Skills Development

Skills Development

The importance of skills development can’t be stressed enough. Behind every successful goal achievement comes proper skills development.

Importance of Skills Development

Many of us often get impressed by the kind of results others achieve without realizing the time invested to achieve them. There is a tendency for us to fill in the picture with our own assumptions.

For example, some severely underestimate the amount of work needed to attain those results. These people zealously set out for the same goals thinking they will get the same success, without investing the time to learn and develop their skills.

This is happening to many bloggers today. They read about the big name bloggers making six-figure incomes from full-time blogging. Seeing the low barriers of entry on the internet, they start blogging as well, thinking they will be able to achieve the same level of success in a short period of time. In the end, they become rudely awakened when they make no headway with their blogs even after three to six months. Some press on; many give up.

Then there are some who are easily daunted by the size of their dreams. They become intimidated by their lack of knowledge and give up or put off their passions infinitely. Some conveniently attribute their inaction to the fact that they need talent in that field in order to succeed, and that they are letting go of their dreams since they don’t have the talent. In fact, the larger their dreams, the more they feel intimidated by them, and the more they are ready to give them up.

This is where skills development comes in. While some people may think that it’s possible to achieve a goal through luck, a magic bullet, or some quick fix, it’s not true at all. The realization of any goal — be it singing, dancing, teaching, coaching, blogging, cooking, or gardening — comes as a result of developing the right skills to succeed in it. Skip this stage of skill acquisition and you will never be able to achieve your goal. You’ll only end up failing or achieving mediocre results in the end.

For example, say you want to be an English teacher. The fundamental skill expected of an English teacher is, first and foremost, an excellent command of English. Hence, you need to master your command of English first if you wish to succeed in this goal. Without knowing your tenses, grammar, and vocabulary well, you can’t hope to go far in your ambition.

Now, let’s say you’re a budding web designer and you want to set up your very own web design business. In order to create a highly-sought-after web design service, you need to first have excellent web designing skills to design cutting-edge websites. This means having a mastery of standard graphic editing software like Photoshop and Illustrator and computer languages like HTML and CSS, and perhaps some understanding of PHP. Without these skill sets, you won’t be able to create a visually appealing and cutting-edge media-responsive website that will thrive in today’s highly competitive web environment.

The skills you have is akin to the tools of a carpenter. When a carpenter has lousy tools, even the most skillful and versatile of carpenters will be held back in the type and quality of fixtures and structures they can create. However, when equipped with the best tools, the carpenter can now bring any blueprint to life (provided that he has the right carpentry skills of course!).

No matter how accomplished you are now, you’ll always be able to achieve greater results in your goal by developing your skills. The limits of what you can achieve are literally defined by the skills that you have. By expanding on your skills (i.e. leveling up), you will naturally increase the results you can achieve in any goal.

Example: My Writing Skills

I frequently have people commending my writing skills after reading the articles on my blog. They tell me that I have a flair for writing and I should consider writing a book.

While these comments are very kind and I do think I have much to improve on, these writing skills didn’t just pop out of nowhere. I wasn’t an English major in school or did I take any writing courses. The closest class that ever came close to writing was one of my business modules back in university which covered business writing (on a broad scale). And whatever was taught in the module is totally different from what writing on a blog constitutes.

These writing skills came about as an intentional effort to cultivate them. When I first started my blog in Dec ’08, I spent time reading materials on writing good content, such as how to select my topics, how to craft enticing headlines, analyzing top articles, and so on. Some resources I visited were Copyblogger, Men with Pens and Zen To Done.

My first batch of articles took a huge amount time to write. I remember starting out with the Discover Your Real Purpose series, because everything in life starts with our purpose and I wanted to get that topic covered first to lay down the blog foundations. It took a while to craft the content. There were so many different things I could write about on Purpose but I didn’t know which were the most pertinent and how best to present them. I spent almost a whole week getting the entire series down into 7 articles.

And it didn’t just end there. When it came to actually posting the series on the blog, I ended up rewriting a good part of it  because I felt what I had written wasn’t good enough. In fact, the part three you see now is pretty much a whole new article from the original one I wrote offline!

This whole writing and rewriting process happened for a good 2-3 months for the other articles I wrote. It got quite frustrating sometimes because it was so inefficient. My disappointment series and Materialism Breeds Unhappiness article were great examples – They took way, way longer time to write than they should have. Copious amount of time was spent writing, rewriting and rewriting until I finally felt they were good enough for publishing.

Despite all that, I just kept writing, learning and improving in the process.

Today, all the hard work has leveled up my writing skills. Now, I’m much more on-point and hardly have to rewrite my content. My sentences and words flow out much naturally than in the past. And all this is a result of conscious, hard work in development of my writing skills: not randomity, some chance occurrence or magical innate ability. And you can do it too as long as you put in the due diligence in your skill development phase.

Core Skills and Secondary Skills

Skills can be classified into two key groups. The first group is core skills. Core skills refers to skills we absolutely need to have in order to perform our tasks. They are directly tied to the outcome. Without these skills, you cannot function properly in the task. The second group is secondary skills. These are skills which are nice-to-haves and not need-to-haves to achieve the desired output.

Let’s say you are a writer and you want to write an English fantasy novel. Typically, the core skills will be your a) command of language b) creativity and imagination skills c) story writing skills. Secondary skills will be things like your d) pitching skills (to pitch to the publishers) e) designing skills (to design the book) f) time management.

