On Building Skills and Quick Wins

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Synopsis

Take the longer path to develop your skills and you will reach places you have never imagined.

How much are you willing to invest in your creativity? Not in terms of money. Let's talk about time: are you willing to spend 10-20 minutes a day for an entire year? Or will you prefer a one-day workshop to boost your creativity? And how about other skills? Can you really become a better manager or run a more effective life by attending a workshop? Will you wake up the next day with better skills and new capabilities?

Many (maybe even most) organizations tend to search for quick wins. But when it comes to building skills quick wins are often a facade. There might be wins along the way, but if you stop with the "quick" ones, the effect will not last.

Let's understand why so many organizations look for quick wins and what is the inherent problem with that approach.

The Need for Quick Wins

OK, so this is really a no-brainer: organizations look for quick wins because they are fast and because they are wins.

The term Quick Win implies high return on investment (ROI). If you achieve it quickly, you probably won't need to invest a lot of resources in it, and if it is a win, you obviously gain something out of it.

Business organizations (and let's admit it, almost all organizations are managed at some level with profit and loss balance) love ROI, and for a good reason. Nobody wants (or can afford) losing money or any other resource for that matter. Even non-profit organizations can't afford to lose money for long. So, validating your ROI on any investment you plan is not only a valid approach - it is in fact essential.

But here's the catch: although a quick win implies good ROI, this is often a false impression. Quick wins are often not the best wins, and sometimes they just appear to be "wins" when in fact they are shortcuts leading to nowhere. Even if the immediate benefit they imply is real, there might be a much better ROI with a bit less-quick approach. And in many cases, this is exactly what your organization needs to achieve an extraordinary breakthrough. We'll come back to this issue soon.

Maybe the most extreme example for the crazy search for quick wins is the constant flood of do-this-one-thing articles (often accompanied by the "according to science" prefix). The one thing that will make you more productive, or the one thing that will make you a better entrepreneur, or the one thing that will make you better at online marketing, and my personal favorite: the one thing that will make you more creative (according to science of course).

I recently came across an article suggesting that the secret to being more creative is taking showers. Now, don't get me wrong: I often have great ideas while taking a shower. You might even prove statistically that most people have great ideas while taking a shower. But, is this the one thing that will make you more creative? Is this the holy grail of creativity development? It sure sounds like a quick win: you step into the shower, and, believe it or not, you are creative. Well, here's the hard fact: no shower in the world will make you creative. A shower is a great setup for your mind to take some time off and surface things in different order and context. But this by itself will only bring you that far.

So, what's wrong about that, you might ask. The answer is simple: you are led to believe this quick win is everything, so there is a good chance you will overlook (or actively reject) the harder (or longer) path that you need to take to develop such a skill for real. "Why should I bother?" you will ask yourself, "I will just step into the nearest shower!"

If you think this is funny, consider this: will your organization be willing to invest in a long-term skill-building activity instead of a one-day workshop that promises a quick win in the same domain? Assuming both options cost the same, many (if not most) organizations will go for the quick result. Why build a skill gradually during a year if we can have a one-day workshop. And why indeed?

Building Skills

To solve real problems you need skilled people. And building skills is not trivial. To start with, it takes time. No skill can be developed over-night. It is the exact opposite of what most organizations will call a quick win.

Workshops are great as part of a skill-development process. But they cannot replace the process. Developing any skill requires ongoing work and practice. A workshop can help you learn some techniques and set you on track, but without constant practice, you won't be able to improve your skills.

Consider for example getting in physical shape. Can you imagine a one-day workshop that will get you in shape? Maybe a one-week workshop? Of course not! Getting into physical fitness takes time. You might have interim achievements along the way. But these are not the quick wins. They are milestones you achieve in your path to improve your skill. A short workshop can teach you some exercises and get you started. But you won't become an athlete after its completion. It is just the first step.

And the same applies to any skill in your professional or personal life. Management skills, productivity and organizational skills, quality software design, running an Agile Scrum Team, and of course creativity... all these capabilities and many more require ongoing practice (in some cases even close mentoring) which, whether we like it or not, takes time. No workshop in the world will magically download the "manual" for any of these skills so you can apply it the next day.

The good news is that if you are ready to take the longer path to building skills and not settle for quick wins, you are about to benefit much more in some surprising ways.

The Benefit of Taking the Longer Path

If you want quick wins, you can always bring some external consultant or an ad-hoc professional to get the job done. But building skills within your organization has a much greater benefit for the longer run.

To start with, any quick win can only result in a local success, by definition. It is an immediate solution to a particular problem. However, investing in peoples' skills will help you solve problems you are not even aware of yet. Let's go back to the Creativity example. If you are looking for a creative solution to a specific problem, you can build a small task-force, hire a consultant and get the problem solved pretty quickly. Sometimes you don't have another choice. But consider the benefit of developing the creative skills of your staff. When your team is more creative, everything that happens will go through this new prism. Your staff will not only solve problems you never thought of - they will be able to bring new ideas, directions, and opportunities that no one could have imagined without being given a chance to fulfill their creative potential. The benefit of this obviously longer path is practically infinite.

But it does not stop there. When you are cultivating the skills of your staff, you get a stronger commitment to the organization. People know when Management invests in them. They know they benefit from this investment as much as the organization does, and they will appreciate it. This commitment makes the return on investment an order of magnitude higher and at a deeper level. It's a perfect example for a win-win investment. Your employees are getting more abundant with skills they might not have developed in another context, the organization's aggregated skills are multiplied, and the sense of belonging and being part of something great - a feeling many organizations struggle to cultivate - is becoming stronger.

It is important to note that while building skills takes longer than the quick fix, it doesn't necessarily cost more in actual resources. The only difference is that the ROI is not immediate. In many cases, the benefit of real skill-development will be so much greater than the quick win, that the delay in getting the return on investment will be a minor additional cost to pay.

You can certainly strive to design a skill-development plan that has some quick wins along the way. This will increase the ROI even further. But don't expect miracles if you stop with the first couple of wins. Personal and organizational development is all about ongoing learning. There is no magic pill you can take and wake up the next day with new superpowers.

Take the longer path. Enjoy the process. Learn and develop your skills. And you will reach places you have never imagined.

 

Lidor Wyssocky (@LidorWyssocky@seempli) is a fine-art photographer and the creator of seempli - a revolutionary platform for igniting creativity and imagination in everything you do.

Using seempli Lidor works with individuals, teams, and organizations seeking to develop, master, and apply creativity

Tags: creativity, lidor wyssocky, organizational development, seempli, self improvement, skills

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