For the first 5 or so years of my career I never had a job title. And even today it always feels kinda wrong to put myself into a box. My skills are relatively broad and I think I could adapt to any task (if I want to). Obviously I would suck at a lot of ‘em and you probably shouldn’t ask me to operate on someone. But what I can do just doesn’t fit into a job title.

Anyway, the problem with job titles is that people get put into boxes, as skills get generalized. What Designer A can do might be extremely different from what Designer B has to offer. Their core skill might still be broadly put “design”, but what about all the other skills that person has? I can guarantee you if you sit down with a colleague tomorrow and ask him or her about their skills and passions, you will suddenly find out a bunch of things that might be useful in your company, but you’ve never known about.

In companies with hundreds or even thousands of employees you often even have no idea what the people next to you do in their free time and what they did before they were sitting next to you. So when you put together a team for the pitch for that DJ equipment company, it might be good to know that shy Timmy is actually a famous DJ on the weekend.

Fact is, there are a lot of skills and passions in companies being untapped.

Also, the more specific your job title, the more your credibility in areas that are not part of your job title will crumble. People might not trust you could accomplish what is normally done by people with a certain word in their title. So you could have a talented visual designer in the room that really knows UX design, but someone will still say “we need a UX person on this.” This is obviously bullshit, but right now hard to argue.

So what if instead of a job title, every person would have a Skill Cloud. A kind of a tag cloud that shows everything a person can do, ranked by experience, past projects and how much they like doing that thing.

The three attributes of an employee’s Skill Cloud:

  1. Skills
    I can code rails. I speak and write German. I have worked as a DJ for 24 years.
  2. Passions
    I can’t really DJ myself, but I can tell you everything about every DJ out there.
  3. Wants
    I have never worked on something DJ related or have deep knowledge about it, but I would really love to.

A Skill Cloud grows with the employee, as everything a person does and learns will eventually become part of their Skill Cloud. Wants can turn into Passions and Passions into Skills.

Horizontal People Development vs. Vertical People Development

As an employer, your goal should be to develop a Skill Cloud of an employee over time, because the broader someone’s skills and passions the more valuable the person is to your company. So instead of growing a person vertically in a narrow field of expertise, from Jr. Designer to Sr. Designer to Design Director, you will grow a person horizontally by exposing them to new things that will broaden their horizon not just in their core skill. You might also find out that some positions you were planning to staff from outside, you are actually able to grow from within. As by developing people’s Skill Clouds they will find new passions and skills they didn’t have before.

Building teams with Skill Cloud

If for example in an Ad Agency you put together a team for a pitch, you want to have people with spikes in all three attributes in the team.

The person with the skill will know how to execute in the space, but might fall quickly back to how he has always done it. He will profit from having the other two around, as they will push his expertise into new areas. The person with the passion will bring a broad knowledge of the space to the table and is eager to learn from the person with the skill. The person with the “wants” will ask the questions that will spark discussions that wouldn’t happen without him and encourages the others two to show off their skills and passions in the space at its best.

This way, not just the project will flourish (hopefully) but the three types will also grow each other’s Skill Clouds again. And wants will turn into passions and passions into skills.

And matching people with projects and tasks they really care about will make them happier employees and the projects more successful.

Last but not least, Skill Cloud does not necessarily have to replace the job titles at your company, it could eventually be just an addition.


If you code and are interested in building a system for this with me, please e-mail me at leif@innothunder.com

Thanks for reading!


Disclaimer: I’m German, sorry if the english is not perfect overall ;)

Credit: @ChrisBThunder contributed to this as well.