Underrated Skills

The secret to getting ahead is cultivating a unique skill that other people do not have. Steve Jobs was ousted from his own company in 1985 from his own board of directors. A few years later, Jobs was brought back into the position of CEO by the board, after they realized that Jobs was the key to Apple’s success. But Jobs could have refused to go back — he was rejected by the people who he thought were loyal supporters of hist work. Instead, though, he has remarked on how the experience was “the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” Jobs demonstrates that rejection is an opportunity to grow and learn something new, rather than an event that sets you completely off-course.

Most people do not handle rejection well. It is an underrated skill. When you analyze all of the times that successful people have been rejected, though, you realize how useful handling rejection can be. There are a variety of these underrated skills that we encounter every day that allow us to set ourselves aside and show our character to the world. Most of these skills are difficult to develop but become competitive advantages because most other people are not willing to do the work to cultivate these skills. Why would someone purposely want to spend time reflecting on their rejections and failures — usually the lowest points in their life? In doing so lies a competitive advantage — an opportunity to get ahead.

Being able to gracefully handle rejection is underrated. When most people are rejected, they take the rejection personally. They feel as if they have done something wrong, and spend all of their time analyzing their actions that led up to their being rejected. But this is counterproductive in many cases. Indeed, you may not have been presented with a job offer because you were not a good candidate. But you may have been rejected because you were overqualified. Or there was already another candidate with an inside track. Or there was someone who had already worked at the company that wanted to return applying for the job. That does not mean you were not good — there were other factors at play which were outside of your control. The key to handling rejection is to understand that sometimes thing are out of your control. Rejection is not a sign you are not great — it could be a sign that someone else had a better edge.

Discussing ideas you don’t agree with in-depth. As your network grows, you will start to run into more people who do not agree with your viewpoints. Not everyone will hold the same opinion as you on a particular matter. A competitive advantage lies in being able to talk with people about ideas who may have different viewpoints than you. When you are communicating with people, you should try to adopt the concept of “beginners mind”.

Indeed, you may have prior knowledge that can help you argue a certain side of the argument. But either way you should take a step back to realize the benefits of going into a conversation without any biases. Listen to the other person, and get to know their arguments. Then, if you feel like you can add something constructive to the conversation, showcase your arguments. A lot of people can become inarticulate when their views are being challenged by other people who are well-informed. Treat the other person equally, and understand that it is just one argument — there are other things that are more important, such as developing good relationships.

Have confidence in your ideas and stick with them when things are going wrong; also stop working on ideas when they are no longer a good use of your time. This is a conflicting skill that many people do not have. When you are working on a new idea or want to pitch a strategy to someone, you should have full confidence in your idea. Having confidence in your ideas will make you more likely to continue to work on your idea, even when times are tough. The best businesspeople are those who have had confidence in their ideas and never gave up when things did not go their way. Conversely, you should know when to give up. Sometimes you will be wrong, and there will be evidence that you are wrong. Don’t ignore this evidence and instead move onto something new. Few people will blame you for taking a risk on a good idea and having the confidence to stick with it; many people will blame you for working on something for longer than it is viable. Many great businesses have died this way — by continuing to work on ideas even when they are no longer relevant.

Finding ways to be uniquely helpful. People who can provide disproportionate value to someone in a short period of time can realize a significant amount of upside from their investment. Knowing how to be uniquely helpful to someone else is difficult because it requires you to think outside the box. However, when you find a way to help someone else in a unique way — doing something that is not just read from an article — then they will never forget you. Spend as much time as possible investing in ways to help people.

Be brief. Communicate the key information people need to know as quickly as possible, and let them move on with their day. Use shorter words; write fewer words.

Understand your circle of competence. Warren Buffett has spoken in the past about his “circle of competence” — the areas that he knows best. We have each built up a repository of information about the world and certain topics. We understand some of those concepts better than others. One element of my circle of competence is federal financial aid and alternative education financing models, which was acquired from deep experience. But I don’t know much about the main factors that cause a recession. Or the history of Harvard University. You should only work on and talk about ideas that lie within your circle of confidence. These are the things that you are best at — the things you are most qualified to work on. Buffett knows his circle of competence and does not make investments when they lie outside of that circle as he knows he does not have the requisite knowledge to make an informed decision on that topic. Many people go to work on ideas that they don’t know a lot about, and overlook the ones that they are best at. Explore new ideas, but only work on something when you know it is within your circle of competence.

Learn to accept your mistakes and use them as an opportunity for growth. There is no way to go through life without making mistakes. Learning how to manage your mistakes and overcome them is incredibly underrated, most likely because it forces us to confront our failures directly. If we take a step back to reflect on our mistakes and learn from them, the benefits will compound. When we encounter a similar situation, we will be able to make better decisions and perhaps avoid making the same mistake again. Our response to mistakes defines us. You could use getting fired due to a big mistake you made as an excuse to give up on your job. Or you could use it as an opportunity to acquire new skills and correct your behavior. The key is to pick yourself back up when you make mistakes, and learn from them, rather than let your brain go into a spiral of more self-doubt.

There are dozens of underrated skills that we could cultivate. Most of us overlook these skills because they are difficult to develop. They take time and practice, and require us to address some of our flaws. We naturally do not want to face our flaws, because it shows that we are imperfect. Cultivating more of these underrated skills will help us get ahead and react better to various circumstances in our life. Indeed, even having a few of these skills could help you get a new job, or start a new business, or get the promotion you have been looking for. Imagine how you would look if you wrote a clear and concise marketing proposal, versus the person who added in unnecessary complex language. Or imagine where you would be in five years if you recognized your mistakes, learned from them, and moved on to better things.