The transferrable nature of Skills

Many skills are “adjacent skills” – If you are good at something, that will help you be good at something else too.

For example, if you are a good “homemaker”, chances are you will be a good people manager as well. If you are a long distance runner, chances are you will make a good project/ program manager. I believe that every skill will have some adjacent skills for sure.

But, if you are an expert at a particular skill, chances are, you are just that – an expert at a particular skill. It might be difficult for you to adjust to a new skill, even though it was an adjacent skill.

This is mainly because, to be an expert at a particular skill, you need to go into minute details of the skills that are very very particular to that skill. And once you become an expert on it, your value comes from knowing and excelling at the particular detail, which no longer might be applicable within other skills.

Lets take an example.
You are a good cook i.e you can handle your kitchen very well. The fridge is clean. the table top is clean. there is a place for everything and everything in its place. There are no accidents or loud sounds. AND you cook a very good healthy meal for your family without stressing about it. The vessels are shiny as well.

What does this make you? You know how to multi-task and you can learn the basics of a new skill and see parallels within your existing skill. You know you can take up the new skill because you are doing something similar to that already.

Now what is an expert cook? You know the details of the minute ingredients that goes into your cooking. You know the best source for asparagus, the right time to buy vegetables in the day, the best utensils for the right activity, the sharpest knives with the best handles, the right time to turn off the heat and the best golden brown color for the turkey.

What does this deep insightful knowledge make you? A credible source of knowledge for expert cooking…. and Thats it! When you are this deep into the expert level, your depth of knowledge in one topic prevents you from learning the basics of the new skill you are getting into. You are not already doing something similar – you are doing something that is far more in depth to what you are getting into. This huge difference in perception puts you off.

This is very much the truth in leadership roles in many companies.
If you are a product manager or a senior product manager, chances are you might take a leap into business development and vice versa.
But once you become an expert in a role with tons of experience behind you, it is difficult to translate that into a different skill set altogether. So a person who has been a Product manager all his life and is now a Chief product officer of a company, will find it hard when he takes up a leadership role in any other function.

The same is true of good engineers and great engineers as well. It might be easy to shift between technologies if you are a good engineer, but if you are an exceptionally great engineer, chances are you love your technology so much that it prevents you from picking up a new one from scratch.

Your skills are transferrable only upto a certain level and beyond that, you will just be applicable within the expertise of your skill.


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