Hard Skills Pay Off

Increasing your level of productivity and success obviously depends to a great degree on your drive, as well as your native level of aptitude, talent, and energy. But there’s another important component that will help determine how high you can rise in any organization or endeavor: your hard skills.

The plain fact is that, to produce great results and succeed at almost any task, project, or goal, you must be good – maybe even “very good” or “excellent” – at some ability or knowledge that’s intrinsically important to the work at hand.

There’s a huge number of these “hard” skills to be mastered – from accounting and civil engineering to video editing and zoology. Here’s one of many such listings.

But what these skills are and where to acquire them is well outside the scope of this message. Nor am I here to tell you which ones are most important or how to build your chops at the hard skills you are most lacking or most need.

What I do want to advise, however, is that you’ll expand your productivity and elevate your level of success when you add more of the relevant hard skills to your current portfolio of skills, attributes, and abilities.  

Here’s why:

More Is Better

Today the world is extremely complex, and rapidly getting more so. The days are long gone when a cobbler or a sheep shearer having just one skill could make his or her way through work and life.

What’s required now is a combination of skills that allow a person to understand a broad swath of what’s going on – both the problems and the opportunities – and to competently navigate around the difficulties and through at least some of the favorable openings.

This is why it’s important to keep trying to learn and grow generally, and also to seek out additional, specific hard skills – including disciplines like computers and the internet, personal finance, staying in shape, and eating well – that will better support you in accomplishing your most important tasks, projects, and goals.

Build Your Portfolio

When people invest, add to their wardrobe, collect interesting objects of any kind, or do anything similar, they generally follow at least two principles:

  1. They adhere to an organizing theme of some kind: investing for capital preservation, for example, or buying outfits they can wear to work, or collecting music boxes or impressionist painting.
  2. Within their organizing theme, they seek variety and complementarity: adding new and different items not at random, but intentionally – carefully choosing those that go well with and expand on their previous choices.   

It’s smart to do the same when you add to your portfolio of hard skills: aim to develop new skills that go well with your existing skills, while also expanding the range of what you can do and what you can work on.

Add Value

At any moment in time, there are a wide variety of hard skills you can add to your portfolio. At least one of the criteria you should use to decide which skill to add next is its value.

For example, if you know how to repair some brands of refrigerators and you have decided to learn how to repair the products from an additional manufacturer, you’ll do better to choose from among the most popular brands. Why? Because choosing a popular brand will greatly increase the number of refrigerators you can work on.

Another good way to identify an additional hard skill to acquire is to consider the work you’re already doing and ask “what other, complementary skills will make me more valuable in the organizations, scenarios, and situations I already serve?”

Competence Is Enough

Within a hard skill set, learning can be difficult. So it’s worthwhile to recognize that you can almost always develop a useful and valued level of competence without becoming a full-blown expert or master.

Consider the refrigerator repair example: you can become skillful enough to get a great many refrigerators working again, even though there may be other broken refrigerators that remain beyond your current ability to repair.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with putting in the time and effort to become a total expert who can help pretty much everyone who needs this kind of work. But that’s not necessary. You bring value just by entering the new field and developing an “entry level” skill set, without committing to becoming anything even close to “the best.”

This is an important insight.

In fact, I would argue your value increases exponentially as you learn each new hard skill. This is true not only because it gives you some basic competence in the new skill, but also because adding each new hard skill broadens your overall utility and value.

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