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What are your disruptive skills? (hbr.org)
36 points by awlo on Sept 20, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments

Don't forget that your disruptive skill may not be one skill, but an unusual intersection of ordinary skills.

It's tough to claim to be one of the world's best php programmers, unix gurus, or apparel e-commerce experts.

But there may not be many excellent php programmers who are also unix gurus and apparel e-commerce domain experts. For the right customer, that combination is your disruptive skill.

I agree. In addition to skills, this can be expressed in terms of interests, as Larry Wall did in this interview:


WALL: I not only want Perl to be a good 'glue' language, I want Perl people to be good 'glue' people.

FEED: What makes a good 'glue' person?

WALL: Let me distinguish two different kinds of joiners. You have people who will join a movement and be totally gung-ho about it. That's great. We need the cheerleaders.

But that's merely a form of tribalism. What we also try to encourage are the kind of joiners who join many things. These people are like the intersection in a Venn diagram, who like to be at the intersection of two different tribes. In an actual tribal situation, these are the merchants, who go back and forth between tribes and actually produce an economy. In theological terms we call them peacemakers.

In terms of Perl language, these are the people who will not just sit there and write everything in Perl, but the people who will say: Perl is good for this part of the problem, and this other tool is good for that part of the problem, so let's hook 'em together. They see Perl both from the inside and from the outside, just like a missionary. That takes a kind of humility, not only on the part of the person, but on the language. Perl does not want to make more of itself than it is. It's willing to be the servant of other things.

Ben -

I wasn't familiar with Larry Wall; thank you for introduing me to him.

And yes - I agree that another way to think about skills is that they are interests. I often define interests as "what do I think about when I can think about anything I want." It tends to be a pretty good clue as to what we do best.

Thanks again, Whitney

Thank you again for your comment -- I've quoted you in the post: How to Identify your Disruptive Skills.


Every time someone says 'disrupt' my skill is at suppressing the desire to vomit a little.

Yes. A "disruptive skill?" How exactly is that different from "a skill that could be really useful?" Is this a skill that somehow lets you singlehandedly overturn a market, or are we just tossing around buzzwords?

Maybe we should discuss our disruptive value-adds for high-impact verticals.

I believe, in this case, it was "a skill that disrupts others' previously-established judgement of your worth to them."

I would like to have referred to you by name -- if you'd like me to -- please just ping me!

Anyway, thank you for your insight.


That's another fine example of why 'disrupt' should die. :P

That is spot on. Disruptive skills as applied to an individual game-change our career. Appreciate your weighing in.

She keeps using the word "disruptive", but actually only discusses uniqueness of skills. Probably just a bit of PR.

I got a big "Help us improve our site" overlay that greyed out the content I was trying to read. Here's a suggestion to improve any website that includes these sorts of ads: stop "disrupting" the people who want to read your content.

Interesting question. I also read through the HBR blog by W.J. Your disruptive skill is not easy to identify unless you also have the ability to expand your Johari window. Unless you minimize your unknown-unknown window, you don’t have the opportunity to realize the disruptive skills. What you do daily isn’t your disruptive skill. It is those unique skills that help you redefine yourself and also makes others see you differently. Disruption can happen only when you have realized it and for that, you need to be aware of the skill.

I can think about taxonomy and categorization, finding relations and differences. Building a mental landscape that cover the domain and try to be flexible and simple. But a good design requires times and some rules to follow, that rules may appear unnecessary but they are the one that allow you to go far.

It baffles me that someone can accurately assess that "you are strong in searchlight intelligence." It seems so difficult to measure. I can't imagine claiming that at an interview and supporting it with a few anecdotes.

I don't think she was trying to try measure her searchlight intelligence she merely suggested it was her innate talent--sure it's difficulty to measure but it is definitely identifiable. As for saying it in an interview examples would be difficult because it is often an innate talent and not something you can necessary correlate with a specific event in your life.

agree with you ryanmcgreal but i liked the core message of the article--thought it had value--most hbr articles read similar

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