Start Being A “Skill Hacker” Today

Alright, I know. Everything is “hacking” these days. Hack this, hacking that. However, as annoying as it might be, we’re going to run with it for this discussion.


Skill Hacker: noun; a person that continuously revisits, reinvents and reinvests in skills. A restless pursuit of new skills to offset declining market value of existing abilities.

Let’s get down to it; is this approach going to be necessary?

The Technologies They Are A-Changing

There are fundamental shifts happening in the world. In this scenario not those geo-political or environmental ones. These are technological and economic. They’re big, they’re coming and they will affect your working life. Maybe not in five years but in ten to fifteen there will likely be shifts – within the timeline of many people’s careers today.

It’s a well discussed point that “software is eating the world” by disrupting “every industry systematically”. Trends like Big Data and ubiquitously connected, smarter,


devices and machines – made possible by ever cheaper connectivity & computing power – are challenging the roles humans play in both the virtual and physical worlds.

It’s not such an intellectual leap to see that there is a crunch point on the horizon, when our present model of work is drastically disrupted and unable to continuously grow a consumption based economy.  In a highly digitized world, the role people play in any process will be fundamentally transformed or made redundant.

Whilst it perhaps feels comfortable to think that software and robotics will erode a range of manual orientated jobs in future, it’s less cozy to think that knowledge work and information based jobs will be “dissected into component parts…automated and the human role…restricted to repetitive or supervisory activities.” After all, a lot of people now work in these environments.

So, what’s the answer? Well, perhaps “the key to sustained employment will be to concentrate on the…skills that machines can’t copy”, or have a range of tradable (possibly complementary) skills that can be drawn on as part of a portfolio career. In this model, you use your talents and interests variedly, adapting your skills as demand changes; a contrast to the single employer, single role specialisation of many today.

Cha-Cha-Changes To The Workforce

Whilst all this technology stuff is happening, the workforce is changing too, although consensus has yet to crystalise what the generational difference will be in reality. However, it is reasonable to expect that each generation of the workforce will be different. Empowerment through technology may have already impacted the upcoming generation’s expectation of their working environments, as “they have heard of companies that [do] not bother about work hours, leaves, permissions” and feel “that they are responsible and did not want somebody else to tell them…what to do.”

The Changeling Business Landscape

keyboardLess than 29% of Millennials expect to work regular office hours. Only “10% say their career is their single most important priority, and 14% prioritize making money.”  Admittedly there may be an age element to these responses, with only half of the latter survey respondents in the workforce currently, however, by 2025 this generation will make up 75% of the workforce.

This is against a backdrop where larger companies are retaining more profit and hiring less than historical levels as a reaction to the recent financial crisis. The pace of change is arguably increasing with ever more lean startups – serving ever smaller niches – launching every year, fuelled by more accelerators and incubators.  Maybe it is more efficient than being creative in-house, but the trend is more companies investing in small disruptive teams, trading on nimble skillsets often lost or overlooked in larger corporates.  A Cambrian moment indeed.

Therefore, perhaps the path to a “great career” is an ever increasing range and breadth of skills at your disposal, or trading on them piecemeal in a range of roles, insulated from disruption by the macro trends towards automation.

That, or the antithesis of super-specialisation on a core skill. That may feel right for the technically gifted programmers out there, but for the rest of us would be risky.

In many ways the Skill Hacking approach fits with a Holacractic organizational structure which is currently being experimented with. Could these broader approaches see the end of workplace monotony and a “more fulfilling work-life blend”?

If these trends coalesce into a perfect storm of technology altering the roles of people, our individualistic culture demanding more interesting, creative and cerebral work, and (hopefully) more disruptive small employers – even when they are backed by the big boys – will mean a significant societal change in the nature of work.

This potential (r)evolution is something to be embraced. Like the move from farming to heavy industry, heavy industry to manufacturing, manufacturing to knowledge work, it will only cause pain if we are unprepared or inflexible to adaptation.

Marc Andreesson, renowned VC said: “My bet is that the positive effects far outweigh the negatives. Now the majority [of people] are in information jobs. If computers get smart enough, then what? I’ll tell you: The then is whatever we invent next.”

clifSo, let’s sit down, pen in hand (note taking apps available), to figure out what skills we have that are hackable. Think honestly: what abilities do I have that could be packaged? What else can I learn this year and beyond? One thing here comes to mind: would you rather start hacking your skills now or wait for someone to invent that next thing, or until your skills from an outdated work model have diminished value?

Unconvinced?  Take a look at this recent London Evening Standard article.

Happy Skill Hacking!

Your Turn

Agree with what we’ve said? Post your thoughts on skill hacking in the box below.

P.S. If you liked this post you may also like What sets the few who do from the many who talk and Holacracy – What is it exactly?

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