Are skills natural or are they acquired?

It is fascinating to be in the job that I am, when we are there to drive business performance through the acquisition of skills and knowledge for our employees to reach peak performance.

I am of the belief that you are born with 90% of the skills that will determine your future and you will gain knowledge as you go.  Let me give you an example to illustrate the point.  I am one of the least creative people you know when it comes to really creative ideas or as basic as drawing a picture (Stick men to be clear).  I was not born with this skill and however hard I try and gain some knowledge to make me better, I am not creative.  My daughter and my wife however are very different and they are very creative people and amazing at drawing.  I think that this in itself will determine your direction of travel in your life and you can only enhance a skill that you were born with, than gain a new one.  Some would say that there is a skill to ride a bike and through knowledge we can ride a bike and gain a skill.  I would say, you are born with a natural ability and skill to have balance that will enable you to ride a bike.  Where am I going with this?

My point being that for those of us that are skilled in certain areas will chart our future and determine what we will be great at.  As an L&D professional this is what we can work with and we have to determine whether you have the natural ability to enhance that skill through great and engaging training & education.  One of the challenges we face in our roles is to convince the business as to what is skill and what is knowledge, as this will determine where the investment goes and ultimately where the return will come from.

I suppose my question is – do you agree?

About the author – Paul Morgan  

Paul is Head of Learning & Development at O2 (Telefónica UK) and is responsible for defining, driving and implementing the Learning and Development Strategy across O2. The Learning and Development Team’s responsibilities covers all aspects of L&D, from Learning Infrastructure, defining learning requirements across all areas of the UK from Retail to Operations, programme management, design, build and delivery.

The end goal is to ensure we support our HR Vision “”Driving individual & business performance through having engaged & effective people” and support our UK vision of being the leading Digital Telco.

1 Comment
  1. Aaron Billingham 5 years ago

    I wonder if there is a danger in limiting ourselves by thinking that we have no natural ability for something?

    What if as a young child you were to have done more drawing, more painting, more artistry; would you have developed the skill? Has your daughter’s interest in art been developed by the support, tutelage and encouragement of your wife so as to become a skill? Perhaps you draw only stick men now because drawing somehow didn’t interest you as much when you were younger. Perhaps your attention and learning effort went elsewhere to things you liked more but nonetheless could have gone to drawing? Are the Williams sisters great at tennis because they have ‘tennis DNA’ or because they started playing at 4 years old when they were learning machines and they put in years of learning effort thereafter?

    If we are all so capable then with the effort we might all learn things we thought we had no natural ability for; it might just be that it would take us more effort than it would for someone who already had some subject knowledge?

    In practice in the working environment the limiter for a training course would then be the time available, more than any natural ability. Employer would still need to make that resource call, as you say, to know where best to make the investment for a good return and it might not be feasible to send someone on a course if they don’t meet some prerequisites list: they can’t develop the skill in the time available to leave their job.

    Perhaps this seems to be argument that ends up in the same place? The reason I fear expressing the limiter as being some innate talent though, rather than being the time available is the potential negative impact on the attendees of courses – on the workforce in general: Thinking that you can’t do something might stop you from ever trying.

    So many times I hear people on the work floor make a self-depreciating joke about ‘not be good with that sort of thing’. But the fact that they are having to make a joke about it means that they have a problem they need to be able to solve. Is it perhaps better then to present the worker with a positive solution: I believe you could be good at that sort of thing; here is the time and effort it would take you to become so. The choice comes back to them, encouraging them not to limit themselves before they’ve even tried?

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