There is a growing chorus of management consultants, career development professionals, learning and development specialists and C-suite leaders speaking about the necessity for “soft skills”, like creativity, critical thinking, abstract problem solving and communication. It is believed that success in the workplace increasingly does and will continue to require that these skills be highly developed.
About 25 years ago, I participated in a personal development class that called into question some of my long-held beliefs and assumptions. In the course of this study, I found myself clearly articulating the connection between some of my major life experiences and what I learned from each of them. It went like something like this.
When I was in college, what I learned was a place to think from and how to be responsible for myself. What I learned from being married was how to be responsible to another person. What I learned from raising children was how to be fully responsible for another life.
For purposes of this blog, I want to call attention to the realization that while in college I gained some proficiency in how to think from the discipline of psychology. It mattered less what the specific subject matter was than the rigor I received while developing competence in that area of study. And that discipline, e.g. reading large volumes of material written by great thinkers and innovators, learning how to commit some key facts to memory, learning how to question theories, practicing how to write papers and contemplating the role of psychology in the contexts, taught me how to think critically, creatively and abstractly about a topic.
My career path followed an unlikely arc. I started out as an abortion counselor, thinking I might want to pursue an advanced degree in psychology. I decided against that and wound up working on Wall Street, when there were few women in that field. Pioneering seemed to appeal to me because from there, I worked on two very early consumer online access projects. Finally, as I was raising my children, I joined my husband in his entrepreneurial venture as an executive recruiter, a business which we continue to grow and to which we have recently formally added a Career Services component.
In each of my endeavors, what I have seen is that ability to think critically or creatively about problem solving, has been the key to any success I have enjoyed or gratification I have found.
I stand firmly in the belief that these always and always will be the most important skills people can acquire, regardless of whether they are identified as such. It does not matter so much what exactly one studies in undergraduate school. What matters most is that it is a subject in which someone is genuinely interested enough to learn the discipline of that course and develop some muscle in how to think critically and creatively from that perspective. That is the basis for the kind of adaptable thinking and transferrable knowledge that will be absolutely necessary in a world that will be changing at an unprecedented rate of speed.