Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is the bestselling author of books on business, entrepreneurship, skill acquisition, productivity, creativity, applied psychology, and practical wisdom. About Josh »

Do You Have These Core Human Skills?

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Robert Heinlein , renowned science fiction author

Scott Adams, creator of the popular comic strip Dilbert, has a simple but useful strategy of personal success: you can either choose to hyper-specialize and become the best in the world (top 1%) at doing one very specific thing, or you can try to become very good (top 25%) in as many different areas as possible, which you then can use in combination.

The latter strategy is far easier, and is often more effective: by improving your skills in a few different but related areas, you increase your versatility and rarity, making your particular combination of skills more uniquely valuable.

If you’re interested in improving the quality of your life and work, there are the 12 primary areas of “Core Human Skill" you should focus on developing…


How to find, consume, and comprehend information and identify what’s most important in the face of a problem or challenge. A person who is highly skilled in Information-Assimilation is able to process information quickly and apply it to the situation at hand, with consistently high levels of comprehension and retention.


How to communicate thoughts and ideas in written form clearly and concisely. A person who is highly skilled in Writing is able to convey information to others briefly and simply, as well as use writing to persuade and influence.


How to communicate thoughts and ideas to others clearly, concisely, and with confidence. A person who is highly skilled in Speaking is able to communicate individually or in front of a group of people in an engaging manner, with little visible evidence of tension or stress.


How to accurately use concepts from arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics to analyze and solve common problems. A person who is highly skilled in Mathematics is able to use numbers, ratios, and equations to gain insight into present circumstances and potential future scenarios.


How to identify critical issues, prioritize, focus energy/effort, recognize fallacies, avoid common errors, and handle ambiguity. A person who is highly skilled in Decision-Making is able to weigh available information and come to a supportable conclusion, without falling prey to common reasoning mistakes and cognitive bias.


How to interact with other people in a way that encourages them to like, trust, and respect you. A person who is highly skilled in Rapport is able to build productive, mutually-beneficial relationships with a wide variety of people in a way that influences their perceptions and opinions.


How to anticipate potential sources of conflict and resolve disagreements when they occur. A person who is highly skilled in Conflict-Resolution is able to anticipate potential sources of conflict and counteract unproductive emotions, both individually and in groups.


How to create, clarify, evaluate, and communicate a possible future scenario that assists in decision-making, either for yourself or another person. A person who is highly skilled in Scenario Generation is able to envision possible future events, identify likely tradeoffs, and suggest multiple options that will result in the achievement of an objective.


How to identify the necessary next steps to achieve an objective, account for dependencies, and prepare for the unknown and inevitable change via the use of contingencies. A person who is highly skilled in Planning is able to examine available resources, anticipate potential issues and risks, and propose new / better paths as more information becomes known.


How to accurately perceive and influence your own internal states and emotions, including effective management of limited energy, willpower, and focus. A person who is highly skilled in Self-Awareness is able to recognize what physical and emotional state they’re currently experiencing, utilize or compensate for their current state, and intentionally elicit / reinforce preferred states.


How to recognize, understand, and make use of key features of systems and relationships, including cause-and-effect, second and third-order effects, constraints, and feedback loops. A person who is highly skilled in Interrelation is able to identify the most important factors in a system, explore how they affect each other, and improve systems without provoking undesired consequences.

Skill Acquisition

How to go about learning a desired skill in a way that results in competence by finding and utilizing available resources, deconstructing complex processes, and actively experimenting with potential approaches. A person who is highly skilled in Skill Acquisition is able to continually improve their skills in any field through deliberate practice, observation, and intentional experimentation.

Take a moment to imagine all of the things you’d be able to accomplish if you improved your skills to the point where you ranked in the top 25% of the human population in each of these areas. How developed are your skills now, and which of these areas could, if improved, help you accomplish what you’re trying to achieve?

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