• Skills transformation is not as easy as acquiring new information
  • For people to acquire new skills, they need to see information in multiple forms
  • Above all, people need time to process and practice a newly acquired skill

A few years ago, I was hiking in Borneo during a trip to see some of the island’s last orangutans. It was slow going, as the trail guide had to use his machete to hack away at the vines, branches and leaves blocking the path. After being smacked in the face every few yards as the bigger branches crashed to the ground, I asked him – as diplomatically as possible – why he had chosen such an overgrown trail. He laughed, kept hacking away at the tangled mess in front of us, and assured me that we were on the clear trail, explaining that if the trail wasn’t used and cut back every couple weeks, the jungle quickly reclaimed it.  ScienceofSkillsTransformation

I’ve never forgotten his bemused response, not only because it resigned me to several more sweaty hours of bug-filled hiking, but also because it’s a great analogy for what happens in our brains to information and skills we don’t use, especially when we first acquire them. In fact, this may be the main challenge of the digital information age: We can easily acquire knowledge on just about any topic, but integrating that knowledge in a way that compounds into a real skill – an ability to assemble information into processes, judgments, discretionary thinking, and the actual completion of a series of tasks and goals – well, that requires keeping the trails well traveled and clear. And that’s a lot of work that no amount of access to information overcomes. 

The reality of how the brain, especially the adult brain, acquires and manages new skills wasn’t well understood until about 15 years ago, and the field continues to evolve. So, it’s worth quickly revisiting what it means to ask people – especially working adult professionals in busy fields such as B2B marketing, product, and sales – to update and acquire new skills. 

  1. Skills transformation starts with well-encoded information. You must have truly memorized key pieces of knowledge in order to assemble it into a skill or ability. While everyone’s memory systems have different strengths and weaknesses, the more you support encoding information effectively by reinforcing it socially, visually, aurally, etc., the more you make that information available for integration into something more complex. If you can offer information in different formats – in person, online, or via videos, written articles, worksheets and audio tracks – you increase the chance that the person can integrate the information.
  2. There is no such thing as a boot camp or a hack to making these connections and forging these new cells inside the brain. Above all, the adult brain needs time to compile and process information that has (hopefully) been well integrated, with a sense of connection to existing knowledge. Watching a fun video about using personas in marketing doesn’t make you instantly able to do so in a way that increases high-quality leads in a campaign any more than watching a video on installing kitchen cabinets tranforms you into a master builder. Time and practice remain the magic formula for success. 

If you want to learn more about specific techniques for skills transformation and how you can support your own professional development goals or those of your team, particularly in the area of marketing enablement, join us at the SiriusDecisions Summit, where we have a wide variety of sessions and presentations on these topics and more! You can also live demo our Learning courses, which utilize both of these best-in-class approaches to skills transformation, at Summit 2016 or online at the SiriusPathways Web site.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Morrow Jensen