Quickie Post — Seth Godin’s Real Skills, and Ways off Intellectual Flatland


Teach your son to make a brisket, you’ll eat for a night.  But you still can’t get him to wear shoes.  May, 2016

Reasonably famous author Seth Godin just published a piece on Medium that’s worth a look, titled Let’s Stop Calling Them Soft Skills.  Godin attacks what he calls ‘vocational skills’ — such as programming and such.  Here’s a great quote:

And organizations hire and fire based on vocational skill output all the time, but practically need an act of the Board to get rid of a negative thinker, a bully or a sloth (if he’s good at something measurable)…”

If an employee at your organization walked out with a brand-new laptop every day, you’d have him arrested, or at least fired. If your bookkeeper was embezzling money every month, you’d do the same thing.

But when an employee demoralizes the entire team by undermining a project, or when a team member checks out and doesn’t pull his weight, or when a bully causes future stars to quit the organization — too often, we shrug and point out that this person has tenure, or vocational skills or isn’t so bad.

But they’re stealing from us.”

He then goes on to do what I call ‘laundry listing’ — a comprehensive set of skills he considers ‘soft skills’ , or as he changes definition, ‘real skills.’  Nothing wrong with any of them.  He breaks them down into five categories, and recommends teaching them.  Below are the five categories — I recommend perusing his article to get his specifics.

Self Control — Once you’ve decided that something is important, are you able to persist in doing it, without letting distractions or bad habits get in the way? Doing things for the long run that you might not feel like doing in the short run.

Productivity — Are you skilled with your instrument? Are you able to use your insights and your commitment to actually move things forward? Getting non-vocational tasks done.

Wisdom — Have you learned things that are difficult to glean from a textbook or a manual? Experience is how we become adults.

Perception — Do you have the experience and the practice to see the world clearly? Seeing things before others have to point them out.

Influence — Have you developed the skills needed to persuade others to take action? Charisma is just one form of this skill.

Readers of this blog will recognize Godin’s five categories as emergent behavior of the various v-Memes.  Social structure, accelerated by company culture, will create these.  It’s not that a little lower Legalistic v-Meme scaffolding can’t help.  Having a class, or rather a structured experience, can evolve people.  But take Wisdom — you can’t completely teach wisdom, because wisdom is essentially knowing what you don’t know, and being aware that there are things out there that remain undiscovered.  Wisdom, and the larger metacognition it requires, largely evolves because of experience outside the box.  You can pull some of it inside the box, but in the end, for anything resembling a quick result, you’ve got to have folks at the top the model it, because the only quick way to infuse it in your organization is through mirroring behavior.

Godin’s a smart guy — this post is not meant to diss him.  He’s got a program, called the alt-MBA, where he is attempting to cover these topics in a 30 day hunk.  But understanding how all these are linked together, and how to make them naturally emergent, means we have to get off of Intellectual Flatland.  That’s going to be challenging.  Godin’s Real Skills aren’t just a couple of countries to add, as we made the point back here when we discussed Sensemaking.  They’re intrinsically synergistic.  We need to evolve our own thinking and mental models in order to get there.  Evolving Real Skills seems to many to be sailing off the edge of the world.  But for those on an Empathetic Evolutionary journey, it’s really taking off into the heavens.

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