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12 business skills that will never, ever go out of style

Posting in Education

This is the digital age -- throw everything we've ever known about succeeding in business out the window, right? Wait a second, not quite everything.

There are basic rules for business success that haven't gone away with the digital age -- in fact, they have only become more important. The skills listed below could have appeared in any career book of the 1990s, 1980s, or even 1930s -- and continue to withstand the test of time:

  1. Communication skills. Management is still tight with budgets, and needs to be sold on new project ideas. The ability to construct an argument and make your case forcefully and clearly to your boss, client or coworkers will move your ideas to fruition. Computer systems can provide all the information you need, but machines don't know how to package it up to get decision-makers excited about lending their support to a project or idea.
  2. Time management and organization. The ability to stay organized and prioritize tasks will go a long way to moving you and your team forward. An application may accomplish a task within a millisecond, but it doesn't know its context or how it fits into the scheme of things. Just as important, to be able to make a decision and act on an opportunity now -- without getting wrapped up by paralysis by analysis -- will deliver results.
  3. Goal setting. No business operation -- no matter how automated and virtualized -- will get anywhere without a vision of the end result. It is this vision that focuses and solidifies all activities teams are undertaking.
  4. Delegating. No matter how talented and educated, one individual cannot do everything that needs to be done to keep an organization on track toward its goals. The ability to surround yourself with talented people who can augment your skills will get things done every time without fail.
  5. Public speaking and presentation skills. The ability to communicate your ideas to audiences will raise your profile to new levels. Web-based conferencing services make it easy, but face-to-face encounters will make lasting impressions.
  6. Relationship building. Nothing helps lay the groundwork for advancement more than cultivating and maintaining good relationships. Social media and email may help make it easier to keep in touch, but the key is to keep those contacts going.
  7. Involvement in professional groups/conferences: The best way to exchange ideas, learn new things and expand your network is to become involved in groups relevant to your craft. This can be through user groups for a particular software environment you work with, or professional associations. There are plenty of websites and forums that enable professionals to engage with one another online, but nothing seals a bond like face-to-face activities.
  8. Passion and determination. Motivation has to come from within; the drive to excellence is entirely an internal affair. Totally out of reach of any IT system.
  9. Civility, politeness, and respect. Nothing makes a business a great place to work more than mutual respect. This should be a golden rule for every tech startup, Fortune 500 and public organization that wants to make a positive difference in the world.
  10. Entrepreneurial and innovation skills. Even in the techiest of places, it takes a sense of imagination to conceive new ways to create value. New ideas aren't generated by machines, they come from the minds of the people using those machines.
  11. Desire to learn. Nothing beats the value of education, whether it's formal college degrees or completion of training skills in your profession. Even seeking out coworkers on the job for opinions and experiences means the growth of knowledge.
  12. Flexibility and adaptability. Rigidity never worked in the 1990s or 1930s, and it certainly won't work now. Be open to new ideas, environments, and responsibilities. Technology will constantly be changing, professionals need to change as well.

(Thumbnail photo credit: Joe McKendrick.)

— By on March 11, 2013, 11:51 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure