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Skill-Building Is Not One Dimensional

Published 6/29/2021

We intuitively imagine our skills and capabilities to be one-dimensional and permanent. However, what goes into whether we can actually execute on our skills is multi-dimensional. In today's episode, we'll discuss a frame of thinking for capabilities that provides a lens for thinking about constraints and context.

✨ Sponsor: Square

Payment acceptance can be one of the most painful parts of building a web app for a business. When implementing checkout, you want it to be simple to build, secure, and slick to use. Square’s new Web Payment SDK raises the bar in payment acceptance developer experience and provides a best-in-class interface for merchants and buyers.

Learn more about integrating with Square’s Web Payments SDK at http://squ.re/developertea

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
So much of the pursuit in our career is the development of skill. And we like to imagine that our skill is one dimensional. Once we develop the skill, it's as if it's a part of our portfolio forever. But the truth is, skill is only one factor in the multi-dimensional reality that is capability. In today's episode, I want to present a model of thinking about capability. And hopefully give you some way of understanding how your skill can actually turn into something useful in your career. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. As a disclaimer, as is true with all mental models, this mental model that we're going to present today is incomplete. It's rough around the edges. There are plenty of places for you to criticize and say, it kind of falls apart when I think about it in this particular way. But hopefully, despite being incomplete, this model can be useful to you. Once we understand that models are intended to help us leverage what we're thinking about into action, right? To give us some way of roughly placing things on a map, rather than perfectly describing the truth, this helps us get a new perspective on the truth. So I want to talk about capability as a mixture of two balanced characteristics. And there's actually kind of a nice portmanteau happening here with the word capability. One is the word capacity, and the second word is ability. We can kind of combine those two words to make capability. I'm pretty sure that's not the actual etymology of the word capability, but it is a useful way to remember this model of thinking. So we have capacity and we have ability. And this model of thinking is actually something that kind of apply to both individuals and the systems. If you don't have both of these things, capacity and ability, you're not going to be able to execute on that, whatever that skill is, whatever that thing that is demanding capacity and ability. If you don't have both of those aligned, then you will be restricted from doing the thing that you're trying to do. So I want to describe capacity and ability and kind of rough broad strokes. And then we're going to take a sponsor break and we'll come back and talk about it more in detail. Capacity is the kind of restrictions from an environmental standpoint. Environmental in this case isn't necessarily external to you, but you can think about capacity as kind of the base level requirements as a simple and kind of crazy example. This will never have the capacity to see ultraviolet light. This is in a way an environmental restriction. Ability, however, is more of an event-based or skill-oriented practice execution. We have capacity, which is kind of like traits, and we have ability, which is execution. We're going to talk a little bit more about capacity and ability right after we talk about today's sponsor. Today's episode is sponsored by Square. Payment acceptance can be one of the most painful parts of building a web app for a business. And implementing checkout, you want it to be simple to build, secure, and select to use. Square's new web payment SDK raises the bar in payment acceptance developer experience and provides a best-in-class interface for merchants and buyers. You can build a customized branded payment experience with the web payments SDK and never miss a sale. Delivery highly responsive payments flow across web and mobile that integrates with credit and debit cards, digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, ACHBank Payments, and even gift cards. The old days of basic payment forms are over. You can even implement things like complex transactions and follow up actions by the customer, which can include completing a payment authentication step, filling in a credit line application form, or doing background risks checks on the buyer device. The thing is, even though all of this may seem complicated, developers don't need to know if a payment requires verification and if so, what type. Square hides all of that complexity from the seller and guides buyers through the necessary steps. Getting started with the new web payments SDK is easy. Simply include the web payments SDK JavaScript, flag the element on the page where you want the payment form to appear, and then attach hooks for your own custom behavior. You can get started with the web payments SDK at squ.re slash Developer Tea. Thanks so much to Square for their support. We're talking about capability in today's episode. This idea that capability is some mixture of capacity and ability. As we've already mentioned, this is a mental model. It's not a perfect description. Certainly there are things that might lie outside of this model that