngest does education as part of her profession.  Focusing on the skills people need is a big deal in our house and that got me thinking about what those skills might be.

I spend a ton of time in the tech world.  There are new skills that my clients feel as if they need to acquire almost every day.  What is the latest and greatest way to code?  How do we employ the social media platform du jour in order to stand out and engage our customer base?  What’s the best way to run an A/B test of landing or other pages to optimize conversion rates?  Those are only a few of the components of the rapidly changing skill set business people might need these days.  You probably won’t find me working with them on those initially.

Instead, I like to start with the skills that matter.  First and foremost of these is critical thinking.  How would I define that?  This is from The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, way back when in 1987 and I think it says it pretty well:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

That skill trumps the others.  It’s the ability to figure out what data points matter and why.  It’s understanding core business issues and not permitting the noise of the business world to clutter up that understanding.  It’s what you use, having achieved that understanding, to choose the tools with which to carry out the business goals, strategies, and tactics.  The point is this:  the tools will change; the need to possess the ability to think critically won’t.  Kids learning Word in the schools today may not use it in 10 years.  I guarantee they will need to be able to figure out the world around them.

There are other key skills, of course.  Writing and speaking clearly are the next in line for me since if you can’t explain your excellent thinking it does little good to the business.  First things first, however.  That’s how I see it.  You?

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