Everywhere we look nowadays we see lists of “the 12 things you need to do”, or “the 9 skills you must possess”, or “the 10 most critical habits you must form.” There is nothing wrong with lists like these except for the fact that they tend to be overwhelming. Most folks are not capable of keeping that many balls in the air.

In today’s post I’m sticking my sword in the sand and taking the position that the lowest common denominator of all the skills that must be learned well, to succeed in life, consist of just three. That takes a lot of pressure off, as most folks aren’t capable of dealing with nine or ten or twelve different things; but can wrap their brain around three.

My three skills finalists are: thinking critically, speaking clearly, and writing well. As a subscriber to this newsletter you may make your living as a salesperson, a sales manager, a business owner, or an entrepreneur. Frankly it doesn’t matter what your title is, you will be best in class once you’ve mastered these three.

Thinking Critically – Obviously all humans have the ability to think, but there are several levels of thought. Thinking critically means having the capacity to reason. It means being able to evaluate, scrutinize, and solve problems. It includes creativity and the ability to follow a train of thought to a conclusion in order to render a judgment. The skill of thinking critically provides people the upper hand by giving them the advantage of accomplishing objectives quickly and efficiently. Face it, not everybody possesses those skillsets.

Please understand that critical thinking is different from being intelligent. Intelligence is a trait you are born with, whereas critical thinking is a skill, meaning it can be taught, learned, and improved upon.

We all know really smart people who can’t find their butt with both hands. Well, maybe that’s going a bit too far, but there a lot of very intelligent pinheads out there who just don’t know how to think for themselves.

A big part of the problem is due to the “herd mentality” that is promoted by society today. We are all supposed to see things the same way due to our government schools filling our heads full of mush. We must pull out of our death dive and return to the days when we questioned and challenged the status quo and carried on thoughtful conversations. In order to be a critical thinker you must think for yourself and have your own ideas. That’s impossible to do from the middle of the herd.

This next statement will probably cost me some newsletter subscribers, but additionally you must put some limitations and controls on the amount of time spent in front of electronic devices, especially drivel like many of the video games available, internet caca, and yes, countless hours in front of the boob tube. I’m not against fun by any stretch, but you can have fun engaging in games that are also educational. There are many available that are very cool to play, but also teach logic, analysis, and fundamental thinking.

Speaking Clearly – This skill means different things to different people, but what I’m advocating here is the ability to express your thoughts concisely and clearly. Good grammar and diction is certainly important, but saying what you mean is critical. Have you ever asked someone the time, and they told you how to build a watch? That happens way more often than folks like to admit.

Your speaking style is also very important. Even educated people struggle to express themselves by hemming and hawing and including expressions in their conversations such as “I mean,” “you know,” “it was like,” “OMG,” “no way…yes way,” etc.

The ability of speaking well is much rarer than you think, and those who acquire it gain a great deal of social power over their peers. To improve take a Dale Carnegie course or attend an effective speaking course at a local college; one that requires you to SPEAK to pass the course. Practice makes better!

Writing Well – The third social skill I consider crucial is writing well. It may seem that writing has become less important due to the amount of texting and instant messaging chatting used by virtually everyone, but writing even short communications is still a valuable skill. The ability to express oneself well in memos, business letters, proposals, etc., is a very powerful skill, and is a twin brother to speaking clearly.

One of my bucket list feats was to write a book relating some of the things I learned during my 40 years in the selling universe. When people hear that I became a published author in 2012, they often assume I’m a highly educated upper class guy. The fun part for me is that I don’t have a college degree, am a technological caveman, and never moved past middle management in my entire business life. On the other hand, I have challenged myself to become a critical thinker, have learned to speak clearly and concisely (with a lot of south in my mouth), and have scratched and clawed my way to becoming a decent writer, who is able to get his points across to readers.

I learned how to think by thinking. I learned to speak well by speaking…a lot, to both small groups and large. I learned how to write by writing; notes, posts, newsletters, and a non-fiction book. Mastering those three critical social skills have greatly overshadowed many of my weaknesses. If you are like me from the standpoint of not having degrees or pedigrees, get to work improving these three skills in your life.