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  • Sam Decker

First Break All the Rules: “Skills, Knowledge and Talents”

One of the best management books I’ve ever read is First Break All the Rules. With that kind of endorsement I’m hoping Marcus Buckingham won’t mind if I paraphrase one of the most important principles of the book. The differences between skills, knowledge and talents. This is not only profound for management, but everyday life and interactions…

Skills, Knowledge, and Talents: What is the difference among the three?
Great managers are not troubled by the fact that there is a limit to how much they can rewire someone’s brain. Skills, knowledge, and talents are distinct elements of a person’s performance. The distinction among the three is that skills and knowledge can easily be taught, whereas talents cannot. Skills are the how-to’s of a role.
The best way to teach a skill is to break down the total performance into steps, which the student then reassembles. And, naturally, the best way to learn a skill is to practice.
Your knowledge is simply “what you are aware of.”
There are two kinds of knowledge: factual knowledge – things you know; and experiential knowledge – understandings you have picked up along the way. Factual knowledge for an accountant would be knowing the rules of double-entry bookkeeping. Experiential knowledge is a little different. Through this kind of musing or reflection you can start to see patterns and connections. You can start to understand.
Talents are a different phenomena altogether.
A love of precision is not a skill. Nor is it knowledge. It is a talent.

Three Kinds of Talent – Striving talents, thinking talents and relating talents

Striving talents explain the why of a person. They explain why he gets out of bed every day, why he is motivated to push and push just that little bit harder. Is he intensely competitive or intensely altruistic or both? Does he define himself by his technical competence, or does he just want to be liked?

Thinking talents explain the how of a person. They explain how he thinks, how he weighs up alternatives, how he comes to his decisions.

Relating talents explain the who of a person. They explain whom he trusts, whom he builds relationships with, whom he confronts, and whom he ignores.

I find this incredibly important simply because managers and people tend to try to change others. Sometimes managers try to ‘develop’ talents, when it is almost impossible to do so.

This foundational concept leads to the next profound principle: Put people in positions where they can leverage their talents. They will be more successful, productive, and happy.


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