A Marriage of Skills

We often regard separate skills – science, art – as distinctive, requiring different intellectual tools and capacities. We also divide ourselves and others according to our dominant skillsets (“I’m a math person”).

But, people have capacity in many areas. Narrow our definition of  ‘what we/they are good at’ and we miss the opportunities that human complexity provides.

Steven Jobs

Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple, obviously had  technical know-how and vision. He also had an artistic eye … Did you know that Jobs considered his design training, specifically a college class in typography, to be crucial to his and Apple’s success. What impact did those capacities have? Apple’s popularity relies not only on technical innovation and performance, but also on the beauty of it’s products and the competitive advantage that has created.

Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple. Circa 1985. Unattributed photo.

Jobs lost Apple at one point when the board of directors replaced him. Undaunted, he took his technical and artistic skills to work developing the NeXT computer, which paved the way to interpersonal computing by offering foundational aspects of web server software and for the first web browser, WorldWideWeb.

Jobs also led the creation of a division of Lucasfilm called the Graphics Group. It became one of the world’s first successful computer animations film companies. You know it today as Pixar, producer of Toy Story and others, most recently the 2018 Academy Award winning animated film, Coco. Could he have done any of this without that marriage of skills?

Another Example

While Chemist – painter – photographer Sir Henry Perkins worked to develop a synthetic pharmaceutical treatment for malaria, he accidentally ‘created’ Mauvine, the first synthetic dye.

Back in 1856, a young chemist named Sir Henry Perkins was working to create a synthetic quinine to treat malaria. One day when cleaning up the lab, he noticed that certain chemicals had mixed to form a particularly vibrant shade of purple. Perkins, perhaps because of his side interests as an amateur painter and photographer, recognized the value of what he’d discovered.

Perkins and his brother set to work creating the first-ever synthetic dye. No, they did not cure malaria, but they did change the visual landscape of the man-made world by creating a new, synthetic purple dye, mauvine, and ultimately many others. They made millions doing it.

Perkins and Jobs achieved their particular success not because of a skill, but because of their unique marriage of diverse skills. (Think about that the next time someone tells you that school art programs are ‘supplemental’ or ‘optional’.

What are your skills?

Is it time to take your own skills inventory? Look back through your life and note the different interests, activities, hobbies that have captured your attention and heart. Even if you just spent a little time on them, how do they inform your perceiving and thinking today?

Is it time to take your own skills inventory?

How do you see your diverse interests in the things that you’ve created, manifested, if you will? Has your love of gardening somehow fed the way you nurture your team as a manager? Has your sourdough bread baking phase added something to your ability to patiently wait for a project’s or person’s dough to rise? Have the movies you’ve loved somehow influenced your retail sales business?

Are you making room for them?

‘Taking a break’ isn’t always about slacking off. Engaging in diverse activities enables us to shift gears, relax, take in different information. It gives our subconscious minds time to process. When we least expect it, those experiences can merge and produce new thoughts or different perspectives on old ones.

Ok, I hear engineers starting to think about ‘working their rest’. Wait! We need play, surprise, a moment to chill. Let it happen and it will. Remember, Einstein said,

“Play is the highest form of research.”

Albert Einstein, Scientist

A marriage of skills …

A marriage of skills can be as deep and mysterious as a marriage between humans. It’s an invisible chemical reaction, an important part of who you are, what you create and who you will be. It’s an adventure, a discovery, a journey…

… and you are the destination.

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