On being mono-skilled

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I had an interesting online conversation with a journo today who’s thinking of finding a new job but believes he is “mono-skilled”. That causes him to believe that it’s hard for him to write his CV, or find interested recruiters.

Thankfully, that’s not true at all, even as many journos continue to subscribe to that belief. Those who don’t, have obviously moved on to other fields (and sometimes returned to editorial when they realized where their heart lay).

Now as my friends will know, I’ve been encouraging journos to try other jobs even when I was still a journo at SPH. I still do, not because I want the newspaper to lose good people, but because I think everyone deserves a chance to check out the world for him/herself. How do you know journalism is the perfect job for you until you’ve tried other jobs?

It’s an irony you know – scribes who write about everything under the sun, are often themselves not exposed to every other thing under the sun when it comes to a career.

It doesn’t help when I know there are some editors who having failed or been unhappy at other jobs in the past, try to convince young journos that journalism is truly the best career on earth.

Seriously, it’s not for everyone lah. There are journalists, and there is everyone else.

Now back to my point about being mono-skilled, or “I only know how to write, so how?”

I’ve often told fellow journos that they’re fools if they think being able to write is their only marketable asset. Their real strengths lie in several areas (and I’m referring to good journos here, others need not apply)

  • Listening and collecting vast amounts of data in a resourceful manner
  • Analysing the data from different points of view
  • Solving or find possible solutions to difficult problems objectively.
  • Verbalizing the above in a simple manner that many people can understand and apply their thoughts to.
  • Realizing all the above in a ridiculously short period of time (aka Deadline)

You know, the skills above are what most people outside of journalism use as well.

Whether you’re a financial analyst, a florist, a cook or a CEO, how you use the above skills in varying degrees determine how far you go in life.

(I exclude Acts Of God here).

So to clarify, I think there are two types of skills we need to think about. I have my own definitions here:

Technical skills developed over time – aka writing, violin, cooking, photography, gardening, financial analysis, selling services and so on. You can pick up these skills anytime via courses or books or apprenticeship. Many people are technically mono-skilled, some are dual-skilled, and very few are good at several technical skills.

Soft skills that enhance the technical skills that allows one to work in different scenarios – data collection and analysis, team co-ord and management, and clear communication. Sometimes, being able to bullshit is an important soft skill too. You can’t learn any of these soft skills in formal courses, but they’re developed over time either by circumstances, trial and error, mentorship or self-observation. Sometimes, they’re nothing more than “social skills” or inter-personal skills.

I’d like to think that everyone has a mix of technical skills and soft skills. The question is how we develop both “skill trees” to meet our desires?

For example, let’s take my own career path. I consider my real technical skill to be photography, not writing or marketing as most people would believe it to be. Yet when I quit photography 2003, I let my photography skills languish at a certain level and never worked on it again. It’s a pity to some, but I decided it was not my path and turned it back into a hobby instead.

I’m reasonably proficient at writing and that’s seen me through my SPH editorial career and the early phase of my Microsoft career. However, under the guidance of my boss Ben in MS, I’ve come to appreciate it’s the soft skills that truly open up different career options in one’s life, especially within the same company.

It’s how one earns the trust, the respect and the support of others that allows one to bust the limits of their technical skill and allow one to grasp new challenges and overcome them.

Yet I still continue to develop new technical skills – like learning how to manage spreadsheets and long rows of numbers, how to organize big-scale events and so on. PR was one technical skill I didn’t spend too long learning though – I simply thought to myself how I disliked the actions of lousy PR people when I was in the media, avoided their mistakes, and repeated methods of the ones I liked.

I sometimes lament to my friends – I’m a turning into Jack of All Trades, and Master Of None. But then I think to myself – do I really want to be known for doing one thing really well? What if I were a photographer and digicams got so smart they made me uncompetitive in the market? (Never say never). What else could I fall back on? What did I not try out when I had the energy and the passion to?

That’s also one of the reasons why I pursue so many hobbies – I want to know, can I be good at that one other thing? When I was young, I couldn’t afford these hobbies, but now that I can, why deny myself?

I don’t need to be great at it, but I want to enjoy being good at the violin, graphic design, hobby kits, building PCs, riding a motorbike and so on. I take pleasure at trying and getting good at new things, instead of trying to be Number One at everything like my Gahmen often tells me to.

Now I digress, as usual.

People who insist on thinking they can do only one thing well, are condemned to doing that one thing well, both by their own mindset and how others perceive them. It’s easy to fall into that thinking as a media guy (journos and PR peeps included) because that’s how media companies often measure your worth.

But if you see yourself as being good at more than just your technical skill, you’d be surprised at the options that suddenly pop up in front of you.

So really, it’s okay to be mono-skilled, but that never stopped anyone.

4 Replies to “On being mono-skilled”

  1. u forgot to add one more point: the network that you have established when u were a journalist.
    It’s also important that you have a network of resources/friends/contacts that you can leverage on, especially when you need help

  2. Hi Pretzel – networking is part and parcel of any job.

    To be honest, I’ve met many people as a journalist, but I forget most of their names/faces and I very rarely tap on the network for help. It’s one thing to know alot of people, and another to know the right people. Hard to believe, but most newsmakers won’t make a difference to a journalist’s life or career.

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