BEFORE YOU BEGIN, FIGURE OUT IF IT’S A HARD SKILL, OR A SOFT SKILL
The first step toward building a skill is to figure out exactly what type of skill you’re building. Every skill falls into one of these categories: hard skills and soft skills.
HARD, HIGH-PRECISION SKILLS are actions that are performed as correctly and consistently as possible, every time. They are skills that have one path to an ideal result; skills that you could imagine being performed by a reliable robot. Hard skills are about repeatable precision, and tend to be found in specialized pursuits, particularly physical ones. Some examples:
A child performing basic math (for example, addition or multiplication tables);
A soccer player hitting a Penalty Kick
A basketball player shooting a free throw
A worker on an assembly line, attaching a part to an automobile
Here, your goal is to build a skill like a Swiss watch – reliable, exact and performed the same way every time, automatically, without fail. Hard skills are about ABC: Always Being Consistent.
SOFT, HIGH-FLEXIBILITY SKILLS, on the other hand, are those that have many paths to a good result, not just one. These skills aren’t about doing the same thing perfectly every time, but rather being about being agile and interactive; about constantly recognizing patterns as they unfold and making smart, timely choices. Soft skills tend to be found in broader, less-specialized pursuits, especially those that involve communication, such as:
A midfield player sensing a weakness in the defense and deciding to attack;
A striker spotting a hidden opportunity amid a disorganized defense in the heat of the match;
A singer subtly interpreting the music to highlight emotion;
A police officer on a late-night patrol, assessing potential danger;
A Soccer Coach ‘Reading the game’ in a tense match or confrontation.
With these skills, we are not trying for Swiss-watch precision, but rather for the ability to quickly recognize a pattern or possibility, and to work past a complex set of obstacles. Soft skills are about three R’s: Reading, Recognizing and Reacting.
The point of this tip is that hard skills and soft skills are different (literally, they use different structures of circuits in your brain), and in this way are developed through different methods of deep practice.
Begin by asking yourself, which of these skills need to be absolutely 100% consistent every single time. Which need to be executed with machine-like precision? These are HARD Skills.
Then ask yourself, which skills need to be flexible, and variable, and depend on the situation? Which depend on instantly recognizing patterns and selecting one optimal choice? These are soft skills.
If you aren’t sure if the skill is hard or soft, here’s a quick test: Is a teacher or coach usually involved in the early stages? If Yes, then it’s likely a hard skill. If No, then it’s a soft skill. Soccer players and athlete’s tend to have teachers/coaches; CEO’s & Stand-up Comics don’t. The following three Blogs take this idea further, explaining methods of deep practice that work best to develop each type of skill.