What and Why skills vs How skills

John Cutler asked a great question on Twitter; how do we describe less visible skills like qualitative research in comparison to technical skills like software development?

Initially I was intrigued by the parallels with translation vs interpretation in linguistics. I can see similarities between a software developer translating requirements into code. And a design researcher interpreting customer interviews to help produce the right software requirements.

I also liked a response by Tiffany Chang suggesting that one skill is more concrete and the other more abstract. That resonated with human centered design approaches for me. And the idea of not jumping straight from problem to solution:

HCD abstract concrete understand create quadrants

(ref: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/human_centered_systems_minded_design)

So in some ways perhaps we are really talking about the difference between skills to understand “what” (we need to do), and “why” (we should do it), versus skills in “how” we do it? And unfortunately perhaps it is natural for many people to see and appreciate “how” skills above “what” and “why” skills. When you’re cold, fire lighting skills are more immediately appreciable than skills to uncover that we need to move the tribe to a different valley.