August 9, 2020

‘Multiplier’ skills you can work on to help your career and business

Scott Adams, in his best selling book, How to fail at almost everything and still win big, has lots of great takeaways. One chapter in particular struck me when I read it, which was his list of skills that everyone should learn. I like to think of the list as ‘multiplier’ skills.

What’s a multiplier skill you might ask? It’s a skill that helps add value in different ways to existing skills you already have. For example, one of the skills below is public speaking. If you have expertise in say, microbiology, you can ‘add’ the skill of public speaking and do speeches or talks at conferences, do a video log of a day in the life of a microbiologist, provide your expertise on panels and much more. I also like the fact that Scott says that every new skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. Here are the skills that Scott recommends:

Public speaking

How to write and give a speech, engage the audience, body language. Normally I would recommend going to Toastmasters to learn this skill, but if you are not able to attend, the best way to improve is to prepare a speech, video tape yourself giving the speech, and then critically look at the recorded video. Look for:

  • Crutch words like um, ah or so
  • Eye contact
  • Body language and whether it matches what you are saying
  • Your confidence, warmth and friendliness

Psychology

Understanding human psychology can be incredibly useful in selling, negotiation, persuasion, marketing or even in social situations. Here, I recommend The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. I also like Influence by Robert Cialdini though it is more of a resource to learn about persuasion (another ‘multiplier’ skill)

Business writing

I think this is important because you should know how to write in a business context and then be able to relax the rules and constraints as you get more success. I do see nowadays that simple language is best. I would also think that book, blog or article writing is included in this. Take a skill that you already have, say microbiology, and adding a business writing skill means that you can write a book (immediately increasing the value that you can provide).

There are lots of resources out there that talk about how to write a book. If you have never written a book, I wouldn’t aim so high. I would just start writing every day, putting it online for people to read, and improving every day.

Accounting

A basic understanding of profits and expenses is key here to either running a business or being an employee. As you can imagine, if you don’t know anything about accounting, you can still be successful. There’s a story of Richard Branson who did not know the difference between net and gross but even not knowing the difference, he was able to build an empire of 60,000 employees.

One great resource I have found is Khan Academy, which has a lot of free courses on accounting, economics and more.

Design (the basics)

Important for building your website, brand or designing covers for your book. You at least want to know what ‘good’ design looks like (and if not, search on Google Images for ‘good design’ + whatever you are working on to see examples)

Conversation

Can you small talk with others? Can you hold a conversation with customers or your manager if you went out to lunch with them? This is a bit of an overlooked skill to have. If you are bad at conversations, it will have an indirect impact on your relationships and networks. The good thing is that conversation skills can be learned. I like Tynan’s Superhuman Social Skills book.

Overcoming shyness

Scott is not recommending talking to strangers, but at least being open to having conversations with others, especially with friends of friends or in the right context (business professionals at a networking event). Also a key skill to have if you are trying to find friends or a romantic partner.

How do you overcome shyness? Through practice. For example, if you are a guy, hand one of your friends $100 and tell them that they can’t hand it back to you until you get 10 no’s from asking out women. When you do this, you may start to find that it is actually difficult to get a ‘no’ and that women are more friendly and open than you frame them in your mind.

Second language

My personal recommendation is to learn Mandarin or Spanish (i.e., a language that is extremely popular). There are lots of great apps, podcasts and books to learn a second (or third or fourth) language. I like Fluent Forever by Gabriel Weiner (book), Anki for flash cards to learn vocab, and the number of podcasts for the particular language you want to learn vary.

Golf

Scott recommends golf here, but I would replace this with any professional networking activity (coffee, business lunches, bike riding, etc.) I myself am not particularly good at golf, but having played golf a few times, I can see how it is conducive to business conversations, networking, and connecting with others.

Proper grammar

Not having proper grammar in your writing or communication is a big turn-off to others. As a prior management consultant, I learned proper grammar through trial of fire. Practice here by reading well-written pieces by authors you like. Elements of Style by by Strunk and White is also a great resource.

Persuasion

Useful in negotiation or in trying to convince anyone of anything, whether logically or emotionally. I recently watched Chris Voss’ masterclass on The Art of Negotiation, and while you might think ‘negotiation’ is different than ‘persuasion’ (it is), there is a lot of overlap, which makes Chris’ advice very relevant and useful.

Technology (hobby level)

Do you know what the greatest advances in technology are currently? Can you explain at a basic level what cryptocurrency is and why it is important? Artificial intelligence? Voice technology?

I particularly like going to The Verge or other tech sites to learn about what startups are doing, what new applications of technology there are, what it means for humans, and more. This does not require a lot of time (you can do this over lunch for example) and you can get a quick idea of what is hot by skimming the headlines on the site.

Proper voice technique

Great for if you are recording audiobooks, talking to others, recording podcasts or doing radio shows. I would say that I learned this partly through Toastmasters, but also through recording podcasts, and doing interviews for my work. As you may know, the tone of your voice is important in conveying meaning so you want to be aware of what you are doing with your voice and how you can learn to change or improve it for your purposes.

Here again, Toastmasters can be your friend. I don’t have much experience with learning proper voice technique, but I imagine that taking singing classes would also help partially.

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