Every day you see articles that stress the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. I agree that skills in these areas are critical for technology innovation and to maintain our nation’s competitive edge in the global marketplace. However, STEM skills should not come at the exclusion of soft skills that are based in humanities.
Have you ever seen pure technologists try to describe their creations to laymen or to potential buyers who are not technologists? Have you ever seen them attempt to create marketing materials or position their products? It’s not pretty.
|Telos employees attending a recent career fair|
There are some obvious examples that illustrate the importance of soft skills in creating and launching successful businesses and technologies. Steve Jobs’ influence on Apple immediately comes to mind. As many people know, his early interest was in calligraphy where he worked to optimize font styles, making them more attractive and appealing to the eye. His interest and work in this area resulted in Apple’s revolutionary breakthrough at the time known as desktop publishing, which resulted in the marrying of three technologies: Adobe Postscript, laser printing, and personal computers. Apple indeed made it simple for anyone to publish their own professional-looking documents.
Over time, Steve Jobs’ hyper-focus on simplicity permeated throughout Apple as they strove for simplistic elegance in everything they developed – from user interfaces and hardware to product messaging and even product packaging.
Conversely, there are countless examples of technologists who have tried to do everything on their own – product, marketing, packaging, design, etc. – and failed. The outcome is often overly complex user interfaces (remember the command line?!) and poor messaging.
The quest for simplicity is not easy. French mathematician Blaise Pascal offers an early lesson in this regard where he famously apologized in a letter for its length, saying, “If I had more time I would have written a shorter one.” Simplicity does not come easy; it takes skill.
Whether it’s a pitch to venture capitalists, an intuitive UI design or a marketing campaign, soft skills are just as essential as STEM skills when it comes to launching a successful technology product or business.
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