Friday, June 24, 2011

The Seven Skills

There was one part of Seth Godin's Linchpin that resonated very strongly with me, and that I wanted to riff on a bit.

Seth has a section on factors that make one indispensable within one's network or organization. I struck me that while these do apply anywhere, in large company environments in particular, Seth really nailed the blueprint.

Here's his list (in bold) with my commentary about how I've seen this apply at large companies like Microsoft and Intel.

I'm certainly not claiming I rate super high on any or all of these. But, where I've had successes, it was from delivering along one or more of these vectors. Similarly, where I've failed it was because I required one of these and fell short.

  1. Provide a unique interface between other members of the organization: Complex organizations inevitably get divided into groups to work on different functions. Sometimes that split is vertical (by product or market segment), sometimes horizontal (by functional area), often both. This necessitates meetings or processes by which decisions get made and priorities managed. Being the person that manages that process, runs the meeting, etc, even if not the person that makes the decision, is a valuable function. That person ends up being the person who knows who is doing what, has all the history of what was assigned to whom, etc.
  2. Deliver Unique Creativity: This is that person in your organization that can synthesize a problem, and provide unique creativity to one element of it. "Sara is the best at coming up with compelling business plan pitches", or "No one comes up with out-of-box ad concepts like Fred".
  3. Manage a Situation, Project, Product or Organization of Great Complexity: The larger the project, be it hardware, software, game, or whatever, the more likely that there will be very complex tradeoffs and priorities to manage. It is VERY common for people to spin themselves into a circular holding pattern because they can't get past some tradeoff. Being the person that understands how to trade off features, schedule, cost and priorities, keeps their eye on fundamental product goals, understands what decisions can be made at a low level and which have to go to the top, and who does/doesn't need to be involved in making it -all of these are valuable skills, especially in aggregate. It also involves recognizing that you can't be the domain expert on every area, so when someone asserts "we must do A", you bring in the expert on the contrarian view and manage the debate.
  4. Lead Customers: There are two angles to this, in my point of view, one is salesmanship, in the most positive sense of the word - understanding customers needs, and helping lead them to a solution. The other one is internal, acting as an effective customer advocate, which means not just "they are asking for feature X", but understanding why, helping internal product teams understand the benefits or consequences of not doing so.
  5. Inspire Staff: People need leadership. At large companies in particular, there are a lot of people that never leave the building. Inspiring them with a mission and a view of how they can have impact, well, I think we can all think of how rare the examples of this are in each of our work histories.
  6. Provide Deep Domain Knowledge: "The smartest guy in the room on topic X". Pretty self evident. Hint: There's no amount of reading that substitutes for actually doing it. e.g. There are sports commentators that are huge fact repositories. There are those that were players or coaches themselves. Those that have both are the ones that have life-long careers.
  7. Possess a Unique Talent: Easier said than done. "She's the only person that can...". The weak form of this is "He's the only person that can access our database because he's never trained anyone on it's structure". That's not a unique talent, that's protectionism. I remember a friend introduced me to a senior guy at EA a few years back and told me "He's the best closer in the business". I asked what they meant, and they said "when a product is over budget and/or behind schedule, or not meeting goals, they send him in. And then it gets fixed".
Anyhow, it struck me as a good list. Chances are you have abilities and challenges along all seven of these points. Good to think about how you can improve and which ones you can make your best ones.

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