The differentiation between core and secondary skills really depends on what your goal is. As long as the skill has a critical impact in the outcome, it will be a core skill. If your goal is to write a novel that will be picked up by a huge publisher, pitching skills will become a core skill. If your goal is to write a novel in an accelerated timeline, time management will be a core skill.

The role the skill plays in your desired outcome should dictate the amount of resources you invest in it. By first identifying the core skills in the task you are doing, it makes you aware of the time and energy you want to spend cultivating them. The peripheral nature of secondary skills means it is sufficient to have a broad-level grasp of the skill, rather than an in-depth understanding.

In the times when it is not effective for you to acquire certain skills, you can have the option of outsourcing it to other people. I won’t be covering it in this article as it isn’t the focus here. You can read my guide on outsourcing here.

Developing Skills in My Work

In my personal development work, there are lots of skills which I need to learn and develop in order to be good at what I do. A partial list includes:

Core Skills:

  • Personal development
  • Analyzing; Problem solving
  • Writing
  • Coaching
  • Speaking, Presentation
  • Business management
  • Project management
  • People skills
  • Marketing, Promotion

Secondary Skills:

  • Networking
  • Graphic design (site design, namecards, etc)
  • HTML, CSS, Programming (to manage my blog)

My core skills are what I focus on learning and developing. Earlier in this article, I shared how I cultivated my writing skills when I first started the blog. Beyond that, I also learned how to market and promote my blog in the Web 2.0 landscape. I had prior experience running sites but that was 6 years ago, where the landscape online was entirely different. When I started Personal Excellence in Dec ’08, I was overwhelmed by the new media that had taken over the internet — Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Twitter, just to name a few. They were entirely foreign to me. Before this, I had not even heard about them! Yet, all it meant was I needed to relearn the landscape and learn how to promote my blog in this new media environment, rather than being stumped by them.

As I expand my personal development business later this year, I will be starting to actively speaking/training at seminars and workshops. I’m currently working with a few partners to set up a career consultancy where I will be the key trainer and coach. Just like how I built up my writing skills, I will undergo the same steps to develop my speaking skills. For example, I expose myself to videos of some of the best speakers in the world, such as Les Brown, to get inspiration for my speeches. Recently, I purchased a white board and marker which I use to rehearse my speeches.

Even for my knowledge in personal development, I’m always constantly immersing myself in the best materials so I’m learning new things to apply to my life and share in my blog, coaching and speeches. It is a continuous learning journey.

On the other hand, I spare minimal time on my secondary skills – I just do what’s necessary to get the things done and out of the way. After that, I will quickly focus on building my core skills again. This is why has such a simple design, even though I used to be a graphics designer. I did not start this blog to showcase my designing skills. I started it to enable others to live their lives more consciously and achieve higher potentials. As long as the site is functional and user-friendly, it serves my purpose. The same goes for my programming skills — I know near zero about PHP and I just pick up what’s needed from tutorial sites to get the php aspects of my site working.

How To Start Developing Skills

Here are some ways you can start off:

Break it down into smaller steps

The process of skills development can be a daunting task, especially if it’s a new, high chunk skill. For example, starting a new business. Business management involves a whole series of different skills, such as project management, time management, leadership, problem solving, and so on. If that’s the case, break this down into mini steps. What is the first step you need to take to embark on this? Direct all your efforts into getting that first step into place, then move on to your second step. You will find things are much easier to handle that way.

Learn from the best

It’s easiest to learn from the people who have been there before. Identify the people out there who are already experts in the skills you want to develop. Observe them. Model them if you want an exact same output. If you know them, approach them for assistance. Ask them to be your mentors. Seek guidance. Look for coaches who are experts in the field and engage them for coaching.

Research – Read up.

There are tons of excellent material out there with information waiting to be lapped up. In fact, in today’s world, we are more overwhelmed with the amount of information rather than the lack of it. Start off by researching on the internet. Download podcasts. If there is a library where you live, head to the library and borrow books related to the subject. Watch related videos. Hit the bookstores and buy recommended books of the topic. Books tend to be better sources because of the structured content and the holistic nature the information is organized.

Attending trainings

Trainings, seminars and workshops are great sources to quickly develop skills. Depending on the quality of the training, trainings can sometimes be a one stop shop for the kind of skills you are developing. They serve as concentrated sources of information that is already organized and structured into a series of programs. The intensity of such events and the combined common intentions of the participants enable you to move forward much faster than if you were to do it alone.

Get into action – Do it

There is no better way to learn than to get right into thick of things and do it. Strategizing and planning are important, but at some point you need to start executing the plans. When you start doing, you get immediate feedback on your progress and whether it fits with your expectations. Until you try it, it will always remain in your mind as a hypothesis. Doing things closes all the ‘what ifs’ and creates momentum to move forward.

What Skills Do You Need to Develop?

This is an exercise to start working out the skills you need to develop to succeed in your goal. Take out your pen and paper now or open up a document in your computer.

  1. List your top most important goal in your life now.
  2. What are all the skills that are needed to pursue this goal?
  3. Out of these skills, which are the core skills and which are the secondary skills?
  4. For your core skills, how can you start learning and developing them? How can you apply the suggested ways above to develop your skill?
  5. When can you start taking action on the different ways you have identified in (4)?

Start developing your skills now and soon enough, you will start seeing the merits of those skill building efforts coming through in your results. 😀

This is part of Skills Development series:

Image: Man climbing