Rebranding “Soft Skills”

People are slow to change.  For thousands of years we basically have worked for the same essential things: safety, sustenance, belonging, and meaning.  Generally speaking, it is not difficult to understand a person’s overall motivations as we all can relate to each other in this way.  But we have seen values evolve faster than people, and now technology even faster than that. As a result, we have seen industries rapidly changing and coping with these advancements.  

Despite these tumultuous times, I am a firm believer in values being the spine of your organization.  As an organization, you have to decide what your core values are and then everything else will either fall into place or be informed by this initial decision.  Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, but I believe that this is how we will reconcile our behavior with these changing times.

Every industry is different, but there is some common ground as we move forward.  Husband’s idea of “Wirearchy” (Husband, 2016) is fascinating. The idea is that connectivity should be expanded, and every thread between each node of an organization should be multiplied.  This is a departure from the traditional hierarchical organization structure and does away with the silos that might result. But I had trouble understanding how exactly these tenets would manifest in an entrepreneurial or corporate structure.  You can’t share everything even if you wanted, and don’t some cases call for some limitations to access? I clicked through his website looking for concrete examples and the only one I could find (without paying for his e-book) was from the blog post on designing flows of purposeful people.  In it, he gives 2 examples, the second of which a body of students formed a coalition of networks that began to thrive. They shared knowledge, information, and experiences and in return received sustainability, self-governance and structure. At the same time, I was curious to know how these theories would work in a corporate structure where people have vastly different roles, make decisions that have a wide range of impact, and are beholden to various groups of stakeholders?  

Prince (2019) wrote an article that was more illuminating in this respect.  Firstly, I an intrigued by her proposal for K-12 education for building well-rounded professionals.  It is definitely debatable whether some of those topics were within the scope of formal education or were they more in the family/parenting territory, but I would have certainly loved to have been taught some fo those concepts growing up.  But I think that Prince made an excellent point: what better way to deal with rapidly changing environments than to create agile and flexible professionals? Many of the skills discussed in this article are traditionally known as “soft skills”, and recently I have been wondering if they should be rebranded, especially when it comes to leadership.

A problem we have is that people are promoted until they are incompetent.  Partly because people expect and work toward promotions, and partly because the skills required to succeed at one level are not necessarily the same as those required to succeed at another.  Leaders and managers need to be flexible both emotionally and cognitively. They need to be able to manage personalities, understand motivations, and promote positive culture. In this sense, these “soft skills” that Prince proposes we start teaching earlier and place more emphasis on appears to be something worth looking into.  

I think that for this reason, having and promoting diversity is key.  You cannot expect everyone to excel at everything, but you do need to build a team that thinks creatively and having people from different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge are key components to thinking creatively.  I have heard the term “soft skill” used condescendingly, and it’s a shame. These are not soft skills, they are tools for connecting, for building relationships, and for leaders.

References:

Husband, J. (2016).  Hierarchy to Wirearchy – Designing Flows for Networks of Purposeful People.  Referenced from: http://wirearchy.com/2016/09/26/hierarchy-to-wirearchy-designing-flows-for-networks-of-purposeful-people/

Prince, K. (2019).  Preparing All Learners for an Uncertain Future of Work.  Referenced from: https://www.gettingsmart.com/2019/02/preparing-all-learners-for-an-uncertain-future-of-work/


Weinberger, D. (2014).  David Weinberger on the Power of the Internet.  Refernced from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPXmEh24KXA

10 thoughts on “Rebranding “Soft Skills”

  1. I agree with your take on some aspects of the Wirearchy proposition. It was, perhaps because of its brevity/format, light on specifics and, accordingly, could be viewed as more “fluffy” than “aspirational”. There was nothing about the propositions with which to disagree, but there was no clear roadmap on how to make it work in real time or real life.

    Your comment on the benefits of diversity is, in my experience, spot on. The additional knowledge, creativity and productivity to be gained by increasing the diversity of our teams (gender, ethnic, age-group, socioeconomic background, etc.) is substantial, and can help bridge some of the soft skills training needs by putting people together whose interaction would teach those skills in real time, on the job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would be definitely interested to learn more about it. He is selling the e-book for $10 but I have not committed yet. I think I will be reading through more of his blog posts to see if it would sway me one way or the other but I agree with you. There is a lot there to like, but there is no road map or details of implementation.

      I simply love that it is becoming more commonplace to actually appreciate diversity instead of making diversity hires to fill a quota. The benefits of having diverse teams is being increasingly widespread and I think it will do us all a great service by bridging cultures and remembering that at the end of the day, we are all humans.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your thoughts this week! I don’t understand what you mean by the statement “we have seen values evolve faster than people”. I keep reading this sentence, and it’s driving me bonkers (lol!). I tend to think values are created or determined by people, so how can values evolve faster than people? I might be missing the point, but can you please clarify?

