Skills on a Short Shelf


In a taxi ride to the Singapore airport, I met a taxi drive who claimed to have been a mechanic for Datsun “Z” race cars when he was a young man. (You know he had to be young, because they haven’t been called Datsun for years!) He told me that he once worked on one of Paul Newman’s race cars. In fact, he said, that same car was recently featured in an article in Car and Driver – same engine twenty years later.

The man said that he loved the work and loved living in the U.S., but while he was there, his father grew ill and died back in Singapore. Since his father owned a construction company, the young man had to come back to run it for his family. After twenty years, he sold the business, but he found that he couldn’t return to auto racing mechanics. In the time that he had been gone, everything had changed.

All the parts were now measured in millimeters instead of inches. But even if he had been able to quickly do the conversions in his head, it didn’t change the fact that cars are now run by computers. He boasted that he could stick his hand into a bucket of parts while blindfolded and tell you what each nut, each bolt, each washer was for. Not anymore. Everything had changed. Now, his wife teases him that he’s an expert in internal combustion engines, but he can’t even get his Honda Civic to start.

The pace of change is increasing. Technical knowledge is almost obsolete by the time you learn it. Things are moving that fast. If you don’t spend time every year updating your technical skill, it’s going to be old and outdated before you know it. Technical skills have a short shelf life.

Of more lasting value are interpersonal skills and knowledge.  These skills allow you to adapt to changing environment, because the principles they are based on don’t change.  What was effective advice for dealing with people when Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book (How to Win Friends and Influence People) is still effective today – seventy years later.  And there was nothing new in that book, either.  Many of the practices were ones Jesus preached about 2,000 years ago.

Allow my new friend’s experience to be a cautionary tale for you.  Invest your time and effort learning how to understand and interact with people, and you will always be able to find someone willing to invest in your talents.

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Filed under Interpersonal, learning, Relationships

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