Realizing Potential by Shifting Skills

The key to realizing potential can be found by shifting skills from one discipline to another to meet new needs and provide new perspective.

Skills are dynamic, prized achievements. But the full potential of a skill is never realized when it is locked within a set discipline.

I once saw a dance film that made such an impression, I sought out the producer after its screening. I asked what his secret was to capturing human movement so fluidly and beautifully on film.

“I only hire NFL cameramen to shoot my films,” was his reply. I chuckled cynically to call his bluff. There was no bluff.

“Their entire career is spent tracking individuals who move quickly and unpredictably,” he explained. “The skills they develop over the years, the instincts they hone—play after play, game after game—puts them in an entirely different league when it comes to capturing movement.”

That exchange always comes to mind when I think the power of “cross-pollinating” skills across disciplines.

The ability for the producer to look at the skills of NFL cameramen and think, “This could be used to capture the movement of dancers on screen,” is a prime example of using skills in new contexts for exceptional results. History has plenty of examples of this.

When the Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 researchers found similarities between the legs of the army figures and the water drainpipes created during the same period. As the History Channel reported:

“The restoration process revealed how the figures originally had been made … Craftsmen who knew how to make terracotta drainage pipes applied their skill to create the figures using molds and an assembly line production system of body parts. Once the figures were assembled, distinctive surface features were applied with clay.”

Different skills offer new perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences for fresh solutions when assigned to a new field.

Specialized skill sets too often remain as closed loops of knowledge and execution. Everyone loses when this is the case. All it takes is to step back from the linear “this skill is for this task,” and think of the skill set as content ready for use in a new context.

Thousands of employees from the travel and hospitality industry were fired or furloughed during the pandemic. Most countries saw these individuals as another subset of the unemployed. Sweden saw them as skilled resources with abilities to meet pressing needs of the time.

Airline Crews and Hotel Employees

Some cabin crew members from Scandinavia’s SAS Airlines signed up to train at Sophiahemmet University, a nursing school and private hospital.

University president Johanna Adami said the crews’ existing skills made them well-suited for helping during the pandemic. “They are trained in first aid, the most common diseases, and also safety and how to care for people.”

In addition to being trained in how to deal with medical emergencies onboard, they are trained to handle tense moments such as dealing with unruly passengers—all skills that can help during stressful situations in hospitals.

“We’re really good at being around people and taking care of people,” says flight attendant Mathilda Malm, who was part of the training program. “We’re always prepared for every situation and we handle it in a calm way.”

Building on its success with airline employees, Stockholm’s “Skill Shift Initiative,” set up by recruitment agency Novare, SAS, and the Wallenberg Foundations, gave furloughed hotel employees a chance to apply their skills in new ways.

Staff from Stockholm’s Grand Hotel augmented their hospitality skills with specialized training to care for the elderly, then assisted in local nursing homes.

Stockholm mayor Anna Konig Jerlmyr told the AP that she saw transferring the skills of airline staff and hotel workers as “a way of optimizing our resources” to meet the city’s urgent needs.