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By Nandini Jammi

On 2015-09-01

How 'Skills' Became Irrelevant In The Digital Economy

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You know what’s a complete joke? LinkedIn Skills & Endorsements.

Lol. This is very generous. Entrepreneurship, guys? I’ve never started a company. Press releases? Never written one. Thanks though.

Skills are really just a bunch of microscripts

Despite the endorsements, I don’t really know how to “do” marketing strategy. That’s a big statement that signifies little. (Other statements that signify nothing: “I am a growth hacker.”)

I know how to develop buyer personas. I know how to fill up a Buffer account. I know how to A/B test headlines. I can write and SEO-proof a blog - and if I can do enough of these tasks, it forms the knowledge I need to build a marketing strategy.

What’s the distinction I’m making here? That SKILLS are an abstract umbrella term, and my real value lies in actual tasks that I can complete - in other words, micro-scripts.

OK, so what’s a micro-script? Here’s what I’ve found about that:

A cognitive micro-script refers to knowledge about use. This knowledge is usually consciously available. That is, a person in possession of that knowledge can talk about it. If the sentence "John knows how to use X" makes sense for a given X then X is a cognitive micro-script.

A physical micro-script refers to knowledge about operations. This knowledge is not usually consciously available. That is, a person in possession of a physical micro-script may not be able to talk about it. If the sentence "John knows how to operate an X" makes sense for a given X then X is a physical micro-script.

A perceptual micro-script refers to knowledge about observations. This knowledge is not usually consciously available. A person in possession of a perceptual micro-script may not be able to talk about it. If the sentence "John knows how to recognize an X" makes sense for a given X then X is a perceptual micro-script.”

When you put a bunch of micro-scripts together, they form the backbone of whatever skills (and competency) you drunkenly claim to have at networking events.

The following comes from Roger Schank, a former professor of education(emphasis added):

One problem with the word "skill" is that we can say "John knows how to do mathematics" or "John knows how to do biology" and still feel comfortable that we are talking about skills because we are talking about knowing how to do something. The illusion is that mathematics or biology are a kind of thing one can learn to do. We might expect our employees to know how to do systems installation or to manage other employees, for example. But, although these may seem like skills, in each case they are really collections of a large number of micro-scripts.

This becomes clear when one thinks about teaching someone to do any of these things.

You can't teach students to do biology, but you can teach them to dissect a frog (a physical micro-script), or relate diet components to biological functions (a cognitive micro-script), or interpret chemical equations (a perceptual micro-script). In fact, even these micro-scripts are likely to made up of many smaller micro-scripts (such as knife handling).

In business, this means we have to stop thinking about teaching management techniques, or communication methods. Why? Because these are not micro-scripts. They tend to be taught the way high school biology is taught, as facts to be memorized, which as I have said, is only relevant to teach if memorization is the micro-script you want students to master. But if we want students to get good at managing or communicating we have to do something else.

Schank brings up a very relevant point about how teaching management techniques is irrelevant. What would you get out of saying I can build a marketing strategy if I didn’t know how to use Hubspot or Marketo’s automation tools? What does “strategic planning” even mean!? More from Schank:

There is an important difference between a skill that is teachable and a skill set that is, by itself, not teachable. Whatever doing biology or managing employees might be, these things cannot be only one skill. They are collections of various, possibly quite unrelated, micro-scripts. If we confuse micro-scripts to be learned with simple headings that we have used to describe skill sets, we will cause the courses we design to lose their focus.

Perhaps I was endorsed for my rad press release skillz because I’ve mastered a set of micro-scripts that I could transfer to PR if needed. (Or more likely, because LinkedIn Skills are completely, utterly meaningless.)

You’re only as good as the tasks you’ve mastered

What I’m getting at is that micro-scripts (a synonym for “functional knowledge”) are the only real, meaningful currency in the digital world.

You’re only as good as the tasks you’ve mastered. And your customers are only as good as the tasks you’ve helped them master.

However, that’s not a problem. That’s an opportunity.

At least these SaaS products believe that. They’ve developed courses and certifications that start their customers off with mastering a collection of micro-scripts:

Optimizely (optimization)

Hubspot (marketing automation)

Unbounce (landing pages)

Mention (social media monitoring)

Think about how you might build a multi-layered journey for your users (there are at least three layers):

1. It starts with just knowing the interface. Knowing where features are, how to access them, and what they’re for.

2. Then the next layer: how to use those features to complete tasks and processes.

3. Then a bigger better layer: being proficient enough to able to call on those micro-scripts for new challenges - and becoming a so-called expert.

Mastering the product is a skill in itself. Users don’t make it to that final layer of skilled proficiency if they don’t know their way around the toolbox first.

For Unbounce, that means designing a series of lessons that looks like this:

An Introduction to A/B Testing

1.1 Why You Should A/B Test

What to Test

2.1 Deciding What to Test 
2.2 The Hypothesis 
2.3 Testing the 5 Essential Elements of Your Landing Page 
2.4 Testing Your Headline 
2.5 Testing Your Hero Shot 
2.6 Testing the Features and Benefits Copy 
2.7 Testing Your Call to Action 
2.8 Testing Forms 
2.9 Testing Social Proof

Running Your Own A/B Test

3.1 Running Your Own A/B Test

More Ideas for A/B Testing

4.1 More Ideas for Testing


5.1 The Rewards of Testing

It looks like they’ve defined the skills a user would need to be successful and then worked backwards to teach them using their platform.

And this works out really well, because each of these lessons are micro-scripts - and together they make up a skill.

This are the kind users you want to mold - the kind that know what to pick out of their toolbox and how to use them.

So your users actually know what they're doing.

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