Learn disciplines, not skills


The waning importance of the resume is no better illustrated than by one particularly lacking section, "Skills". Easily the first piece that should vanish from the ancient resume formula, where we list things were not encapsulated in our roles and achievements, as if tangential to our experiences. This is the place, especially for those about to join the workforce where we list the brands of software they've used before. Instead of learning and inventorying new skills, we should focus on experiencing new disciplines.

Honing a skill means you can complete a single task, or type of task, more easily and efficiently. Skills can be reused in many different areas, and are for the most part utilized and refined by repetition. Learning a discipline means taking on a new mode of thinking and immersing yourself in it. These deep dives add breadth to our experience and problem solving abilities. They allow us to see situations from a broader perspective and create a wider array or possibilities. The more we add to our multi-disciplined experience - whether specifically for our careers or purely for enjoyment - the stronger our intellectual capacity becomes. We also, by proxy, become more interesting people.

Disciplines consist of more than just skills. With each discipline one must learn its history, vocabulary, beliefs and other components to achieve the full experience. Some disciplines I have studied in the past few years: long distance running, sumi-e painting, interaction design. Others might include a new (spoken or programming) language or (cooking or just eating) a new type cuisine. Each of these is rather unrelated, but each has a rich history and lessons that can be extended far beyond themsevles. Recently I have caught myself applying product development approaches to both my writing and cooking...

Your brain naturally recognizes repeated patterns and draws on your breadth of experience. The fields bleed together and form an expansive mindset. Nancy Andreason proposes that the mark of a creative genius is the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated things (opens in a new tab). These people see connections that others do not and tie seemingly unrelated information together, typically without noticing. The deeper their “verbal lexicon,” the more, and richer connections they are able to perceive of. Immersing yourself in new disciplines fully adds to your breadth and whether we are creative geniuses or not, enhances our ability to make powerful associations and solve complex problems.

In today's workplace, but especially in startups every role is "multi-discipline". Entrepreneurs and employees #1 are: Leader, visionary, head of sales, and, additionally, all of the operating functions of running an organization. While companies and fields are rising out of nothing, individuals that can navigate these complexities are building new opportunities in the same way, no matter if they start at the top or bottom of an organization. Those that can spot connections and move in and out of roles more easily can thrive. This, in essence, is the value of the liberal arts education. By learning to think in a multitude of different modes, or see things from behind different lenses, you enhance your critical thinking ability. The more you know about everything, the more you know about one thing when you focus on it. This way of thinking can, however, be dangerous in our current world; with information readily available we can become experts on everything, and effectively, nothing at the same time. Learning a new discipline requires total immersion, not just exposure. We have to dig deep into these to get anything out of them and avoid sampling.Skills are tools to get something done. Disciplines are ways of perceiving the world and those around you. They enable you to attack problems from all angles. Complex problems need not always complex solutions and seemingly simple problems might not actually be simple. You need to be able to see the grand picture from a multitude of reflections. We never have the complete picture of anything, but the more "stuff" we can add to the objects and situations we face, the more complete they are, if only in our heads.