Monthly Archives: June 2008

Work competency, literacy, and mastery

Tony Karrer’s comments to a recent post of mine that discussed the application of a craft work model to knowledge work got me thinking a bit more about the subject. I’ve also been thinking some about the one of the goals of the Work Literacy project, specifically to “help build a foundation of knowledge of methods for knowledge work” (as Tony wrote in comments to Michele’s post Knowledge Workers as Craft Workers).

So instead of apprentice/journeyman/master, which refer as much to an individual’s position within an organization as it does to the individual’s skill level, I’m thinking the more basic terms of competency, literacy, and mastery may apply. These speak directly to the skill level of the individual in terms of the individual’s goals, and is independent of any organization they may be part of.

Obviously, these terms will need to be defined a bit in the context of knowledge work and work literacy to be of use to the current effort. A good place to start is at the basic definitions of the terms:

  • Competent: having suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, experience, etc., for some purpose; properly qualified; adequate but not exceptional.
  • Literate: having knowledge or skill in a specified field
  • Mastery: command or grasp, as of a subject:

Though competency and literacy seem to be very similar, I see them as distinct in the following way. Competence means that you have the knowledge/skill to perform a given task, without necessarily understanding why it is done or having the ability to adapt of if the conditions under which you learned the skill change. Literacy, on the other hand, suggests that you understand why you perform the task the way it is and that you have the ability to adapt your performance to changing conditions and still be successful.

To re-word Tony’s goal stated above, the question in my mind then becomes, “What competencies are needed for knowledge workers today?”

Here are a couple that come to mind. I’ll save more detailed discussion of these for the comments or future posts.

SUGGESTED COMPETENCIES

  • Technology (hardware)
  • Technology (software)
  • Personal Computers
  • Social Networking (technical and personal)
  • Visual Communications
  • Information Assurance / Security
  • Impact of Globalization
  • Finance / money
  • Interpersonal communications

I’m sure there are more, and I’m sure some of these may not be appropriate. But it is a start.

What they say and what they mean

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently read Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. The book is a wealth of ideas and views on management that you don’t often come across. An example of a management challenge that Farson discusses is the management of creativity:

Real creativity, the kind that is responsible for breakthrough changes in our society, always violates the rules. That is why it is so unmanageable and that is why, in most organizations, when we say we desire creativity we really mean manageable creativity. We don’t mean raw, dramatic, radical creativity that requires us to change.

As much as organizations say they want to be innovative and groundbreaking, they usually don’t mean they want each of their individual employees to be innovative and groundbreaking. An important thought to keep in mind when thinking about work literacy, especially when trying figure who the target audience is for implementing any work literacy initiatives.

Games and learning

I’ve had a strong interest in video games on a personal level for many years (see this page for some of my thoughts). More recently, I’ve become interested on a professional level in the potential for games to be used to support learning and other ‘serious’ purposes – hence the name “Serious Games“.

I see the techniques and technologies of video games playing an increasing role in helping to close the work literacy gap. This is especially true as games and systems become increasingly “network ready” and the games become more multi-player and social.

Commenting to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the Educational Games Research blog writes in the post PSP Mini-nets Show Small Group Potential:

The possibilities of harnessing the mini-net features of the PSP are striking. Small groups could be set up with the PSP to tackle a project together in an educational game. Excluding other players from the groups would allow a room full of students working on PSPs to organize into teams working on objectives within the game.

This is obviously a very small-scale, artificial (ie, classroom) situation, but it does show the potential of “social” games to help teach, and to help learn.

The evolution of the employee-employer relationship

Here’s another piece from the archives, this one from April 2004. I’ve pulled this one out as part of a response to a discussion between Bill Brantley and Harold Jarche on the question of the work literacy gap and its impact on, and the role of, the organization.

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Employee-employer relations in a knowledge based economy

I’ve long believed that the prevelance of knowledge work in organizations today will (eventually) fundamentally shift the employee – employer relationship. In many ways, knowledge workers will come to be “self-employed” in the sense that they are working to improve themselves and to make an impact on the world at large and not just within the company they happen to be “working for” at the time.

With 401k plans allowing for retirement planning independent of a specific job or pension plan, and for various other reasons that are well documented elsewhere, knowledge workers don’t seem to be staying in the same place for their entire careers anymore. With retirement taken care of, other things today’s employees need to consider include health/life insurance, etc. A truly self-employed knowledge worker also has to worry about the business end of things, such as billing’invoicing, taxes, payroll, etc. etc.

By working “for” a company, knowledge workers are in many ways simply out-sourcing the business end of being self-employed so they can focus on the job itself.

This obviously raises some interesting questions for organizations….

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The emergence of Web 2.0 has definitely had an impact here, since individuals can be more “independent” than ever, even within the confines of being an employee of a company. As Bill writes:

In fact, as the rise of social network-based learning has demonstrated, employees no longer need the company to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities. In many professions, communities of practice and professional organizations have replaced the shop floor and company mentors as the source of employee training.

The challenge for organizations in this situation becomes not providing employees the training they need to carry out the company’s goals and projects, but rather providing employees with goals and projects that engage the employees and effectively use what they are learning for themselves.

