I used to watch a man with an impressive title work a room full of clients. He could get round the room of fifty or so people in considerably less than an hour. He would approach a small group of people and stick out his hand, identify himself and say “what do you do?”
Great question. What do you do? The answers were usually job titles. I’m Director of Flimflammery. I’m Senior VP of Dissembling. I’m Declining Products Manager (this one is actually real, I promise you. Imagine it – “Now Jenkins, we’ve noticed that you’ve been selling rather a lot of Crapolene X5 this year. I hope you’re not expecting a bonus…”)
The really interesting question is not “what do you do?” It’s “what are you really good at?” “What is your Big Skill?”
It takes some significant hard work to develop a Big Skill. Instead, it may be tempting to take the easy road – be a jack-of-all trades. But Pollack was right when he said “life is hard if you live it the easy way and easy if you live it the hard way”.
So what is your Big Skill, or what could it be?
When considering this question, there are three little tests to help you decide if your Big Skill is really big and, indeed, a skill. You don’t need to get three out of three. I’d say the pass rate is nearer two out of three.
Here goes –
1. Your Big Skill gives you potential access to a wide range of markets.
Many people want your Big Skill. You are not limited to the Isle of Mull seaweed husbandry sector – you can deal with other islands and other plants.
2. Your Big Skill makes a major contribution to the perceived value of your products and services as seen by the customer.
Aahh…perceived value. One of my favourite couplets. Your Big Skill places you right at the heart of business – generating perceived value. The key word here is perceived. The customer sees it and values it. If they don’t see what you thought was value (usually because they don’t value it) then it isn’t value.
Ask yourself this – “if I didn’t exist, would the customer notice?”
3. Your Big Skill is not easily imitated by your competitors.
Your Big Skill takes a while to develop. It has breadth and depth. It is tangible and meaningful. Copying it is not easy and only the best could do it and most won’t try.
How did you score?
In the work context, here’s some Big Skills you may have –
Leading – generating a compelling and deliverable vision. Easier said than done. A Big Skill.
Managing – getting results through people. Simple as that. A Big Skill.
Marketing – finding people who are interested in your value and telling them about it, nicely. A Big Skill.
Intellectual property – maybe you have a database that allows you to generate insights for your clients, or you know the solution to a perennial problem, or you have some methodology that gets a great results, or you are an “expert”…all Big Skills.
Selling – closing deals. A Big Skill.
Operational excellence – making and delivering great products and services. A Big Skill.
All forms of development – R&D, Product/Service development etc – this is about meeting an unmet need. I put entrepreneurialism in this box. A Big Skill.
You may have one of these Big Skills on your business card but your business card is not you. So, remember the three tests: does your Big Skill…
Allow you access to lots of markets?
Deliver loads of perceived value?
And is it…
Difficult to copy?
Some of you may recognise the Big Skill as essentially being the Core Competency idea of Hamel and Prahalad, which is now about twenty years old. They applied it to the corporation. I think it is useful at a personal level as I’ve got this bizarre idea that corporations don’t have skills, big or otherwise, but I think most people do.