"The illiterate of the 21st century
will not be those who cannot read and write,
… but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."
— Alvin Toffler
“Give a person a fish," we’re often told, "and they eat for today. Teach them to fish, and they’ll never go hungry.”
This was useful advice in the last century. But now? Is it still useful? Is it still true in these changing times?
Try telling it to a fisher in Newfoundland or Chile where fish stocks collapsed. Tell it to loggers where the forest industry has disappeared. Tell it to millions of North Americans who lost good-paying jobs to places off-shore with lower wages. Tell it to record companies, neighborhood bookstores and typewriter manufacturers!
Teaching people to fish or to do any specific job is still necessary. But, by itself, it is no longer enough to guarantee that you'll never go hungry. If you want to succeed today - and never go hungry — you'd better recognize that you must now master both specific skills and generic skills.
Specific skills are specialized field skills. They are particular to specific fields such as accounting, beekeeping, writing, rock climbing, fishing, community activism, business development, web design, etc Most of our education is about field-specific skills. But, such skills no longer guarantee success in life or work. To thrive in changing times, we also need higher-order generic skills.
Generic skills are sometimes referred to as “meta-skills,” “character skills,” or “learning how to learn” skills. The word “generic” comes from the Latin “genus.” It has the same root as “generate.” Generic skills
Generic skills are high-order, transferable skills that are common to almost all complex endeavours. They include skills such as communicating, problem-solving, , curiosity, patience, flexibility, purpose, persistence, resilience, courage and creating — that apply across all specific fields. They enable us to organize, adapt, and strategically apply our specific skills in new situations and circumstances.
Generic skills also enable us generate new skills (not to mention new products, services, relationships, communities, etc) that help us succeed in novel situations, manage and adapt to change and to flourish by creating what matters, even in the face of adversity.
They are important today because work and life are in flux. Both are getting more complex. Both require flexibility, initiative, creativity, emotional mastery and the ability to take on many different tasks - and to learn from your doing and your experience.
Never has Aldous Huxley's statement — "Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you." — been more true!
Developing Generic Skills
Few schools teach generic skills. As a result, many people don’t develop them. Faced with adversity, they flounder. A few learn them by accident; by doing lots of different things and paying attention to what is common to all of them. Others dig deep and teach themselves the skills they need thrive in the face of change. Or hire a coach to help them teach themselves these critical skills.
A combination of generic and specific skills, for example, enabled an out-of-work fisher in Newfoundland to become a self-employed electrician and sell his services to the offshore oil industry. He not only had to master the specific skills of an electrician. He also had to develop the generic skills involved in conceiving, designing, creating, marketing a small business. And selling his services in a competitive market.
So did a laid-off forest worker in Oregon who started a mountain guiding service. She had to teach herself how to create and sell adventure programs to wealthy professionals seeking challenge and growth in the wild.
A litigation attorney at a top Manhattan law firm hired me to help her develop her generic skills in creating and emotional mastery. Ultimately, she used her creating skills to clarify, articulate, design and implement the life and work she most wanted. She is now a life coach, helping people get in touch with and act on their “wild heart.”
Finally, a housewife who felt trapped in a failing marriage chose to free herself by turning her photography hobby into a small business. She thought doing so would allow her to leave her husband. But, when she succeeded, she realized that it had been her lack of generic skills that had trapped her, not her relationship. She then applied her new generic creating and emotional mastery skills to creating the kind and quality of relationship she most wanted. Now she’s happily independent within her business and lovingly interdependent within her marriage.
Creating Plus Emotional Mastery Leads To Real And Lasting Results
In my coaching work, I focus primarily on helping clients develop and apply the generic skills of creating and emotional mastery/resilience.
Developing one of these skill sets makes it easier to develop the other, and vice versa. Together, they greatly increase your chances of creating the kind and quality of life and work you truly want, even in these rapidly changing and often confusing times.
