Can Skills Be Inherited?
Are skills inherited or learned?
In the last two years, I have been studying the issue of skill (or talent, if you prefer) and its inheritance.Two things changed my mind. First, I read a book by a psychologist who studied similar issues called “The Parent Trap” (love that book!). This gave me a much clearer appreciation of how hard it is to separate what you do from what your parents do. It also gave me a better understanding of how hard it can be for children to understand the concept of “why’s” or “what do’s” when their parents are not around.The second change was working with some teenagers who had long term autism who told me that they could not understand why their parents were like this, because their parents were not like this. They did not get it from their biological parents. They did not get it from their grandparents or great-grandparents. They got it from somebody else – and for them, that someone else was us!
Defining Skills (Inheritance)
As you may have noticed, I am a big fan of data and statistics. I also like to research and write about them. And if you are also a big fan of data and statistics, then you may want to read this post on how to build up your skills. What the post does is provide some general guidelines for defining skills for use in the context of startups. In other words, it’s a way of thinking about what it is that your company does that can be inherited from someone who has done it before.
The basic idea here is that you want to make sure that every employee understands what their role is in the company, what they can do (at least in theory) is relate to their role as well as they can and understand why they need to do it (at least in theory). It’s an iterative process: one step at a time and not just once or twice.
The approach should be relatively simple: everyone should start by defining the core competencies of their role (which could include things like understanding the process or solving problems), then specifying what those competencies are in terms of specific things they can do (like writing code), and finally specifying why those specific things are important (like when code needs to be reviewed).
As with all practical matters, defining skills tends to be more complex than simply saying “this person uses X programming language” or “this person works on XYZ project”.
The most important point here is that there are no absolutes; there isn’t anything one way or another about what people should know and understand. skills tend to evolve over time — not because people change how they learn but because people change how they think about learning. The key question here is whether you want your team members living by these guidelines yourself or using them as a guideline for others (i.e., hiring).
The Inheritance Process (How skills are Passed Down)
skills are like genes: they can be inherited but not passed down. People who have a skill tend to have it in one direction or another. There’s a rather large difference between being good at something and being able to do it well; there’s also a large difference between having a “hard-wired” advantage and having the ability to build on your innate abilities. So, how do you pass those skills on? And when?
In order for people to pass their knowledge from one generation to the next, they must work together, with other people, on tasks and tasks alone that require special knowledge or specialized skills.
I’ve always had a hard time imagining how skills could be inherited (though I know lots of people who claim to). I think it comes down to two things: 1) if you want your child (or your next-gen heir) to be able to do something, you really should help them do that thing — this is especially true for children; and 2) if you want the skill itself to be passed on, you need carefully structured training of the necessary skills.
In this post we’re going to talk about why we think practicing what you preach is essential for becoming successful in the world of software development — why we think it takes time and effort.
Inventories and the Inheritance Process
Inventories are a fact of life and can sometimes come to dominate a company. Take, for example, companies that have historically been driven by customer retention. They will have high levels of inventory and need to be ready to sell every last one.
On the flipside, some companies are driven by churn rates; because they don’t sell enough, they need to keep products in inventory until they stop selling them (in which case they usually don’t need to worry about keeping inventory as well).
These two kinds of companies are very different: the former is constrained by usage and needs to keep products available for sale; the latter is unconstrained and can charge whatever price it wants with no real constraint. Yet in both cases, inventory plays an important role in the decision-making process and we often see companies working towards a goal where their inventories are kept low simply because it gives them more time to plan their next iteration (or get rid of old stock).
It’s not uncommon for dozens or hundreds of people in different departments to have ideas on how products could be improved — but it’s rarely considered that any of these ideas should go through one another until everything is thought through thoroughly first. Inventory is a factor, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor — if you’re going to use inventory as your main decision-making factor, then you should consider all options equally before deciding which ones are actually worth pursuing (and not just those with the lowest cost).
Salespeople like to talk about “anchor conditions” (a way of saying “you can make your product better by giving us more customers who buy it more often than before”), so I wanted this post to address this concept from another angle: what if you had low turnover customers who would continue buying your product over years even after their usage levels had dropped? What if you could charge whatever price you wanted for those customers? What if new customers were attracted by lower prices? What if there was a way for existing customers who didn’t have money left over at their disposal each month to pay off part or all of their outstanding balance each month? How would these things work? And why do they work?
One could argue that we would still store our product information in a database somewhere (we do), but I think we can gain some insight into working with points-of-sale using something similar called tipping point analysis.
How We Inherit Skills
“skills” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the tech industry. It seems like it has almost as many meanings as the word “skills” itself. It can mean two different things:
The ability to code, or to write code
Skill sets that are specific to particular technology (e.g., coding languages, software engineering)
Both of these definitions would be fine for someone who has a technical background but we all have ideas about what is actually required of us professionally. If you are trying to figure out what skills you need in order to get your product launched, it would probably be helpful to identify what skill sets are necessary for you and other people in your organization:
Specific skills required for product launch (e.g., coding languages, software engineering)
General skills for success in the tech industry (e.g., social skills, communication skills, empathy)
Some of these could be acquired through formal education and others could be learned on the job — either way they are not transferable between companies or even between industries. If you already have a strong foundation in one area, it may not make sense to switch gears; if not then it may make sense not to switch gears altogether because there will always be people who will come along and take over your job — at least until you find better hires or hire more people who can do what you already do better than yourself (and then run faster).
skills are not inherited, but they can be learned. If you can’t learn from your parents, your parents aren’t teaching you anything.
If you think about it, skills are not that different from knowledge. You can learn a lot by studying a book or a course but also through personal experience. Knowledge is something you have, skills are something you can do (and can improve). This is why I believe that the best way to learn is to try things out on your own, both in terms of what you do and the way in which you do it. The key to learning is experimentation: trying things out on yourself and seeing what happens. A teacher may tell you what to do and teach you how to do it (a concept known as “task-based learning”), but many people find this approach very limiting because they cannot experiment in their own time with whatever situation they find themselves in.
That’s where I think education comes in: giving young people the chance to try things out for themselves with minimal supervision and guidance on how to do so should be encouraged. In some cases – for example, those whose skills go beyond just being able to type – a degree will be useful for them; however, many others will need further training or would benefit from taking their skills up a notch (which will often mean more than just typing). In such cases, education should be aimed at helping people take up their chosen field of study as an expression of their talents and abilities rather than someone else’s idea of who they are as individuals (which could easily introduce biases into the pattern).