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Top 12 most useful skills to know

You may guess that the most useful skill to know nowadays is programming, presentation skills or statistics. Well, not really. Of course all these skills are useful – you can make a good living from programming or turn your failure into success thanks to presentation skills. But there are certainly not the most useful abilities you can develop.

Useful means ‘able to be used for a practical purpose or in several ways’. The most useful skills to know must be extremely practical, used frequently and applicable to many situations – both private and professional.

Question about the most useful skills to know on Quora got over 700k views and 125 answers. Suprising most of them concentrates on soft skills, often depreciated in today’s tech and business world. You can find there abilities like: taking feedback, recovering from failure, adaptation, listening or being curious. Indeed, skills like listening are not only wider applicable than, let’s say, programming but also can help you improve your coding skills – you can fully understand the problem and create better solution or just learn quicker from your colleague.

12 Most Useful Skills To Know

Roger Schank, cognitive psychologist and learning scientist, came up with a list of 12 cognitive processes which are the most fundamental for a successful life. They are divided into three groups: conceptual processes, analytic processes and social processes.

12 cognitive processes - probably the most useful skills you can develop

12 cognitive processes – probably the most useful skills you can develop

Below you can find the full list of the most useful skills to know:

Conceptual Processes
1. Prediction
2. Modelling
3. Experimentation
4. Evaluation

Analytic Processes
5. Diagnosis
6. Planning
7. Causation
8. Judgement

Social Processes
9. Influence
10. Teamwork
11. Negotiation
12. Describing


All these skills are extremely useful regardless of context. When you design and run a marketing campaign you make use of all of them – you model a typical customer to better understand his needs, diagnose key pain points based on your judgement. You plan and run small experiments to see if your campaign influences behavior of the customer. You judge the results and make necessary adjustments based on causations you’ve noticed. You are happy with the results and decide to go full-scale. You negotiate terms with your supplier and work together with your team to polish all the elements of the campaign. At the end you evaluate the whole project, describe it and communicate to your management. It is completely the same when you code, launch a product or design a new feature – you make use of all of these skills. That’s what makes them so useful to know.

Conceptual Processes

Ability to predict outcome of an action. Think of people who share their detailed personal information and photos in the Internet – they make lack this skill. Thanks to prediction you can quickly identify excellent business opportunity.

Modelling is about building a conscious model of a process. Having this skill you are able to map a complex system like company or industry. Thanks to that you can identify problems, design solutions and communicate with others more effectively.

Checking what works and what doesn’t. It is difficult to find a better way of learning in highly uncertain environments than by trial and error. Instead of relying on theory you test things in practice. This is underlying principle of lean startup and customer development movements, which encourage entreprenuers to get out of the building and test their hypotheses about their product (or problem they want to solve) in practice.

Evaluation is about determining the value of a thing from many different perspectives. For example when you analyse the effects of newly implemented IT system you do not limit yourself to only positive effects but rather want to grasp a big picture – considering positive and negative effects, as well as direct and indirect.

Analytic Processes

Diagnosis allows you to identify relevant factors and ignore the noise. It also helps you find causal explanations between facts. Thanks to that you are able to start troubleshooting with the most likely problems instead of taking random shots.

What to do in order to achieve a certain goal but also ability to find out what goals are satisfied by a specific plan. Very useful in nearly every professional and private project. Helps achieve goals and analyse motivation of others.

Detecting the cause behind the specific event based on the previous knowledge. By knowing the causation you are able to affect your environment. For example by knowing that slow page load makes people abandon their cart in ecommerce, you may think of improving the website speed to get more conversions.

Ability to make unbiased, objective judgements rather than relying on emotions.

Social Processes

Thanks to this skill you are able to understand how other people respond to your requests and continuosly improve your influence skills.

Ability to achieve goals through effort of a team – including people management, cooperation, delegation, organisation of work and so on.

Ability to resolve conflicts and making deals. Essential not only in sales, but also in recruitment or management.

Through clear description you are able to communicate effectively and achieve your goals.

Whatever your area of expertise – marketing, programming, data analysis or trade – you can benefit from every single skill listed above. That’s what in my opinion makes them the most useful skills to know.


BTW – my answer to this question on Quora.