Emotional mastery includes such generic skills as the capacity to manage your moods and emotions, the capacity to monitor, challenge and change your self-talk and stories, the capacity to own your desired results — regardless of what happens, or who owns the blame for the adversity, the ability to create positive emotions, and the ability to bounce back quickly from adversity, setbacks and failure.
It also includes “grit,” the ability to focus passionately on a deeply desired result, to practice deliberately and to persevere in the face of difficulty until you complete your result at the standard you set for yourself.
Emotional mastery and resilience are core skills in my generic creating approach. “Live with vision and purpose,” says integrative medicine pioneer Joan Borysenko. “Resilient people don’t wait passively for the future to happen to them - they become the future by consciously creating it.”
Creating As A Key Generic Skill
“We are what we repeatedly do,” said Aristotle. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The creating habit (or approach) - the skills, structure and organizing framework that underlie the act of creating almost anything - is the most powerful approach we know for clarifying what really matters, and why. And for consistently bringing what matters into being.
The creating approach comprises a set of generic skills that you can master and apply to crafting almost any result. They include:
- Crafting clear and compelling visions of desired results.
- Accurately, objectively assessing the current state of the desired result.
- The capacity to hold vision and reality in mind - simultaneously - to establish the “creative tension” that both energizes and guides your actions.
- The skill of mapping out strategic sub-results and sub-sub results so you can easily navigate your way through the complex maze of action steps necessary to bring your results into being.
- The capacity to learn from both success and failure, and to see failure as merely feedback.
- The ability to focus on your passion, practice deliberately and persevere through whatever life throws you, and to follow through to completed results.
Coupled with specific skills and the generic skills of emotional mastery and resilience, a generic capacity to create enables you to embrace life’s complex messes as challenges, not problems. It enables you to simplify life and work and consciously create the result you want.
Creating and Creativity
The drive to create — the deep, persistent urge to bring into being something that you’d love to see exist — is different from creativity. It sets apart true creators, those who bring desired results into being from those who are merely creative,.i.e. do things differently.
"The drive to create," says improvisational violinist Stephen Nachmanovitch, "characterizes someone who is driven to do something from the depths, something that he or she feels must be done regardless of whether it’s popular or well rewarded by society.
"This inner compulsion to realize a vision depends on creating for its fulfillment, but it is not the same as creativity. The inspired poet or musician may in fact be less creative, less clever, adept, or original than the designer of an advertising campaign, but he is motivated by a life-or-death need to bring the vision into being."
Doing things differently, or doing the unusual is not the essence of the creating process. A creator’s end result is usually predictable. A novelist ends up with a novel, a painter with a painting. Architects see buildings take shape as they were envisioned. Entrepreneurs bring into being the business they dreamed of owing and working in.
Although the path may vary from straight to crooked, from up and down to a rising spiral, the essence of creating is that it leads step-by-step to the outcome desired by the creator - independent of the problems, circumstances and adversity life tosses you.
What Kind Of Future Do You Want?
“Those who do not create the future they want,” wrote Draper L. Kaufman Jr, “must endure the future they get.”
If you don’t want to endure the future life throws at you, and would rather create the future you dream about, it’ll help to develop your generic skills.
Together with emotional mastery, the generic capacity to create empowers and enables you to create the future you most want, and to do so in a simple, rich, elegant and lasting way.
Generic competence gives rise to a deep, authentic confidence - an unwavering sense that “I can do!”
It gives you courage, commitment and a sense of control. It allows you to more fully engage with life, and with people. It makes you more employable in regular jobs because you can do things such as take responsibility, initiate projects, think outside the box and adapt to changing circumstances.
It also provides you with the backbone skills and confidence you need should you choose to create your own business or service practice. It helps artists, musicians, writers, craftspeople and creators of all stripes to organize their lives and work so they support their passion, their art — the work.
Most important, it gives you the skills and confidence to thrive - to never go hungry - even if and when your particular “fish stocks” collapse, and your specific skills are no longer as useful as they were. These days, that’s the most important kind of competence a person can have.
So, by all means invest in specific skill development but also invest in the generic skill development that will enable you to profit from your skills, no matter what happens in the world around you.