Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.
Top image: Marcus Tullius Cicero, Courthouse, Rome, Italy.

 

The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang was a wonderful demonstration of human skills. The athletes combine grace and intelligence with courage, fitness and skill, enormous skills honed over years of dedicated practice.

Most of us are not Olympic athletes, but all of us have many skills. Depending on how granular we want to get, and how broadly we want to think, the number goes into the 1,000s for most people. Perhaps humans should be thought of not as Homo Sapiens (the thinker) or Homo Faber (the tool maker) but as Homo Artes (the skilled). Skilled performance is what many of us aspire to. The challenge is how to get there.

The answer is by mirroring, application and reflection.

One way that many of us develop our skills is by mirroring. There is even a (somewhat controversial) concept of mirror neurons that are thought to underlie part of how we learn. Apprenticeship programs are based on this, and in general, these are the most effective (if most expensive) was to learn new skills.

All of us should spend more time observing skilled performance in our field and working to simply copy it. One can learn a lot by copying that master (think of all those art students in museums working away). The flip side of this is to learn by mentoring. There is the old adage in instructional design ‘learn one, do one, teach one.’ There is a lot of truth to this. But it is not enough to teach one. One needs to go beyond this to help a person through the progression from newbie through learner to expert (it is up to the individual to push beyond this to guru status). Take a look at your target skills (the skills you are working to develop). Are there any where you are far enough along to start mentoring another person? If so, try to invest some of your time in mentoring people on your target skills.

I am applying my Coaching and Active Listening skills to mentoring a couple of people in my network on Business Model Analysis, Skill Mapping and Choice Making (which I hope will improve my expertise in Choice Making).

Of course learning and even mentoring are not enough to develop deep expertise. For that one has to apply skills. This is central to the design of TeamFit, where we connect skills to roles, teams and projects. One of my core skills is Pricing Strategy and I apply this to many different projects.

Learning and application are not enough for true mastery. For that one needs reflection. World class athletes are good at this. They spend a lot of time studying their own performance, watching videos, playing through their moves in slow motion, and meditating on performance. One of the best books on this is The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schon.

The key theme of Donald Schon’s book is Professional Knowledge and Reflection in Action. The only way knowledge workers are really able to rise to Expert on any skill is through reflection. We often (OK occasionally) do really good after action reviews on projects, and some of us, especially those in design roles, do good design critiques and are used to having our own work critiqued. This is one of the best practices of the design community. How often do we reflect on specific skills? This is something we encourage at TeamFit.

Try this by picking on of your Core or Target skills and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Who do I use this skill with? Knowledge work is more social than most of us realize and the ways in which we use a skill with other people is a critical part of the skill.
  2. What skills are they using when they work with me? Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes. They are often using different skills. When I am applying Critical Thinking they may be applying Active Listening. When I am trying to solve a Pricing Problem, they may be helping me by using Discrete Mathematics.
  3. What other skills do I use with this skill? Skills exists in a supportive network of associated skills. Understanding how you fit skills together is critical to growing expertise. It is also the signature of your approach. The skills I use with Design Thinking are very different from those that my colleague (and frequent contributor to the TeamFit blog) Gregory Ronczewski does.
  4. What Foundational Skills does this skill rely on? Foundational skills are the skills we use to develop other skills. They are often more abstract or closer to the roots of knowledge. For some of us, Mathematics is a foundational skill. For others it is Sketching. The really fascinating people are the ones who combine Mathematics and Sketching. I consider Music to be a foundational skill with wide application, I just wish I had this skill!
  5. How can I combine this skill with some other skill in a new way? Creativity and innovation is often the result of combining skills in new and unexpected ways. Pick another of your skills at random and ask “Do I ever use these together?” and “Could I use these two skills together?”

Our mission at TeamFit is to help people and organizations understand there current and potential skills, how they are being used today, and to find the best way to put skills to work. Let us know how we can work with you.