Gregory Ronczewski is the Director of Product Design at TeamFit platform – view his profile on TeamFit
Top image: Antiparos island, Cyclades, Greece. Photo by: Lemonakis Antonis

 

“Few men who come to islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade winds fan them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of returning home… no part of the world exerts the same attractive power.”~ Robert Louis Stevenson.

The title for this post comes from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, a 1624 work by English poet John Donne. There is something extraordinary about islands. From Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to John Fowles’s The Magus, and let’s not forget the greatest of all, Homer’s The Odyssey, islands occupies a special place in literature. Guilty as charged – I live on an island so bear with me as my opinions are, and will be biased.

‘No man is an island’ implies the longing, the desire not to be left alone. Human beings are not particularly happy when faced with isolation, yet despite all the people and connectivity that surrounds us, we are more apart than we used to be. We want to belong to a family, a group, or a tribe. Being alone is frightening. Still, it seems to me that we have to face all the uncertainness of the world on our own. What if we turn the title on its head – a man is an island. Is it less frightening? Being an island. What is interesting though, and I write this based on my own experience, once you are on the island, you are not alone (unless your name is Robinson Crusoe), and then, you may as well be ‘an island’ on your own. Everything will be fine. What matters is the fact that you are now ‘an Islander’, and that’s enough.

Every island has its pulse. Tide comes and goes twice a day making the beach either full and welcoming or way to narrow even to try to go for a swim. The ferry arrives and leaves. There is a rhythm to everything. Fast, fast, slow, slow. It is comforting. The very first thing I did when we decided to move to the island was to look for a map. The largest and most accurate map available. What I found wasn’t great, but it lowered my anxiety. Afterall, maps are known to do just that. To reduce anxiety. To give a sense of control.

Let’s for a moment imagine a very special map. On this map, everyone is an island, and every location depicts a person. Some islands are bigger, some smaller. We see a rugged coastline and sandy beaches. Mountains and valleys. And in some cases, I think we can have an atoll. An archipelago formed by a group of islands surrounding a lagoon. Imagine that each peak is a competency—of course, competency models, we can’t leave those alone, can we?—the higher the summit, the higher the expertise. Interesting, though, looking at the open ocean, there is not much safety. The anxiety level goes up when you face the unknown. But if you go for a swim in the lagoon, the water is calm. You are comfortable switching between different skill sets, roles and domains. It is your world, and you can navigate it with your eyes closed.

If we connect skills, knowledge and talent, we have a comprehensive view of a person. Skills and knowledge are relatively easy to construct. Talent is the tricky one. It escapes definition. When I imagine an island (different from the one from which I am writing theese words), I see an island in the Aegean Sea. Perhaps it is the long lasting imprint left by The Magus or The Odyssey.

In Status Anxiety Alain de Botton writes about talent.

“It was the ancient Greeks who came up with the most acute image to evoke our distressingly volatile relationship with talent when they named the Muses. According to Greek mythology, each of these nine demideities held sway over and fitfully bestowed on chosen souls, a particular ability: in epic poetry, history, love poetry, music, tragedy, the writings of hymns, dancing, comedy and astronomy. Those who experienced success in any of these fields were reminded that their gifts were never truly their own and might be spirited away again at a stroke if a thin-skinned givers change their mind.”

There is something genuine about this. Possessing a talent does not make everything successful. It just enables a possibility of success.

Let’s go back to our map. Maps captured the imagination of many. Now we have google maps, but we are still mesmerized by imaginary maps, like the library map in Umberto Ecco Name of the Rose. When I look at a map, right away I am trying to find few reference points informing of my current location. A big red dot – you are here. What if no reference points are making your navigation a bit more sketchy? A map is only as good as the information included or, in some cases, a map gives a skillful navigator a set of variables in the hope that enough experience and skill will guide safely to the destination. Sometimes travel in a straight line from A to B is not the best way.

Boat A sailed a total of 80 nautical miles in 18.5 hours. Boat B sailed 104 nautical miles in 17.6 hours. Knowing an optimum point of sailing and accepting the extra distance, it is possible to gain 1.8 hours in an 80 mile race. Of course, this example does not take into account the effects of tide or any other variables. Still, a 10% gain is a lot. From Yacht Sailing Instrumentation by Neil C. Dick

 

A competency model that is linked to a skill graph is a kind of map. As a map it helps organizations and individuals see where they are and to plot out a course to where they want to be. The competency model provides the top down organization, and reflects the company’s goals, values, hierarchy and career paths. The skill graph connects skills to how they are used (on roles and projects), who they are used with (on teams) and how skills connect to each other (as complementary, associated and connecting skills). Remember, the map is only as good as the information included, and at TeamFit, we already have plenty of data to inform decisions that are otherwise based on a gut feeling. Using TeamFit, your anxiety level will be much lower. Knowing that anxiety consumes quite a bit of energy this is already a win. Now, use this energy to focus on navigating the skill archipelago.