Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Bundle of Skills: The Core Competency Concept

He is a good artist, yet not good enough to ever sell a painting, he can crack jokes and are the heart of any party, yet will never make a cent as a standup comedian,  he did an MBA, yet scores of other people did it as well. His is Scott Adams, and he is the only funny person that has a business qualification and that can paint. He is doing well as he draws funny stuff that relates to business. He gives us Dilbert.     Scott Adams found that bundle of skills in his life when he combined his competencies in a unique way.
     In my life it also happened, merely by chance. My story started 500 years ago … when the Spaniards discovered what they thought was India and promptly called the locals “Indians”. These Indians did great things. They built huge cities, 6 lane highways across the Andes, mastered civil engineering, art and science. In the city of Lima are several pyramids build by the Incas a 1000 years ago.
      Yet ... they never read or write and their highways had steps as the wheel was not invented. No need for wheels as Lamas and Alpacas can do anything needed.
     Then in 1519, Hernãn Cortés landed in Mexico with a handful of men. He had strange weapons, the gun and the horse, and conquered the continent by divide and rule and one bloody massacre after the other. The great emperor, Monte Zuma II (no family ties!) of the Aztecs was defeated by Hernãn and friends and the age old great civilizations of the Maya, the Inca and the Aztec ceased to exist.
     The Spaniards returned home in pomp and glory, Columbus humbly named himself “the Grand Lord of all the Oceans”. They marched down the Gran Via in Madrid and were received by Queen Isabella on the steps of the Aranjuez palace and laurelled them in gold and silver. They were on top of the world.
     They brought with them strange plants and seeds. Stuff they never heard before with words ending in “To”, the tomaTo and potaTo. Also they brought sunflowers to inspire an artist and Coca to inspire poets and that also gave birth to a great soft drink.
       Yet the greatest is still corn on the cob, pap in a potjie, the food of our nation. not forget about our friend M. Zuma II. He long since departed to the heaven of the Aztec gods after a cruel death at the hand of Señor Cortés, yet manage to hide a small cauldron filled with tiny seeds deep down in the hull of the Santa Maria. On arrival it was planted eagerly and proliferated from Ireland to Norway, from Greece all the way across the Urals into China, from Cairo to Cape ...
     For some reason, botanists and lawyers have one thing in common; they speak Latin to impress the rest of us. The botanists again did not disappoint us with a new name for this wonderfull plant: Nicotiana Tabacum. Over the next 500 years this obnoxious weed, took its bloody toll and millions died cruelly in the wake of its onslaught. Emperor Monte Zuma II had the last and final laugh. He is content with himself today in the Aztec heaven. He executed the ultimate revenge ... 
     At the age of 11, I was ready for my first experiment with the Weed. Luck smiled when somebody dropped a full packet of Peter Stuyvesant King Size 20 and it became my unlawfull possession. I crafted a sly plan to outwit my parents by pedaling out of our town and puffed away on one Stuyvesant a day hiding under a bridge with cars passing overhead. It was just AWFULL and after the third attempt, the whole packet was cremated in a small fire. I made an oath never ever to touch it again. It became an obsession.
     Later in boarding school in Cape Town I was frowned upon for not participating in the communal coughing and sneezing. Remember, those days it was the norm and about 80 + % of all men stoked. Even in the 80’s the only non smoking table in our local Spur was the one in the entrance next to the till.
     Disaster struck when at the age of 18, when I received a polite letter signed by a certain Mr PW Botha who friendly asked me for higher duty to serve our country. All arguments fell on deaf ears and they sent me to a suburb in Pretoria named Valhalla. Ironically it was not named after the Aztec heaven but the heavens of the Nordic gods; Thor and friends. Valhalla was no joke and definitely no heaven. They humblified us, stripped us of every bit of dignity and put our bodies through unthinkable misery. I heard words that no dictionary will ever publish.
     Every hour was smoke break, just long enough for 3 Gunstons. Those who did not do the Weed had no smoke break. In our platoon, I was the lonely voice in the desert and was mercilessly sent to run to a tree 5 kms distant in the sweltering heat to ask its name. I became fitter and fitter. Soon a motley bunch of loyal disciples joined me and we started to mock the Corporals. They and the rest of the great South African Air Force hated us as no feat they could create moved a hair on our heads.
     Then one Wednesday morning, after 3 months of unspeakable torture, the whole camp was commanded to stand on attention on the parade ground. An important looking guy with many stars and ribbons addressed us. They were looking for a handfull to go on a course and then to be placed as operational planners at fighter squadrons all over the country.
     The regimental sergeant major screamed at us, “If you have an A in matric ... one step forward!” 
      I just followed orders. He bellowed further, ”If you are shorter then 1.7 meters, one step forward!”
      I again followed orders. Not many were left at this point. They marched 100 of us off the parade ground under the jealous eyes of the remaining 1900. We went on intensive tests where they tested our lung function, moved on to put our fitness to the test. Then only 15 remained. Only shorties with a knack for maths and non smoking. The perfect bundle of skills, Scott Adams at its very best. The remaining 1985? Well an air force needs lots of security guards …
     I landed in real Heaven, learnt the strategies of war, climbed in my mind into the Messerschmitt and the Sopwith Camel, met up with the Mirage 3, the Canberra and the Buccaneer, flew in the cockpit of the C160,  re fought the old dogfights, and analyzed the 7 day war. We were even addressed as, “Gentlemen” and “Sir”. 
    They sent me to serve at a maritime bomber squadron, I flew to distant lands, feared for my life as Soviet frigates aimed their anti aircraft guns at us, I learnt real leadership, when all the officers were flying,  often alone managed the whole squadron with hardware worth billions.
     The Air Force thought that I was the cat’s whiskers and made me an official offer. I opted for something more boring; a science degree. When I left the Air Force on the 15th of December that year, I cried like a baby. I was just 19 years old ... leaving a real heaven with all possible dreams came true.
     And who to thank? The great leader, Mr. Zuma, Monte Zuma!
    To divert a bit, vertical integration is when a company does all sorts of great things up and down the value chain and makes a fortune. Up here in Sunny Eastern Pretoria are two buildings next to each other. At one funky BMW’s are parked. Painted white with a blue stripes (Peter Stuyvesant mild?) and grey C230 compact Mercs with number plates DNHL.(influenced by the late Alfred Dunhill?) ... Their mission, "catch them young and early."
     And next door? The HQ of a gigantic hospital group waiting for those very same sick people. The mother company of both? The one and only! The ultimate in vertical integration ...
    It is more often than not how great we are in a few things, but how we put it together. Can you and I become a Scott Adams? What is that unique paragraph depicting you like a, “Non smoking maths-nerdy-shortie”
     A core competency of an organization or a person is that bundle of skills that sets us apart from the rest. Each of us has it already. To find it is hard, hard work. Not finding it is criminal against our yourself.
Some steps you can follow:

  1. List everything you are above average in
  2. List your loves and what drives you
  3. Who do you want to reach?
  4. And your personality?
  5. Put all these together in one pot. What is that single sentence to ring outside that describes you?
  6. What is missing, what can be sourced, what do you need to learn?
  7. Think Scott Adams, think ”short, nerdy, non smoking ...”
The beauty of this bundle of skills that it almost always opens up a multitude of doors making many dreams come true.
Just do it !

VDS Brink never again in the past 45 years touched the Weed,
yet believes that money has no colour and owns lots of shares
 in the mother company of a hospital group and a tobacco company.
Inspiration was found from the great books by
Gary Hamel and Ken Robinson;
 “Competing for the Future” and “The Element”

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