A major key is to have the skills be related. This means you shouldn’t just focus on your strengths, which oddly enough can hold you back. Take a look at the top performers in your field to see what various skill stacks they possess. When you know what you want to increase your proficiency in, it’s as easy as reading a couple of books or a few articles, attending a few lectures, and gaining some basic exposure. This alone will make you better informed and prepared than 90 percent of the general population—this positions you as an expert! This is using the concept of polymathy in the best way for your specific life circumstances.
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The best thing about a skill stack is that you probably already have one.
You just haven’t thought about it yet, let alone been able to recognize or discuss it.
The first step in defining your skill stack is making sure you have abilities that work as counterparts and complement each other toward a specific end goal.
For example, it’s easy to see how writing, public speaking, and acting can create a valid triple threat.
Being a competent chef, a smart businessperson, and a capable communicator can be all you need to open a successful restaurant.
Conversely, being a good public speaker, a decent guitarist, and a good chef might only make you a better-than-average waiter— and not bring you toward your desired end goal of owning a restaurant.
And being able to type, tap-dance, and shell peanuts effectively—well, some doors may just not be open for you, except maybe circus administration.
The skills you stack can’t be too random.
They should be three or four skills in related or compatible fields.
If you can master those interconnected skill sets, your value could skyrocket far greater than if you just stuck with what you’re “naturally” good at doing.
To get to the core of your skill stack, do some relatively simple self-evaluation by asking yourself these questions.
What industry are you in or do you want to be in? Easy enough.
What’s your current work situation and/or the work situation you dream about? In that industry, in which areas of skill do people compete against each other? What does everybody in that field of interest absolutely have to do on a basic level? What will get them in the door? These are the skills that the business or endeavor is built on, the ones that the higher-ups will always judge their employees about on a daily basis.
If you’re in the top 5 percent of those skills, it’s commendable.
But there are still others like you and some who are theoretically better than you, so being in the top 5 percent is not quite enough.
Given that everyone has those skills, what new skills can you acquire that will blow them out of the water? This is your “special sauce,” the one (or better yet, two or three) additional talents you possess that separate you from everyone else.
Chances are, this ability is something you developed in another environment, not specifically for this job or task.
And it’s the difference- maker that can tilt the scales in your favor.
Take a look at the top performers in the field, or in related fields, to get a clue if you’re not sure what step to take here.
Let’s say you want to be a stockbroker.
In what areas do stockbrokers distinguish themselves from others and compete with each other? Stockbrokers absolutely have to be good at communicating and calculating.
That’s a given that should cover percent of all stockbrokers, but let’s be more reasonable and say that 75 percent of them actually are.
Obviously, that’s nowhere close to enough to swing hiring decisions your way.
So what new skills can you learn that would separate you from the others? Since the global economy is super-connected, a stockbroker could accentuate their portfolio (pun intended) by learning a foreign language of another economic superpower, like China or Germany.
Some studies say 50 percent of all the world’s population is bilingual.
That sounds a little high to me, but let’s say it’s true.
You’ll distinguish yourself from at least half of the other stockbrokers by being able to speak a different language.
And each new language you learn will chip away at that percentile even more.
Let’s say one additional language puts you in the top 20 percent of all stockbrokers.
Furthermore, since biotech is one of the most watched categories on the stock market, a stockbroker with a deeper knowledge of medicine, the human body, and recuperation practice might be a keener analyst of new and prospective technologies.
If you know a lot about medicine or have a background in first-aid administration or light medical assistance, you could have another advantage over the other bilingual stockbrokers.
You’re not a master of all these trades—but with some hard work and practice, it’s easy enough to get into the top 10–15 percent.
And that’s enough to make you more flexible and marketable to someone else.
In this age, versatility is more important than limited execution.
You’ve exponentially multiplied your bankability as a stockbroker just by listening to some audio tapes of German or Chinese every week and reading a few articles a week on breaking news in biotech companies.
Not a bad return on investment—and that’s just the thing: constructing and increasing your skill stack can be deceptively easy.
Switching to something probably more fun and less stressful, let’s consider painting.
Close to percent of all painters (Jackson Pollock-esque, spilling-paint types excepted) have to know how to sketch a given subject.
They all should need to know how to work with various mediums and paint types, even if they end up specializing in only one or two.
For the sake of this example, let’s say only 90 percent of them can work in multiple mediums.
Some artists only paint portraits or still lifes that are conveniently positioned right in front of them as they paint.
But someone who has a well-developed photographic (or at least highly dependable) memory can paint almost anything and anywhere they want, and they might be more prolific in the process.
That’s a skill that can be honed over time and practice.
Finally, someone with a background in mythology, theology, or philosophy might have a grasp on certain symbols that they can incorporate into their work to give it added meaning or tension.
A skilled draftsperson is easy to find among painters.
But a skilled draftsperson who works in multiple mediums, has a high- functioning memory and an extremely well- rounded background in art theory, mythology, or philosophy? That’s not a common trifecta.
And it’s easy to use them all in service to art.
Each time you add another skill to your stack, you are crafting a more and more selective Venn diagram.
Nobody knows your abilities better than you—but creating a synergy around your diverse skills is something that might have eluded you.
Skill stacking can take advantage of what you already are and present it in a way that benefits the masses.
And it’s also a great, constructive way to figure out what skills you need to learn to make you stand out.
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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