6 skills every graduate needs to master, and yes, laundry is on the list

If I knew back when what I know now, I would have known that I knew nothing. At the time, I didn't know I knew nothing, so I acted as if I knew everything. And that one character flaw of youth kept me from learning what I really needed to know. It also kept me from mastery.

So, if I were graduating from college right now, I'd empty my head and master six skills:

  1. How to cook

  2. How to do laundry

  3. How to be stupid

  4. How to be accountable

  5. How to code

  6. How to improvise

The first two items on the list can be Googled and YouTubed to death, but I especially like this shirt folding video, because if you are the kind of person who is willing to master this technique, you will probably have harmonious relationships. (I admit, I'm thinking of my 17-year-old son here.) 

Learning how to be stupid will be a challenge. Your entire educational history up until now has been geared toward proving you're smart, but if you can master three words-"I don't know"-and follow it up with three more-"I'll find out"-you will not only learn a great deal, you will become the smartest person in the room. The sweet spot is that you won't be compelled to tell people you're the smartest person in the room (being intentionally stupid builds humility). 

Being stupid also develops the skill of listening, and I don't mean listening to the sound of your own voice. Listening to understand, empathize, and discover something about the other person. I'm talking about the kind of listening that runs on curiosity and provokes an evergreen chain of questions.

As you probably already know, asking questions—especially open-ended ones—is the foundation of interest-based negotiation (you can learn it here), so you could say that intentional stupidity is the precursor to getting raises, solving problems, creating value, closing deals and improving relationships. Dead serious about that.

Like negotiation, way too many books and articles have been written on the topic of accountability, but my father had it boiled down to one sentence: "Do what you say you're going to do, and don't hurt anybody in the process." And like negotiation, the recipe for mastering accountability is a pinch of failure to a pound of practice to help you avoid the trap of shame.

You may be wondering why learning to code is on my list. It's really a metaphor for learning something that's incredibly useful, in demand, and doesn't require showing up daily in person. Something technical and remote.

This tip is especially important for high school graduates who need to work to get through college. In addition to studying, getting good grades, networking and building your influence list, you need a job that you can do when you can do it. No office, no time clock, your expertise, and your accountability.

The final item on my list—improvisation—is the one skill that will give you mastery in all the others.

It should be taught as a required course in every major. Of all the benefits—flexibility, creativity, brainstorming, humor, redirection—my favorite one is failure because it makes you "get over yourself" while also building resilience and a certain relentlessness for getting things right.

Here are links to great improv classes: Austin,Chicago, New York,San Francisco, Seattle.