Skill Generalizing

I recently spoke at my Toastmasters club during an open house to some guests about the benefits of membership. One of the important points I made was that Toastmasters works on your communication skills not just public speaking. Because most people speak in front of an audience infrequently, this helped them realize the advantages Toastmasters meetings would have in their daily lives.

How easy it is to generalize a skill is an important factor to consider if you are looking to practice it. Beyond Toastmasters and public speaking, you should consider how the lessons learned while mastering any skill are applicable in other areas.

Learning programming improves your problem solving skills and your ability to understand complex systems. Practice painting helps you understand how colors interact and improves your creative ability. Endurance running improves your ability to pace yourself, push through physical pain and master your breathing.

By transferring lessons outside their original context you can utilize your current skills and find a greater motivation for building new ones. Although the utility of a specific skill may be limited, by generalizing those lessons you can get a lot more.

Generalizing Metaphors

Learning new skills also gives you powerful new metaphors you can use in similar efforts. These metaphors work like lenses from which you can view problems in different ways. After mastering computer programming, you can use it as a metaphor to describe your relationships or health and tackle challenges in a new way.

Although I could use a computer programming analogy to describe a life problem, unless you have that skill, the power of the metaphor will be lost. This is why a lot of platitudes can seem great but fail to offer practical advice. Generalizing from your own skill set can give you lenses to view all problems.

Generalizing VS Mastery

One of the trends I’ve noticed is that the more skill you gain in an area, the harder it is to generalize the lessons you’ve learned. Taking a few weeks of martial arts may allow you to generalize those skills in many other places but spending an extra few weeks of training to get your black belt will be more difficult to generalize.

Fellow blogger, Ben Casnocha, frequently references the idea of a “T” in terms of building skill. The idea is to have a mild understanding of a lot of areas and expertise in just a few. Because the deeper you understand a specific skill the harder it is to generalize, this model seems even more effective.

Take a look at the skills you already possess. How can you generalize their info towards other areas of your life? And before learning new skills look to see how you might be able to use those lessons elsewhere.

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