    I see your point that it might not be possible that everything can or will be shared. It is also unlikely to think that we will be able to access or absorb all information that exists on the web. Perhaps this notion has more to do with how to gain access to and share the right or relevant information and, in turn, knowing how to apply it appropriately. I think this speaks to what Kelley (2016) describes in the filtering chapter and the capability for technology to assist in filtering information more quickly compared to human capability. Thoughts?

    Lastly, I appreciate your comments regarding the term “soft skills” and share in your frustration because I too believe there is nothing soft about cultivating more self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, etc. within individuals. Ask any leader or organization if they would hire someone with these enhanced attributes and I would be shocked if they said “no”. Thanks again!

    References

    Kelley, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York: NY: Penguin Random House LLC

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I apologize I was not very clear about what I meant about values, I can definitely see how my words were ambiguous. What I meant was that values, in regards to societal values, generational values, and individual values seem to change over time more rapidly than general human needs and motivations. We have always needed safety, sustenance, belonging and meaning but we have seen laws and behaviors change according to religion, values, and general morality. 2000 years ago it wasn’t uncommon to have a slave and 70 years ago interracial marriage was illegal in many places. People often attribute different generic values to generations such as Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. Morality has been shifting towards more liberal and humanitarian efforts on societal levels over the course of the last thousands of years. We have seen so much change in values, morality, and technology yet our basic needs remain largely unchanged. I think in this sense, laws, business, and international relations is playing catch up as technology seems to advance faster and faster. We see this with lawmakers and business men trying to figure out what the internet is and how to manage it, most notably perhaps with the Facebook ordeal.

      I feel like I just waxed poetic and am unsure if I have clarified my thoughts or jumbled them further, but I hope this has been insightful in some manner of sense.

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  3. I appreciated your thoughts about wirearchy and the anticipated, organic interconnectedness of people in organizations and industries. From my own experience, sometimes I would like to know everything but my work doesn’t require it. And following my curiosity can be a distraction. As we discussed regarding knowledge management, sifting through the available information can be time-intensive knowledge work itself. I think this idea touches on your closing paragraph; we need diversity because everyone cannot know everything.

    Regarding education, Prince made practical points. However, the difference between education and vocational preparation can get fuzzy. As an educator, I am involved in conversations about the vocational focus of STEM and the diminishing resources available for humanities education. Maybe preparing people for careers that span decades would be best served with education focused on empathy, communication, collaboration, and critical thought.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

    Like

  4. Thank you for your work. You mention the need for soft skills. I think this is important, but only as it is important to a particular company or field. Promotions will occur as long as the person is competent. If soft skills became more important or needed within a company, the company would then seek that out or begin to train people in this area. There may be an entirely different expectation for soft skills in the digital age. Have you discovered any differences in traditional soft skills and skills needed in the technological age?

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  5. The comments about soft skills and competency resonates with me. An interesting aspect is how do corporations or the government test for emotional intelligence before a promotion to the next higher level. Recently, the army instituted a battalion commander screening process. Previously selection as a commander was based on a record/skills review (https://www.army.mil/article/229500/army_announces_new_battalion_commander_selection_program). Although this is the first time it is being implemented Army wide, the pilot test last year made significant changes to the initial board recommendations.

    Soft skills development and promoting the overall best qualified candidate is at the heart of what I believe in. I am interested if you have seen other selection processes in government, education, or the corporate world that encompass a whole person concept.

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  6. I appreciate the reflection regarding the need for diversity in thought. As with the surgical team focused on the patient, each discipline has a certain view and perspective on patient care. Similarly to looking at a painting, each recognizes a certain aspect that stands out to their eye. It allows for a full, complementary as a team, evaluation of a patient or procedure.

    Wirearchy resonated for me this week, it sounding familiar other than a view of an adaptive style of leadership. My professional organization is attempting to change its governance system from a hierarchy to sociocracy. The image, which explains a great deal of the structure is below:

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiBqb-Bw_DlAhXFjp4KHXyNB8gQjRx6BAgBEAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fmedium.com%2F%40Harri_Kaloudis%2Fa-brief-introduction-to-sociocracy-a0770f220937&psig=AOvVaw3V2KKkqhz9TkzguJV3GhOQ&ust=1574055261549154

    For a video explanation, check out this site:

    http://sociocracyforall.org/sociocracy/

    Similar to wirearchy, sociocracy encourages input from various groups into decision making, encouraging equality in the decision process, as oppose to the singular voice of a hierarchy. It’s pretty fascinating. It seeks the diversity of thought you mention in your post.

    Is this something that you think could be implemented? Do you think others would be receptive?

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  7. Your post generated some fascinating comments! I agree with your point that “…You cannot expect everyone to excel at everything, but you do need to build a team that thinks creatively and having people from different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge are key components to thinking creatively.” I would add to that having people who tap in to different networks as well. We (individually) cannot excel at everything, but we (collectively) can. The question becomes not only who we bring in to our teams, but who through their connections we bring?

    Like

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