Your skills are who you are not what you do?

June 20, 2017

Neil Beyersdorf, a highly respected Quality/Risk/Change Management Consultant, Continuous Improvement Coach, and Operational Excellence Leader, shared this posted infographic on LinkedIn and I haven't been able to stop thinking about what it means. It's wildly exciting to me because the World Economic Forum classifies these human qualities, how we operate neurologically, as "job skills."


I'm old enough to remember when job skills were documented in resumes by listing every task and tool performed and used on the job – from word processing applications (then called software) to people management capabilities. Later, it became permissible to list these performed tasks and utilized tools in groupings disassociated with any specific job. Regardless of presentation, skills were acquired in school and from on-the-job experience.

Now, skills are our core human qualities, our fundamental individual cognitive and personality traits. Who we are. We augment their usefulness to others in professional environments with education, experience, learned and proven specific capabilities, and mastered tools, for example, but our intrinsic value is in our nature, psyche and individuality.

Now, that's exciting stuff!

What this "Top 10 Skills" list, and its evolution, tells me is that:

  1. Our achievements and experience will come naturally and be added value to our individuality in our workplace, and
  2. how we think defines our value far more than how we act.

Note that the two skills that were part of the 2015 demand, and not in the 2020 top 10, are more action based that human trait based. We practice quality control and active listening, while their replacements – emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility – are characteristics rather than activities.

It's a neuroscientific thing...

It's not critical that each of us has all 10 characteristics for success in 2020 or beyond – or even more than one or two. A 20-20 look at the 2020 list, reveals either "I've got that, or I don't." Knowing what comes naturally to each of us gives us tremendous insight into what we should be doing, and for which industries and companies.

The World Economic Forum report indicates that over one-third of all jobs across 100% of all industries require complex problem solving. Unlike linear problem solving – identifying how to create an outcome from a data set for example – complex problem solving is a mental combustion of imagination, creativity, inspiration, and analytical capability that can be communicated effectively to create an outcome. Your brain, genetically hardwired, either does that or it doesn't.

It's an oversimplification to state that critical thinking is the opposite of rote memorization. In fact, our brains want to store information (that can be compiled through memorization) in order to reason, problem solve, even revel in challenging projects. How we learn can tell us a lot about our degree of natural capability to think critically. If you are an information "sponge" you are likely an advanced critical thinker, always needing more fodder for the process. If you prefer to work within established, proven parameters, then positions requiring strong critical thinking skills probably won't fulfill you.

Creativity. Everybody comes into the world with some degree of natural creativity. The left brain (analytical, logical, organized) vs. right brain (passionate, colorful, poetic) as the determinant of creativity (left, not creative) right (creative) has been debunked. Neuroscientists mostly agree that creativity comes from cognitive processes and emotions from both sides of the brain interacting imaginatively. Determining your inherent degree of creativity can be done by evaluating your ability to daydream, then manage the things that come from it into an action or tangible outcome.

People management and coordinating with others can, in fact, be actions, but the inherent ability to work effectively with other people is rooted in the neuroscience of teamwork. Active, engaged, enthused, ambitious brains, that have good cognitive thinking capability, relish complex problem solving, and are creative, can be referred to as "big brains." Big-brained people naturally interact with others on teams, and provide leadership readily. Not only do these big-brains bring people and management skills to bear, they grow relentlessly as a result of that engagement with others. If people like working with you and for you, you are inherently a team player, and will only get better.

This may be the one that really gets me excited: emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and empathy are my favorite features of emotional intelligence. Whether in our professional or personal lives, the natural ability to understand who we are, how we tick, what we need, our resultant emotional state and how to manage and express it to achieve desired outcomes is literally heady stuff. Combine that with empathy – awareness of others' feelings and desire to understand and share them – and you have a genuinely good person who creates and shares success.

A high degree of emotional intelligence and critical thinking are fundamental to profound judgment and decision making skills. Both skills process practical, creative, emotional and other data through a mental network; done effectively, the process delivers smart, viable, considered conclusions and decisions. If you're hardwired to think things through and solve complex problems, you will naturally deliver sound judgments and decisions.

Service orientation is a function of an inherent desire, even personal moral mandate, to be empathetic about the needs of others – be it customer or CEO – and passionate about delivering outcomes that meet or exceed their expectations. If you have emotional intelligence skills, service orientation likely comes naturally to you. Service orientation is deeply about people. If your preference is to solve linear problems and work independently, it's likely that you are not hardwired to service orientation, but product development and delivery orientation.

The ability to negotiate is vastly improved by advanced emotional intelligence. Negotiation is fundamentally coming to a mutually agreeable conclusion with another party or parties. People who "have to have it my way" tend to think in a linear way, have a deficit of emotional intelligence, and ultimately fail to flourish professionally and personally. They don't make good negotiators. If you have a strong desire for positive shared outcomes, your negotiation skills come naturally and improve easily.

Ultimately, if you can adapt one or any of the previously noted skills to environmental changes – directives, personnel, financial, etc. – resulting in the effective use of them, you have cognitive flexibility. Your perceptive capabilities are critical, as cognitive flexibility requires that you perceive and anticipate changes that haven't yet happened but will, and that these changes will affect the course of whatever you're doing. The degree to which you are able to compile information, foresee changes and challenges, and adapt to them in a timely fashion save time and resources, and ensures best practices.

Be self-aware for success!

At the end of the day, isn't it great to know that who you are, how your brain works, is more important in your professional future than what you did in your professional past? After all, since you got that masters degree, do you really want to list your skills as a function waitress (even though you learned a lot about teamwork then?) Since you participated in that Harvard think tank, does it really matter that you sold tickets in a movie theater for a few years? Look forward, how much do you really know about alternative energy development careers for instance? Want one? Go for it. The business world wants your brain, you, your natural neurological skills.

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