Skills diversification

Skills diversification

Generally speaking, career development can proceed in one of two directions.

  • Specialisation: You become an expert in your domain. As your expertise grows, people seek your advice and value your opinion. Eventually you may become an acknowledged authority in your chosen area.
  • Diversification: You acquire knowledge in disparate domains, e.g. medicine and IT. Using your overarching knowledge, you identify the opportunity to create new products and services by combining ideas from these domains. You then apply your cross-domain understanding to bring your ideas to fruition.

Diversifying your skills holds great potential; if there is a natural synergy between your existing skill base and your new-found knowledge, then you can make a bold move forward in your career. However, acquiring skills and knowledge that do not relate directly to what you currently do can lead to a dead-end. You could do a great course or read an interesting book, but end up with information that you are unable to integrate into your career.

How can you plan successful career diversification with the confidence that your new talent will be a brilliant supplement to your base competencies?

Interestingly, companies considering diversification face a similar quandary, and lessons from their decision-making process can be applied to individual’s career decisions.

Company diversification

According to the Harvard Business Review, when companies consider diversification, they should not simply look at the products and services that they provide and extrapolate from this base. Instead, they should go one level deeper and understand what the underlying organisational strengths are that make them good at what they do. Once a company has identified the strengths that enable it to deliver well, it can consider how these strengths can be applied to the operations of acquired businesses.

In other words, the true strategic assets of a company do not lie in the bricks-and-mortar of the business, because this can be imitated by competitors. Instead, the true strategic assets of a company are the ingrained organisational strengths, the flexibility and the determination that make the company good at what it does. Once these underlying strengths have been identified, the company can consider diversification based on the value they can add by injecting these strengths into the new acquisition.

Consider the case of Blue Circle Industries, a British company that is one of the world’s leading cement producers. In the 1980s, Blue Circle decided to diversify… It was, the company’s managers determined, in the business of making products related to home building. So Blue Circle expanded into real estate, bricks, waste management, gas stoves, bath-tubs – even lawn mowers. According to one retired executive, “Our move into lawn mowers was based on the logic that you need a lawn mower for your garden – which, after all, is next to your house.” Not surprisingly, few of Blue Circle’s diversification forays proved successful.

Blue Circle’s less focused, business-definition approach to diversification didn’t answer the more relevant question: What are our company’s strategic assets, and how and where can we make the best use of them?

One company that did ask that question – and reaped the rewards – is the United Kingdom’s Boddington Group. In 1989, Boddington’s then chairman, Denis Cassidy, assessed the company’s competitive situation. At the time, Boddington was a vertically integrated beer producer that owned a brewery, wholesalers, and pubs throughout the country. But consolidation was changing the beer industry, making it hard for small players like Boddington to make a profit. The company had survived up to that point because its main strategic asset was in retailing and hospitality: it excelled at managing pubs. So Cassidy decided to diversify in that direction.

Quickly, the company sold off the brewery and acquired resort hotels, restaurants, nursing homes, and health clubs while keeping its large portfolio of pubs. “The decision to abandon brewing was a painful one, especially because the brewery has been a part of us for more than 200 years,” Cassidy says. “But given the changes taking place in the business, we realized we could not play the brewing game with the big boys. We decided to build on our excellent skills in retailing, hospitality, and property management to start a new game.” Boddington’s diversification resulted in the creation of enormous shareholder value – especially when compared with the strategies adopted by regional brewers that decided to remain in the business. It also illustrates what happens when a company moves beyond a business-definition approach and instead launches a diversification effort based on its strategic assets.

To diversify successfully, companies need to look within to understand why they are good at what they do, and then use these unique strategic assets as a base for diversification. Similarly, you can make a quantum leap forward in your career by identifying your unique inner strengths, acquiring hard skills that these strengths can be applied to and then creating synergy between your base skill-set and your new-found knowledge.


Professor Gerald Grow is the professor of magazine journalism at Florida A&M University. He describes the personal qualities that provide the base for application of your professional skills as meta-skills, i.e. skill enabling skills. In a discussion concerning journalism he writes:

Every profession is based on both skills and metaskills. Skills are the activities people have to perform well – like reporting, writing, attributing quotes properly and avoiding libel. Metaskills are higher-order skills that enable journalists to use their skills effectively. Metaskills – such as critical thinking – are what make the skills effective. Without metaskills, skills are like a hammer in the hands of a child.

You can identify your personal meta-skills by thinking about what you are passionate about in your career. It is likely that these aspects of your work excite you because they correlate with your unique inner competencies and personal competitive differentiators. Once you have identified this career sweet-spot, you can think about which other knowledge areas would gel best with your meta-skills.

Your core business proposition

As soon as you begin a professional career or enter the business world, you enter a fight to establish your unique identity within the sea of available talent and commercial opportunity that comprises the modern business world.

The greatest success you can have lies in the development of your unique business proposition. Once you find the optimum combination of inner strengths and hard skills that is uniquely you, opportunity will naturally coalesce around you. Diversification can provide you with the skills and experience you need to realise your core business proposition.

