Skill and Capability

Some of the most driven people in the world spend their lives honing the skills they possess. Sharpening and sharpening until those skills become truly useful tools that can change the world around them for the better.

Even more useful than skills, however, is general capability. Being capable means that one is able to make things work. It means that if something needs to be done, it gets done, regardless of whether the person responsible for it has the necessary skill to do so at first. That skill is learned, because it needs to be.

The difference between skill and capability is one of chicken and egg. Eggs are great, but it’s more valuable to have a chicken, because then you can have many eggs. As many as you need. Likewise, someone with many skills may find themselves unable to function in new situations, whereas someone who is capable will always be able to adapt quickly and succeed in any environment.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to teach capability. Skills can be trained and made into textbooks and tutorials, but being capable requires unpredictable life experience. It requires that a person go out into the world and test themselves against anything that comes their way. This doesn’t mean that one needs to travel far or meet a million people, but it does mean consistently breaking free from one’s comfort zone so that boundaries can be pushed and bent and eventually expanded. Without the unfamiliar, there can be no push.

It’s important to work hard and learn new skills any chance you get, but don’t neglect becoming more capable along the way. It may not be a structured climb, but it’s certainly a valuable one.

Update: February 23, 2017

I still hold that, in general, capability is a better pursuit than any specific skill. With capability you can learn whichever skills you need, whereas learning, say, computer programming, might allow you to flourish in some very specific settings, it won’t help you learn to cook, socialize, or fix your car. Capability is an umbrella-skill that helps you learn any other skill you might want to pick up.