A Marriage of Skills


We often regard separate skills – science, art – as distinctive, requiring different intellectual tools and capacities. We also tend to divide people up according to what we see to be their dominant skillsets (“I’m a math person”).

But, people have capacity in many areas. By narrowing our definition of  ‘what we/they are good at’,  we miss the opportunities that this human complexity provides.

Steven Jobs, Apple co-founder, circa 1985.

Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple, obviously had  technical know-how and vision. He also had an artistic eye and design training. What impact did those capacities have on Apple’s success? Apple’s popularity relies not only on technical innovation and performance, but also on the beauty of it’s products and the competitive advantage that has created.

Of note, Jobs lost Apple at one point when the board of directors replaced him. Undaunted, he took his technical and artistic skills to work developing the NeXT computer, which paved the way to interpersonal computing by offering foundational aspects of web server software and for the first web browser, WorldWideWeb.

Jobs also led the creation of a division of Lucasfilm called the Graphics Group. That became one of the world’s first successful computer animations film companies. You know it today as Pixar, producer of Toy Story and others, most recently the 2018 Academy Award winner Coco. Again, success born of a marriage of artistic and technical skills.

Here’s another example:

Back in 1856, a young chemist names Sir Henry Perkins, was trying to create a sorely needed synthetic quinine to treat malaria. One day when cleaning up the lab, he noticed that certain chemicals were mixing to form a particularly vibrant shade of purple. Perkins was also an amateur painter and photographer. His side interest helped him to recognize what he’d discovered.


Victorian shoes dyed with Mauvine, the first synthetic dye. Mauvine was identified and created by chemist/painter/photographer Sir Henry Perkins when he was working to develop a synthetic pharmaceutical treatment for malaria.

Perkins and his brother continued their work creating the first ever synthetic dye. They made millions selling this new purple dye, mauvine and, ultimately, many others to the fabric industry.

While Perkins himself never created synthetic quinine, we all enjoy easy access to colorful clothing because of his skills as both a chemist and as an artist.  Neither Perkins nor Jobs not have achieved their particular success without both skillsets. (The next time someone tells you that school art programs are ‘supplemental’ or ‘optional’, set them straight!)

These are just two stories of millions of stories of how seemingly unrelated skills (often art & science) have come together in one human and mixed in ways that improve the world.

Maybe it’s time to take your own skills inventory? Look back through your life and note your different interests, activities, hobbies and loves, if you will. What are those subjects that you just love learning more about, that never feel like work? Do they combine with or inform your job, career, other current endeavors in any way? Might your love of flowers and gardening somehow feed your work as a manager? Or, could your movie habit help your retail sales business?

What skills or interests can you marry to take your business, your life to a new level?


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