“I think I’m both…”
We often define ourselves and others according to our dominant skill-sets. We create identities around a specific skill or ability and often ignore or deny unexpected qualities that don’t conform to our ‘image’ or personal brand.
But, truthfully, people are complex. We usually have a diversity of skills and interests. Narrow our perspective of our or other’s capacity and we miss opportunities that this complexity provides. Put simply, over-simplifying can cost us.
Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple, obviously had technical know-how and vision. He was also artistically oriented. Jobs valued his design training, specifically a college class in typography. Typography is a design form where beauty and functionality come together. Perhaps that’s where he first said,
“It’s not just what it looks like, it’s how it works.”Steven Jobs
Jobs believed that focusing artistry, technical innovation, and performance on user experience was critical to Apple’s success. That’s how Jobs’ personal marriage of skills came to life professionally.
You may know what happened next. Jobs lost Apple when the board of directors replaced him. Undaunted, he put his skills to work developing the NeXT computer. Although innovative for the industry, NeXt did not survive commercially. Jobs then went on to lead the creation of a division of LucasFilm called the Graphics Group. Graphics Group became one of the first successful digital animation film companies. You know it today as Pixar, producer of Toy Story, Coco, Wall-e, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo.
Having further developed his business management skills, Jobs returned to Apple for a very successful round two. Could he have done any of this without his unique blend of skills?
From Quinine to Mauvine
Here’s a less well-known example of how a diversity of interest gave rise to opportunity.
Back in 1856, Sir Henry Perkins was a young chemist working in a lab to create a synthetic quinine treatment for malaria. One day when cleaning up, he noticed that a few chemicals had blended to form a particularly vibrant shade of purple. That might have been it, except … Perkins was also an amateur painter and photographer. Artistic interest took hold.
Perkins recognized the value of his discovery in both its unique color and its potential as a synthetic dye. He and his brother got to work. They did not cure malaria. They invented a dye they called “Mauvine”. Until then, dyes were made from organic substances. This was the world’s first synthetic dye. The Perkins brothers went on to make many more, giving birth to an industry that’s responsible for the color of your clothes, your walls, your boat. They changed the visual landscape of the man-made world and made millions doing it.
Both Perkins and Jobs were extraordinarily successful not because of a skill, but because of their unique marriage of diverse skills. (So, remind me, why is it all about STEM and not STEAM? but, I digress …)
What is your marriage of skills?
Shine some light on yourself by taking your own skills inventory!
Look back over your life and remember your different interests and activities. How have they informed your perception and thinking? How have they made your work product unique, creative, even innovative?
Now, consider what you’ve accomplished, produced .. the mysteries you’ve cracked. What diverse aspects of you came together to make that happen?
Has your love of gardening fed the way you grow your team as a manager? Has your baseball habit nurtured your understanding of statistics? Did your bread-baking phase develop the patience to wait for a project or relationship to rise? Has a love of movies inspired your retail business communications? Do painting or music-making enable a deeper understanding of harmonics and patterns in data, biological codes, or energy signatures?
And what about you managers and parents? Take a closer look at your team and family. How do their diverse knowledge, capacity, or experience inform their work individually and collectively as a group? How does it contribute to their success? Do you hold this up and recognize it, foster it? Do you do your part to promote the marriage of diverse skills over single-skill worship?
Are you growing?
We live in hectic, dare I say frantic days. No doubt you are learning some new things.
Remote work demands, adopting different ways of parenting and leading, developing a talent for flexibility and regrouping are all part of our response to Covid-19 … and then there’s that early-pandemic explosion in learning to bake that continues on. Yum, keep it up!
If you haven’t taken this opportunity to explore something new, consider your inventory or do some brainstorming. Find a quality or interest you’d like to develop. Then, you might try searching for information on the internet, YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, and start playing around a little.
“Play is the highest form of research.”Albert Einstein, Scientist
I’m a math person … and an artist … and a baker … and …
Perhaps you’ve never considered the cost of defining ourselves too simply. Embracing our human complexity means a greater capacity to innovate, create, collaborate and solve. It also makes life more interesting.
Your marriage of skills is an important part of who you are and what you create. So, just say no to boring, one-trick identities. Embrace that intellectual diversity. Who knows, you might just discover a new industry while cleaning the lab, or baking bread, or surfing, or …
Let me know what it’s done for you!
Want to learn more about Creative Thinking? Check out CEJ Studio on Creativity.