The Importance of Metaskills

In the field of learning, there's a concept known as "transfer." The simplest explanation of transfer is that it measures how useful a skill is beyond its own domain. In other words, does practicing skill A boost any other skills, or is it only going to make you better at skill A?

For example, learning how to quickly solve a Rubik's Cube is a pretty cool party trick that requires discipline and a great deal of practice. But it doesn't transfer well to anything else, making it a largely useless skill (unless you can find a way to make a living with it).

Lifting weights, on the other hand, has quite a bit of transfer. Even though the motions for each lift are artificially limited, the strength and coordination you gain from performing them can benefit a large number of other skills. This is why professional athletes take time out of their normal training schedules to lift weights–this one activity boosts the skills they use in competition.

I like to refer to skills that transfer well as "metaskills." These are skills that will serve you well no matter what domain you're in. With automation quickly encroaching on new industries every day, it's important to focus on these types of skills above niche skills. The reasoning is pretty straightforward: with a rapidly changing competitive landscape, it doesn't make sense to get latched onto skills that might not be worth anything in the near future.

By focusing on niche skills, you're making yourself incredibly vulnerable to the changing tides of the economy. What is in demand today may not be in demand tomorrow, and the only way to survive is to be nimble enough to adapt to that change.

Metaskills, on the other hand, are timeless. They're connected to how we as humans function biologically, and focusing on those will get you through even the most turbulent of circumstances. No matter what is trendy and hip in technology or the domains you care about, metaskills will allow you to survive.

That's why the remainder of this guide is going to be focused on metaskills. Once you become competent with metaskills, picking up the niche skills will be easy (especially now that there are millions of free guides available on the internet).

No, You Aren't Too Old

It's important to emphasize here that age and education level are not excuses for not adapting. Even though it will be more difficult if you're older and/or not well educated, it's absolutely possible to stay relevant enough to keep the machines from taking your job. Don't let old myths like "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" keep you from making it through the incoming wave of automation!

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