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Friday, August 15, 2008

"Soft" skills

I never liked the terminology around "soft" skills and "hard" skills, but everyone with a little bit of practical experience knows that both types of skills are necessary to succeed, probably always have been, probably always will be. It seems that his issue came up several times independent of each other during Richard Anderson's "user experience executives speak" courses.

My colleague at Yahoo! Jim Nieters brought up communication and advocacy skills and Richard quotes me for saying:

"'It is all about getting people on your side. Researchers won't get an SVP of business to act just by presenting their insights. One needs to build momentum to get people behind you in order to convince them, which is a long process. You have to wear 2 hats -- your scientist hat and your strategy and business hat, which is like becoming a different person. This is difficult for all of us to learn.'"

In many ways it is harder for researchers (this is true for many professions I'm sure) to learn to be effective communicators, advocates, strategists, than it is to learn the "hard skills" of research. Of course it also has to do with the mere fact that it is often a lot harder to determine what to do with certain insights in a given business context, than it is to execute research projects following the rules and guidelines of research methodology. That is why research should really be viewed as a collaborative endeavour that includes creative thinkers and business thinkers alongside researchers. When cross-functional groups work well together, then that's when research can spark real and "doable" innovation. Insights in a report or a in presentation is in itself little more than a wish-list.