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What I Know About Skill Pt. 1: Randal Gets A Fancy Haircut

07/27/09

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I think skill is one of those concepts that people use as a matter of course but is actually quite difficult to nail down. Skill is–according to my Mac dictionary–“the ability to do something well; expertise.” In a sense that’s intuitive: a skilled cook is one who is able to cook many things and to cook them well; a skilled tennis player is one who is able to control a tennis ball well.

But skill is only intuitive–to me anyway–if you think about it in terms of the effect, the fact that the meal or the shot didn’t exist before and now it does. What does it actually mean about a person to say he is skilled? How do you break it down? What are all of the things that are actually different about a skilled cook versus an unskilled cook? I think that the most obvious answer would be that he knows more about cooking materials, tools, techniques than the average person does. If so, then does that mean that my Jean-Georges cookbook makes me a four-star chef? Errrr, probably not.

It’s a question I’ve thought and read about plenty, but I am always refining my answer. I’d even say that I don’t have a full answer yet but, rather, many disparate pieces of an answer. Individual ideas that I’ve collected from my education, experiences at work, and various books.

And so the question was on my mind the other day when I got myself a fancy haircut.

The unique thing about getting a haircut is that it is one of the only instances where you actually see every step of the process–from assessment of the problem to completion. That creates a perfect opportunity for someone interested in skill to make a few observations and apply his current understanding.

Over the next few posts, I am going to try to list the key things I know about skill, using the highly skilled Tina the Hairdresser as my prime example. In doing so, I think I can bring everyone up to speed on the current state of my thinking. I’ll include myself in that “everyone.” Like I said, my thinking on skill is currently a collection of ideas, and I’m not quite sure what I’d consider my bedrock beliefs right now. By listing all of the pieces, I’d like to come to some sort of picture of the whole. It should be something easily stated, a clear framework for a person to use in figuring out why he or she is struggling in picking up a skill or executing it.

So let’s get this started!

To be continued…

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One comment

  1. I immediately think of Malcolm Gladwell’s story about learning to write thanks to daily — and often, unglamorous — practice at the news desk of the Washington Post. So I say skill = lots of repetition (plus the motivation needed to execute lots of repetition).



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