September 16th, 2009
10:02 AM GMT
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September 16th, 2009
10:00 AM GMT
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September 16th, 2009
05:13 AM GMT
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DALIAN, China (CNN) – After a decade writing about careers for The Wall Street Journal, CNN and others – as well as thumbing through countless books on professional advice – here is a summation of all I have learned:

Careers are built on two things – your skills and your relationships with people.

That’s it.

Skills and relationships are the DNA of all careers, the primordial soup from which the extravagant feathers, hooves or claws of any livelihood emerge. Of the two, relationships trump skills, because how do you grow those skills? Through your relationships with others – exposure to new ideas, colleagues, teachers and friends.

I was reminded of that at the World Economic Forum in Dalian. While the economy is still in crisis and cost-cutting a top concern, hundreds of business leaders from around the world still converged on this Chinese city. It speaks, I think, to the importance of growing and maintaining relationships not despite but because of the 'Great Recession.'

It struck me how much of the advice given to companies at the forum –the need to take risks rather than being paralyzed by fear, using the crisis as a springboard for growth – could be applied to individuals as well. And yet, fear of losing what you have (namely, your job) rather than what you can gain (future promotions, opportunities) rules the cubicles.

Company leaders talked constantly about the need for innovation – not just new technology, but new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking. Brought down to the individual, I think the innovation can be translated to this: Curiosity.

“I think you’re right, I think that’s true,” Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP told me. “If you want to build your way out of the recession, that’s a critical skill.”

Curiosity about a problem leads to problem-solving; it defuses knee-jerk reaction and fears in favor of a thoughtful, proactive response. Curiosity radiates authentic interest in colleagues, competitors and consumers. Curiosity creates the meteorological conditions required for brainstorming. Curiosity is the key that unlocks passion, which is better than coffee to get you out of bed.

Heroes are created in times of crisis. Unlock your curiosity about the problems you confront, and you just may innovate your way ahead of the pack.

What skills are important in a time of recession? Share your thoughts with CNN.

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