High Leverage Skills

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

We are always looking for disproportionate returns. Think about the world of investments where the holy grail is to find the magical place where returns are greater than risk. What about how we think about skill development when it’s done in the pursuit of improved performance?

Much of what we do is a combination of multiple skills.  Just as it takes 17-26 muscles to smile think about how many skills are required in order to develop a business strategy, talk to customers or give a sales pitch. If we are in search of disproportionate returns we need to look at skills carefully.  By understanding the contributing skills we can better understand and breakdown performance drivers. As we deconstruct key skill bundles, sales pitching for example we begin to see common contributing skill bundles.  These bundles are simpler than the higher order skill but often still contain contributing skills.  These skills feel “generic” in nature since they are without the context of application. They are analogous to muscles in the body in that like your bicep, they can be exercised, strengthened and in doing so improve any number of applications in which they are used.

The other characteristic of these simpler skill bundles is that they can act as limiters for all the higher order skill bundles that are built on them. Like a computer connected to the internet via a dial-up modem.  No matter how you upgrade the processor, memory or other elements of the computer as long as the “connection” skill remains unimproved the overall performance for task that require that skill will remain limited.

So if you are looking for disproportionate returns from your learning, look for high leverage skills.  Often improving a high leverage skill only a little drives high cumulative gains because that skill is foundational to so many activities.