Monday, February 25, 2013


Soft skills catch our eye because they are beautiful: Picture the soccer stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo improvising their way to a brilliant goal, or Jimi Hendrix blazing through a guitar solo, or Jon Stewart riffing through a comic monologue. These talents appear utterly magical and unique. In fact they are the result of super-fast brain software recognizing patterns and responding in just the right way.

While Hard Skills are best put together with measured precision, soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever-changing environments. These are places where you encounter different obstacles and respond to them over and over, building the network of sensitive wiring you need to read, recognize and react. (Myelin growth around neurons = skill development!) In other words, to build soft skills you should behave less like a carpenter and more like a skateboarder in a skateboard park: aggressive, curious and experimental, always seeking new ways to challenge yourself.

Brazil, home of many of the world’s most skilled soccer players, develops its players through a unique game called futebol de salao (football in the room). This insanely fast, tightly compressed five-on-five version of the game – played on a field the size of a basketball court – creates 600% more touches, demands instant pattern recognition and in words of Emilio Mirando, a professor of soccer at the University of Sao Paulo, serves as Brazil’s “laboratory of improvisation”.

Chicago’s Second City, the comedy troupe that has served as a training ground for some of America’s most successful comedians (Alumni including Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Steve Carell, and Tina Fey, among others) accomplishes this by providing a rich competitive, endlessly varied space in which to practice improvisation, sketch comedy and stand-up. (A good example of how profoundly this can improve skills, go to YouTube and look up Tina Fey’s Second City work from the 90’s On second thought, don’t.) Even the most creative skills – especially the most creative skills – require long periods of clumsiness.

Like Tina Fey’s, Lionel Messi’s & Cristiano Ronaldo’s early improvisations weren’t very good – and that’s precisely the point. They became skilled by performing thousands of intensive reaches and reps in an endlessly challenging, variable, engaging space.

When you practice a soft skill, focus on making a high number of varied reps, and on getting clear feedback. Don’t worry too much about making errors – the important thing is to explore. Soft skills are often more fun to practice, but they’re also tougher because they demand that you coach/teach yourself. After each session ask yourself, What worked? What didn’t? And Why?

86, 400 opportunities in the day to improve, what are YOU waiting FOR???? (There are 86,400 seconds in each day) That’s how I look at it!

Hard Skills coming soon…stay tuned!

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