In many cases, the core business proposition which is most appropriate to your own tastes, preferences and personality will arise by a fairly natural process from within your own experience of participating in the business world.

The point is demonstrated again and again by looking at the success stories of successful business people. For them, their core business strategy is not something which they devised from scratch by sitting at a desk and having a good think, but something which came to them as the result of their interaction with life.

The Seven Deadly Skills of Competing, page 80


To optimise your career it may be useful to acquire new skills that synergise with your base proficiencies.  Try this five step process to unleash the inner vitality that can make your dreams come true:

  1. Identify what you are passionate about.
  2. Identify the meta-skills (personal strengths) that drive your success.
  3. Determine new areas these meta-skills can be applied to.
  4. Acquire hard skills in these new areas.
  5. Create synergy between your old skillset and your new skillset.

In summary: Take a step back, reflect, then take a step forward.

work-life integrated success

Integrating personal and career success

Integrating personal and career success

Getting a job and earning money do not always guarantee that you will enjoy a life of satisfaction and happiness.

‘The paradox of prosperity’ (1999), a paper prepared for the Salvation Army by the Henley Centre, argues that although material prosperity is increasing in western society, the chances of a fulfilling life are decreasing. By 2010 more people will experience life stress, fewer people will find satisfying relationships, fewer people will feel secure and ‘safe’ and fewer people will be able to meet the conditions for self-actualisation.

BTEC National Health Studies, page 302

This is odd, as it would seem that if you are financially successful and earning money that you can spend on the things that are important to you, then your earning power will automatically strengthen your personal life. Are career involvement and success in your personal life fundamentally incompatible, or is it just a question of finding the right balance?

High-energy and low-energy states

The way that we feel and think at home is very different to the way that we feel and think at work. At home we are in a relaxed, low energy mode. Our office mindset, on the other hand, is high energy and focussed. Over the course of 24 hours, we oscillate from our serene low-energy home mindset to the high-energy office mentality, and then back to our low-energy state when we go home.

The journey to work is not only a physical transportation, but also a psychological transformation from the home persona to the work persona. In her book Home and Work (1996), Christena Nippert-Eng described how people go through a set of rituals to move from their home mentality to their work mentality. The separation between home and workplace is not just a spatial one; the two environments correspond to two social identities. Nippert-Eng’s respondents had elaborate techniques and habits to shed their home mentality in the work and get into the work mentality, and then leave the professional mode behind them in the evening to resume their private persona at home. These practices could be as simple as putting on specific clothes for each environment, reading the newspaper, drinking coffee or having beer at the end of the day.

Digital Anthropology, edited by Heather A. Horst, Daniel Miller, page 133

This constant change is healthy and refreshing. On the way to work we psyche ourselves up into the high-energy office mentality. When we get back home, we unwind, tell over amusing anecdotes from the workplace and  laugh at office frustrations. Our down time at home rejuvenates us for another day on the office and our energetic work life provides the impetus for us to progress with our personal lives.

Is there something that can disrupt this healthy cycle; so we become unable to bring our relaxed home mood to the office, or we become unable to bring our work energy back home?

Uneven energy

By nature, we are complex beings and display the different facets of our personalities in different situations. For example, sometimes we enjoy having fun, sometimes we engage in intellectually stimulating activities and sometimes we enjoy providing guidance to others and helping people out.

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII – William Shakespeare

However, the high energy attitude we assume at work may positively exclude us from involving all aspects of our personalities in our jobs. For example:

  • The manager who is trying to explain his point of view at a board meeting is probably not thinking about finding oneness with nature.


  • The share trader who is trying to determine the market direction is probably not thinking about playing with their kids.


  • The tour guide who is happily displaying local history is probably not thinking about how they will pay off their mortgage.

Subsequently, in the course of going about our work, we may encounter the following circumstances.

  • Our job only involves specific aspects of our personalities.


  • We move into a high-energy frame of mind in order to meet the challenges of doing our jobs.

so that

  • We become unevenly energised; the parts of our personalities that we activate at work, become stronger. But the parts of our personalities that we do not need at work, are forgotten and left behind.

Becoming trapped in your work mindset

The healthy oscillation between your low-energy home mindset and your high-energy frame of mind, depends on your ability to reset back to your old, natural self, when you go back home.

However, if only one aspect of your personality is involved in your work, then work pressures may push you to consistently think and feel in a particular way.

If this happens, then even when you go home to relax, your thoughts and feelings will tend to follow along the same lines that you are used to at work. Subsequently, you will be unable to escape from your work mentality, as your personality will start to become centred around the feelings and thoughts that you experience at work.


Due to the increasing role specialisation of the modern workplace, it is likely that your job will place pressure on you to adopt a particular attitude and act in a particular way at work. However, this does not necessarily mean that you want to become “that type of person”.

If you are objectively aware of the persona that you project at work, you will be able to ensure that when you return home, you can take off the “work clothes” that you wore during the day, and reset to your simple, natural self.