Talent Trees in the Real World

Posted: December 27, 2011 in Real World Applications
Tags: , , , ,

So there I was, having just finished sneaking around the Jarl of Winterhaven’s castle and helping myself to some of his wealth when he finally notices me and calls me aside. “Snygg,” he says. “You’re really a very good citizen. Always doing what you can to help the city.”

“Sure,” I agree, kicking my sack of stolen goblets and gold behind me.

“You’re very good at sneaking around and shooting people in the back from dark corners.”

“If this is about the guard found behind the inn with an arrow in his back I swear I don’t know anything about it.”

“Of course not,” the Jarl frowns. “I am talking about your good services to our city.”

“Right,” I smile. “You know me, never pick a fight when you can pick them off from a distance.”

“And that brings me around to my next point. You’re the best sneak and sniper in all of Skyrim, but you have some weak spots.”

“Well I am wearing light armor, I think it’s mostly weak spots,” I laughed.

He didn’t. “Your hand-to-hand skills are not as strong as they could be. And you have nearly no skill at all in two-handed weapon fighting. You can barely use a shield.”

“Has there been some kind of complaint about my questing?” I ask. “I killed three dragons this month.”

“It’s just that the Winterhaven guard has always worn steel armor and used shields and longswords. I’m going to need you to put some skill points in those.”

“But that’s not the way I do things best. And even if I start putting skill points in blocking I’ll never be as good at it as any of your guards.”

“Then you’ll just have to keep putting more skill points in it.”

“But I don’t block when I fight dragons – or anything else. It will be useless. I won’t be as effective as if I just keep putting my talent points in archery and sneaking.”

“Well you know what they say, eighty percent of your results come from twenty percent of your guards. Not everyone can be in the twenty percent.”

“Why not just let me continue sneaking around with my bow?”

“That’s just not the way we do things around here. Now get busy. I’d hate to have to start docking your quest rewards if you can’t keep up your bandit quota. See the quartermaster about getting one of the bright yellow guard tunics.”

“But this isn’t fun anymore,” I wail as he dismisses me.


Now obviously that’s a silly little parable. But it does have a real world corollary (that’s what makes it a parable, natch). In the real world there are no skill or talent points, instead we have to take time and labor to learn what we need to know. Learning in the real world is much more costly and involves some risk. When you are taking the effort to learn something you are investing into it.

So when it comes time to learn something, do you strengthen skills you already have or do you strengthen your weak spots? When you’re managing employees, do you strengthen their strengths or their weaknesses?

Far too often the approach is to strengthen someone’s weaknesses. Worse is when it’s done in the name of “the way things are done around here.”

Now this isn’t an excuse to not become a well rounded person or to not beef up valuable life skills. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you should forgo learning for the enjoyment of it. However, not everyone has the same interests and skill sets.

Let’s take my husband as an example. He’s a programmer. He loves writing code and solving problems. That being said, he has no interest in being a manager. That’s not where his skills or his interests lie. If he were promoted to a management situation then he and the employees under him would be miserable. Could he read up and take classes on how to be a good manager? Certainly. But you’d still be sacrificing an excellent programmer to get a mediocre manager. However, this is the traditional approach to career tracks. Far more effective than trying to get my husband to be a decent manager would be to teach someone who is a good manager to be an adequate enough programmer to understand what the people she’s managing are talking about.

This is something that’s also seen in training circles. Excellent pilots are not always going to be excellent trainers. It’s one of the pitfalls of expertise that your skills and knowledge become so ingrained that it can become really difficult to put that into words for a neophyte. Nevertheless, this is a traditional career path.

Finally I have to tattle on myself. I have fallen into the trap of trying to build on my weaknesses instead of my strengths even without an overt outside force pushing me down the track. The mistake of taking a calculus based physics class instead of the simpler basic physics class comes immediately to mind. It was very different than my self-motivated studying of video games and business. I felt that there was a need in college (a more traditional environment you would be hard pressed to find) to not just push myself to do well, but to do well in the hardest thing available to me at any given point in my class schedule. Hard math and science classes FTL.

My current “educational model” could not be more different. While I am stretching myself to learn more, it is in a way that builds my strengths as well as expands my horizons. By running parallel with my interests and strengths I am learning and retaining far more knowledge and skills. And I’m much happier than I was when I was trying to brute force myself into being a sciencey type.


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