are hard to explain with it, but with that said, there are so many things that can be kind of put into this frame. Very simple example is probably where you see the word capacity the most at a restaurant. If a given restaurant has the capacity to, let's say, seat 150 people, but there are processes. The way that they route their servers, for example, don't allow for that number of people to be served. We have a mismatch in the capacity and the ability. On the other hand, you can also have the opposite problem where you have a highly efficient weight staff and simply not enough room to maximize that ability. In this case, your ability outpaces your capacity. Keen listeners will recognize that this episode is coming out on a Tuesday, where as usually episodes of the show come out on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays. In fact, we've missed our Friday refills for two weeks in a row. This is a capacity problem. Certainly with over 900 episodes of the show published, I have very likely have the ability to execute on these episodes. But, because my time has been constrained, for example, yesterday, my son ended up having a fever and so I had to spend my time doing family things rather than recording for the podcast. My capacity was limited. So why is this important? Because you go through your career, you're going to have numerous occasions where these two things will be aligned. But things are going to have a lot of occasions where they're not aligned. And here's the critical thing. You may not actually know that your capacity is the limiting factor or that your ability is the limiting factor. By having this lens available, you can ask the question, is my capacity the limiting factor in this scenario? You can ask this for teams as well. The most simple example, of course, is having a highly efficient team, but not having enough people on the team. It's important to understand also that as you change one factor, another factor may change. And your capacity is not something that you can't change. We aren't talking about external factors that are out of your control. Instead we're talking about longer term setup factors. Another simple example of this is that perhaps you have the capacity to work in a particular language. You've proven this by working it in that language in the past. But since it's been a while since you worked in that language, as possible that if it came down to it in the moment, you wouldn't have the ability. And some of this is just because our abilities change over time. We lose abilities. They may decay with a lack of use. And the same is true if you were to imagine that you have the capacity to work in a language that you've never worked in before. In other words, if you were to learn that language, you could develop the ability to work in that language. Another way to think about capacity is to imagine that it's similar to potential. And on the flip side, you can imagine that ability is similar to performance. You have performance and you have potential. And it should be noted that these things can change even on a day-to-day basis, as we already mentioned, with the delays on recording this episode of the podcast, that our surroundings may change our capacity. When you're very tired, for example, your capacity goes way downhill. Now I mentioned that this is a model of thinking. I can imagine somebody listening to this and saying, well, actually, in that moment, it's not that your capacity is limited, it is that your ability is limited. And this is a worthwhile argument to bring up because as you begin to think about the different kind of variables that affect these two poles of your capability, the important thing is that you engage and try to find the multifactorial truth, not the one-dimensional truth. Again, the myth that we believe is that just because we have some developed skill, just because we've practiced something or because we have that knowledge in our heads, maybe because we've been exposed to something that we inherently now possess that skill. But the truth is further from that. This should give us both a sense of challenge to pay attention to all of those different factors rather than just one. But also, this is grounds for going easy on yourself. Just because you didn't perform to some perfect standard or even to some level that you've performed in the past doesn't mean that you suddenly have lost all ability or capacity. There's likely some specific factor that stood in the way of you performing that way again. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope you will inspect your capabilities through this lens and start to imagine things both as external and internal restrictions, those potential and performance, capacity and ability, these two poles of capability. Thank you so much to Square for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Head over to squ.re slash Developer Teato get started with the web payments SDK today. If you are enjoying this episode, if you've enjoyed many episodes in the past, especially, and I encourage you to join the Developer Tea Discord community head over to DeveloperTea.com slash discord where you can talk about your career. You can talk about your life. You make friends. You can talk to me. You can ask questions about the show. You can get notifications when new episodes of the show come out and a whole lot more. And it's all free. We never plan to monetize the discord community. Head over to DeveloperTea.com slash discord to get started today. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.