Tag Archives: skills

Skills for the 21st Century

Maybe the real missing skills for a 21st century leader are buiding a house:

I agree that a liberal-arts education provides those intangibles. But maybe it’s time that instruction—at least at some colleges—included more hands-on, traditional skills. Both the professional sphere and civic life are going to need people who have a sophisticated understanding of the world and its challenges, but also the practical, even old-fashioned know-how to come up with sustainable solutions.

The problems that today’s college-going generation will face in the future are enormous—and the stagnant economy is just the beginning. Climate change, fossil-fuel constraints, rotting infrastructure, collapsing ecosystems, and resource scarcities all loom large. Meeting those challenges will require both abstract and practical knowledge. For example, some scientists have fretted over the world’s limited supplies of rock phosphate, which is used in agriculture. Because we live in a country that has more people in prison than in farming, most people could not tell you that phosphorus is one of the three vital nutrients needed to grow food crops, nor could they name the other two, potassium and nitrogen (the latter of which is produced mostly by burning finite fossil fuels). Even if students never work in agriculture, such knowledge could help them as aspiring businessmen, future policy makers, or mere citizens.

This isn’t about going back to the land, but about a merger of the skills of our grandfathers and the skills of our emerging world. Understanding a range of these skills is important to navigating the complex world we live in.

You don’t need to suck

Three months ago I decided that I was no longer going to suck at design.

This seemed like an impossibly daunting task at first. I started with a project: redesigning the MHVLUG website. Then I went to Amazon looking for a book on web design. Some searching, reading reviews, looking at related/recommended books, and I bought a bunch of books. And I spent the next couple of months reading through them. The best books out of the lot have been The Design of Everyday Things, Don’t Make Me Think, and The Non-Designer’s Design Book. I read more than that, which is an important point. If you want to learn something new you’re going to need to read more than just 1 book.

Basic design, like most other things, has rules and patterns. Just knowing rules and patterns isn’t going to make you a great designer, but it will keep you from sucking too much. Having a basic theoretical framework gives you something to work with besides the really scary blank page. These books definitely did that for me.

Books will only get you so far, because you can nod along when reading a book, assuming that you understood, but until you go to apply it, you have no idea if you internalized it. Fortunately I had a project, so after a couple of months of reading, I dove into the project, doing the bulk of the work over Thanksgiving Holiday, with a lot of tweaking since. The results, I think are pretty good.

You don’t need to suck at anything. If there is something you wish you were better at, it’s within your control to get better at it. It takes hard work, time, and practice, but that’s just life.