horizontal skill clouds or new job title

What do we need: a fancy job title or a stronger skill cloud?

Leif Abraham does not need an introduction in the Digital World. Named Adweek’s 2011 ‘top creative minds in Digital’, Leif is currently a partner at New York based venture development firm Pre Hype. He creates new digital products and companies together with corporations and start-ups. Leif co-founded Pay with a Tweet, a social payment system that lets people sell and buy stuff for the price of a Tweet (please go to the end of this post for his full bio- which is stunning, but that’s anyone’s guess, right?)

Recently, Leif presented an interesting idea on Medium talking about the Skill Cloud erasing the more traditional ‘Job title’. Considering a large part of our business in Experteer has a lot to do with people getting to their future job titles, this was quite interesting. I wrote to Leif with a few questions, and he’s now sharing his insights with us on our platform.

developing new skill clouds

More ahead…

  • Usually as we tend to grow professionally, many people do tend to focus on specific skills in relation to their job titles. This means, they perhaps are experts in fields they focus on. Do you think the concept of a ‘skill cloud’ can work only at the initial levels in a career in which the roles are more ‘generalized’?

Leif: I actually think it’s the other way around. The more we grow up in our jobs, the more generalized we have to become. Because the higher we move up the ranks of an organization, the more different talents we oversee. If you don’t have a good understanding of the crafts of the people in your team, you are at risk of being a shitty manager, because you don’t understand their problems and needs.  A skill cloud is just a representation of your horizontal skill set that also includes your passions and wants. As a management tool to staff projects and develop talent internally I think it adds value at any level.

horizontal skill clouds or new job title

  • The concept of ‘wants’ is almost empowering by the sound of it. Why hasn’t anyone explored it so far, in a deep manner like you describe it?

Leif: First off, skills we have, passions come naturally from our curiosity, but “wants” are what drive us forward. I bet you that if you ask 10 friends why they took that new job, 8 of them will say “better opportunities”. Translated that means they wanted to do something they couldn’t at their current job, so they took the new job that let them do it. I think as an organization to focus more on the “wants”, can save a lot of money in recruiting because it could decrease the turnover rate.

But I think there are two sides to why it’s not a big topic in many organizations.

    1. It needs investment from the employer: To focus on “wants” also means putting people on jobs who might not be needed on them if you look at it from an efficiency perspective and letting people try roles they are not guaranteed to be good at yet. That investment of extra oversight and time commitment can be scary, as it might not show an immediate return.
    2. Many employees are afraid of expressing their “wants”: A person’s “wants” might be contra or compete with the work they got hired for to do. So it seems easier to them to find that new job than to try to change their existing one.


  • Vertical growth also comes with set expectations around monetary and other parameters. Horizontal growth somehow seems more subjective and intangible. Why do you think that employees or team members themselves will accept it? 


Leif: I think it depends on the size of the company and/or the type of job. If you are in a small start up, being able to put on different hats WILL profit you and others WILL realize that quickly. In bigger companies I think that is also the case, but especially if these horizontal skills are complimenting your core skill. For example: My buddy Takashi is a super talented UI designer that also does some video editing. So when he designs a new app, he can animate the screens and therefore create these kick-ass visual prototypes. He wouldn’t be hired as a video editor, but he grew his skills horizontally in a way that kind of still gave him vertical growth as well, as it does make him a better designer.

  • The concept of skill clouds as an addition seems like a ‘good to have’, what do you think about the potential of this to replace ‘job titles’ especially in the digital native generation, coming to workforce next?

Leif: I think it’s very unlikely. But also because job titles mainly serve two different purposes: Ego and a label for salary brackets.

As more industries move towards convergence and need compatible skill sets across functional areas, I totally see the need for the concept of a skill cloud alongside the job title. But this may also mean, that, the complexity of a traditional job description may increase multi-fold. And also that, as senior managers try to move towards new opportunities and seek new jobs, they may need to position themselves in an even more differentiating way but focusing on gathering specialized skill clouds around their desired positions, and not just use the mere job title as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

About Leif:

Leif Leif Abrahamis Partner at Prehype, a venture development firm in New York City. He creates new digital products and companies together with corporations and start-ups. Leif also serves as Creative Director for Bark&Co, mentor at startup accelerators Rock Health and Urban.Us and teaches product innovation at the Miami Ad School. Leif co-founded Pay with a Tweet, a social payment system that lets people sell and buy stuff for the price of a Tweet. In 2013, Pay with a Tweet got acquired by HanseVentures, Germany. Before that he was Creative Director, Product Experience at West Studios in San Francisco. A hybrid of startup accelerator and marketing agency that helps tech companies like Jawbone and Rdio grow. He was also a Creative Director at R/GA in New York and worked at CP+B and Jung von Matt in Germany. He has won over 150 awards, including two Cannes Lion Grand Prix and a MTV OMusic Award. In 2011, AdWeek named him one of the “top creative minds in digital.”

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