Big Skills describe something that outwardly seems like an impressive singular act but is actually made up of many small ones, sometimes done modestly. Knowing what these might be for you can take small things and make them grow.
It’s tempting to want to find the one big skill that will set you apart. But most incredible things come from compounding, and compounding isn’t intuitive because the incremental inputs are never exciting on their own.Morgan Housel, Collabfund
It’s tempting to look at highly successful people and marvel at their talent wishing you had what they did. Or what about an organization that performs well above its peers; are they just better than everyone else?
The answer to that question is yes and no. What they are likely better at is putting things together into a coherent system that works, rather than having extraordinary skill. In an article on CollabFund, Morgan Housel writes about Big Skills: those that are the sum of many parts, but appear as a whole.
He points to examples of where combinations of simple things can yield enormous outputs:
One of the big leaps forward for humanity is when we mixed copper, which is soft, with tin, which is like paper, and created bronze, which is hard and made great tools and weapons. It was like two plus one equals ten.
Same with the weather. A little cool air from the north is no big deal. A little warm breeze from the south is pleasant. But when they mix together over Missouri you get a tornado.
This is systems thinking applied to our understanding of what it means to do great things. What these small things are could vary based on the sector you’re in, the situation you find yourself, and the goals you have. What’s critical is that you understand what you have and put these things together with persistence. It will look different for each organization, yet it can spark transformation that inspire people beyond its boundaries.
A Systems (Thinking) Approach to Excellence
What are the small skills that you have? It might be kindness, empathy, communication, knowing how to work with difficult people, the ability to see things differently.
Undertake some reflective practice and ask yourself — and give honest answers — what you see as your strong skills. Ask others, too. What you see as a weak skill might be viewed as a strong one by those you work with. If you can do this across your team and organization, you start to develop an inventory of talent.
Talent inventories can include things like reflective practice, informal interviews, resume reviews, surveys, or visual mapping exercises. Creating maps can help you see what you have to work with and where they might be located within your organization (in people, teams, departments) or personal practice.
Once you have things mapped, you can begin to design ways to bring things together (and reflect on what existing Big Skills you already have and learn what goes into them). Strategic Design allows us to take the inventory of what we have and consider ways to configure those skills together in new roles, tasks, collaborations, or opportunities.
This simple exercise can help you see what you bring to an engagement, team, or market in new ways. Very often we promote things or amplify our focus on the small skills that might be highly valued, missing the Big Skills that can make us truly excellent and distinct. For example, being an evidence-based organization isn’t particularly novel, but taking good evidence and applying practice-based evidence, compassion, and creativity is a skillset that allows you to do things differently.
The small skills might not seem all that impressive, but together they create something special — and that’s the real power of Big Skills. As Housel adds:
Most things that look like superpowers are just a bunch of ordinary skills mixed together at the right time.
Image Credit: Yulia Matvienko on Unsplash and Esteban López on Unsplash