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How do you build a new skill set? That question is coming up a lot lately, in part because it is the beginning of the year and people are focused on their learning plans for the coming year. At the same time, there are some important new skill set emerging that many people are eager to develop.

Here are some of the areas we see trending up based on surveys we are carrying out and the data from TeamFit.

• Deep Learning. This is the new approach to Artificial Intelligence that is gaining wide adoption. It has been trending up for the last few years and is finally eclipsing the related themes of big data and data analytics.

• Bot design. Robots are everywhere these days. Over the holidays, when someone was trying to track down a piece of lost luggage and they finally got the airline to answer the phone their first question was, “Am I talking to a human?” The answer was ‘Yes” and a Turing test was not administered. Thousands of bots have been developed over the past few years and this is moving from hobby and experiment to a business opportunity.

• Design thinking. Yes, the design thinking meme is going strong. The LinkedIn Group on this theme more than doubled in size to almost 90,000 in the past year and consulting companies continue to buy design firms. The design thinking trend is even spreading to industry, where industrial machinery companies are investing in a design thinking capability, and to finance, where a financial institution hosted one of the most interesting design events I attended in 2016.

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Last week, there was a discussion posted on the LinkedIn Design Thinking group asking how one would build a capability for design thinking at a mid-sized design agency. It is a good question, how does one go about building a new capability without going and hiring a whole new team.

There was some discussion of workshops and courses, in person and online. A workshop is not a bad place to start when you have a small group of people interested in a new capability. Getting 10-15 people with a shared interest in a room together with an experienced facilitator who has good domain knowledge can catalyze learning. Workshops alone are not enough to build real capability. That requires a more sustained effort and more comprehensive plan.

• Go deep — learn the core concepts, how they have evolved, and the emerging best practices.

• Learn together — in today’s world most work is done in teams, and that includes learning. Have different people own different aspects of the capability and develop different skills.

• Execute small projects — have some real projects with real deliverables, but start small, very small if possible, find a learning project that can be delivered in less than a month. Make sure that failure is an option. You won’t learn if you can’t fail.

• Connect the capability — there are very few areas of standalone expertise left. Most problems today require a combination of approaches to solve. Make sure you know how any new capability connects to and leverages existing strengths.

For design thinking, I would start with a workshop, probably a half day, led by someone who could inspire and bring a new perspective to your core business but this would be to get the wheel moving and would not be enough in itself. I would them find three or four people to work with me and have each of these people commit to researching and reporting on some aspect of design thinking.

1. Where does the idea of design thinking come from
2. How is it being applied (look outside your own industry)
3. Who are the thought leaders (find at least three so that you get a range of perspectives

In parallel, I would set up a series of mini design thinking projects. Ideally, these should include people from outside the core team committed to learning design thinking, and if possible include some people from outside your own organization. Getting a coach for these projects is also a good idea.

Conclude with a capstone project, something important for your own business, and a first pass at design thinking process for your organization. Documents the skills you used. Document the skills that connected people and concepts.

Building new capabilities is a core capability for 21st C organizations and for each of us as individuals. In TeamFit we refer to the skills used to build new skills as foundational skills. Each of us has our own pattern of foundational skills.

“How do you use your foundational skills to build the new skills you will need to thrive in a rapidly changing environment?”