What are your adjacent skills?
3 min read

What are your adjacent skills?

Arming yourself with an array of tools to work better today and in the future.
What are your adjacent skills?

A simple concept discussed today has the power to not only improve your career, but also make you happier and make your collaborations more fruitful.

I started my career as a 'multimedia production assistant'. Then I took a job as a 'press and publications officer'. The title soon switched to 'communication manager'. All within the space of  about 2 years.

The titles don't matter but this demonstrates that when you work in communications (or marketing or any range of creative-related fields), it covers a whole gamut of skills. However, which skills requested or required for any particular role is never entirely clear.

And this brings me to the concept I came across recently on Ness Labs called 'adjacent skills'.

These are skills which are close to your existing skills, meaning you're not necessarily building new skills from scratch. You can sit down, look at your skills today and see where there is overlap and links in other areas.

For example, learning how images are constructed and lighting is used in film helped me understand how those concepts could be applied to photography. Learning composition in photography helps with graphic design work.

It's all linked, but also all different. In my rambling introduction you'll see how learning some rather random skills more than ten years ago can be very useful today.

Trends come and go. We can't predict what's next - but we can prepare ourselves to be adaptable. We can even take it one step further: if we play our cards right, we can become 'antifragile'. That means we don't simply adapt to changes, we actually thrive when changes occur.

Ten years ago, if you told me you wanted to be a YouTuber for a career I'd have no idea what you were talking about. Today, however, having the ability to write, shoot, edit and perform on camera at home is a viable income model.

More than many other organizational roles, communications professionals require an ability to hold a huge array of skills. And the more skills you hold, the more valuable and adaptable you are.

Better for you, your career, and your organization.

Integrative thinking

Building new skills creates a deep, cognitive shift, causing you to think and see things differently. As I previously discussed when speaking about craft, when you start moving out of your village you begin to learn and understand new cultures.

Building your skills is a step toward thinking in a more integrative way. You are not only building your own skills in the process, you are gaining the ability to see any given subject from different angles.

"To the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
- Charlie Munger

Why is this important?

Business guru Roger Martin gave a good example of the lack of integrative thinking in the medical field on The Knowledge Project:

"She was a resident (in a hospital) and her attendant was saying things like 'Could you check the liver in Room 217?' It's not, 'check how Mrs Smith is who has liver problems'... it's down to that kind of narrowness. We're not even going to talk about the person we're going to tend to - it's just one organ in the body. And so we're sort of teaching from the word ‘go’ to not think holistically. To think as narrowly as possible."

This touches on so much.

When we become laser focused on one thing, we begin to miss the bigger picture. What feels like a wall might be an elephant.

Image source: https://www.safalniveshak.com/

Learning and building new skills allows us to see problems and solutions from a different lens, and gain a more holistic view of the whole.

As Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs explains, building adjacent skills not only widens your career perspectives, it increases empathy, improves communication and motivation, and builds new perspectives.

Importantly, it's not just about your professional development, it's about exploring and finding ways to widen your own interests and learn new things: broadening your horizons to help you add to the ever-shifting mosaic of ideas in the world.

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