Meta Skills

The concept of Meta skills came to me a while back. I read about one individual who was updating a cover letter while thinking about what skills might be useful to emphasize. He concluded that learning, reasoning, awareness, lateral thinking were all useful things to try and demonstrate. The thinking behind this was that all these skills allow one to quickly pick up more skills as you go along.

You might compare this with having the ability to master the use of new tools quickly. This means that as you go along performing tasks you don’t have to have used the right tool before, you just need to be able to select the right tool and learn to use it quickly.

This could be termed just-in-time learning, but being able to do this is a special set of skills in its own right, hence the term meta-skills. Lets take a moment to examine what these meta-skills might be.

Some examples of meta-skills:

  • ability to learn quickly
  • ability to extract accurate and clear information from multiple or obscure sources
  • asking the right questions in a structured way
  • being able to understand the context of something
  • practical reasoning / common sense – having a feel for what will work
  • quickly developing a mental SWOT analysis of a situation
  • quickly adapting to social context and expectations

All of these skills seem to have in common the ability to see behind a situation by seeing the commonality in all situations and thus being able to apply the same tricks and methods all the time.

The real skill is in the application of these skills. You can see people who are very good at this changing mental gear with a new situation and somehow very quickly doing the right thing or asking the incisive question. The advantage that these people have is that they think in a meta way, that is they are always thinking what is behind this, how does it sit within its context. They would be the type of person who would ask a client why they wanted to do that rather than just accepting it and asking how they wanted to do that.

This is, in essence, a facet of systems thinking. One of the crucial points is seeing the connections behind things. One of the things that makes this much easier is knowing that everything is intimately connected and that thus connections can always be found if you approach the search in the right way.

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