Updated [27 Jun]:  Although this post is primarily targeted at the changing role of the organization, it also addresses Michele Martin’s questions concerning changing knowledge workers’ attitudes about learning and training.

Tools do not a master make [redux]

I’ve been catching up on the posts over at Work Literacy (that’s a lot of catching up!), along with discovering new (to me) blogs in the field of learning. This in turn has had me revisiting old posts and ideas of my own.

Joan Vinall-Cox’s post Old Skills and New Know-How, a response to Michele Martin’s post Knowledge Workers as Craft Workers (which, as it turns out, is based on a comment I left to another of Michele’s posts), discusses the importance of understanding the skills that must go into using a new technology.

Re-printed below is a post of mine from August 2006, Tools do not a master make, that explores a similar theme.

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No tool of modern technology is as universally used, and almost as universally reviled, in the world of business and government as is Microsoft PowerPoint. Perhaps most famous of the PowerPoint bashers is Edward Tufte, writer of several books and essays on information design. (I was fortunate enough to attend one of his courses in the late ’90s, his poster of Napoleon’s March to Moscow still hangs on the wall in my office.)

Tufte has described his issues with PowerPoint in magazine articles (such as PowerPoint is Evil in Wired magazine), in a self-published essay entitled The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, and in a chapter in his latest book Beautiful Evidence. In the past week or so a few others have also lambasted PowerPoint, including Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge in a couple of posts (Festival of Bureaucratic Hyper-Rationalism and Tufte and PowerPoint) and Scott Adams (via Dilbert).

Don Norman, of the Nielsen Norman Group, has a different take on PowerPoint. In his essay In Defense of PowerPoint, Norman places the blame not on PowerPoint but on those who use it improperly. “Don’t blame the problem on the tool.” Or, put another way – PowerPoint doesn’t bore people, people bore people. Cliff Atkinson is another who believes that PowerPoint can be used effectively. For some great ideas check out the Beyond Bullets blog or Atkinson’s book Beyond Bullet Points.

Of course, this problem is not limited to the world of business. One of the big promises of ever faster and more powerful consumer technology (if we are to believe marketing campaigns) is that everyone will be able to perform like an expert. Take, for example, the following pitch for Apple’s GarageBand software (emphasis is mine):

The new video track in GarageBand makes it easy to add an original music score to your movies. And don’t worry about your musical talent — or lack thereof. Just use GarageBand’s included loops, or try a combination of loops, software instruments, or any previous audio recordings you created.

Don’t get me wrong, I love GarageBand (and the whole iLife suite for that matter, I use it almost every day). It is very easy to create a ’song’ using loops, like my First Song. Once I got comfortable with the GarageBand interface, it only took me a couple of hours to browse through the loops, pull some together so it sounded good, and export it to iTunes. The ’song’ is listenable, but doesn’t reflect any real musical skill on my part. I didn’t apply any knowledge of time signatures, keys, tempo, or anything. I just dragged-and-dropped.

I guess my point is don’t get pulled into a false belief that a tool, any tool, can make you an expert at something or give you expert results. Remember, good tools are nice to have, but in the hands of a master even the simplest of tools can create wonders.

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You may also want to check out one of my earliest posts, Quick example of individual productivity gains / savings based on digital thinking.

It’s a good time to be a Nintendo based virtual musician

It is a good time to be a virtual musician, especially if your platform of choice comes from Nintendo. This past weekend saw the release of versions of the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band game franchises for the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii, respectively.

Guitar Hero On Tour brings the guitar strumming fun to the DS. I had a chance to try it out over the weekend and it is, in the words of my niece, “freaking sweet”. Like the console versions, GHOT has a custom guitar controller.

“But the DS doesn’t use separate controllers,” you say? Check this out:

That in combination with a pick-shaped stylus and the DS touch screen make for very cool game play. Check out the official game site for all the details.

The Wii version of Rock Band is, I’m sure, quite similar to the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 versions in terms of music and playability. Since I already have Rock Band for PS3 (working my way through a “Hard” solo tour), I doubt if I’ll get the Wii version, but I know my brother’s kids are already hounding him for the Wii version.

I wonder why…

… gas prices always include “9/10” cent as part of the price? What this means in real terms, of course, is that if someone says that gas is now at $3.99 per gallon, what they really mean is that gas is $4.00 per gallon.

This has actually been a question of mine since I was very young (6 or 7 years old), when I tried to apply my newly learned multiplication skills to figuring out how much a tankful (10 gallons, since 10 was easiest to multiply by ;-)) of gas would cost. It was only when my dad informed me of the extra “9/10” that I understood my error.

But even he was at a loss for why it was there.

Lessons learned and learned lessons

Dave Snowden, with whom I share a general dislike (maybe distrust is a better word) for lessons learned / best practices, has a post from about a year ago on the difference between lessons learned and learning lessons. I’m revisiting these ideas after sharing my thoughts about knowledge work as craft and the growth and development of young knowledge workers as craftsmen with the Work Literacy group.

Before someone can start working in a craft, they must first learn the basics of the craft. Part of this learning is traditional learning of the facts, procedures, and techniques that have been learned and passed along by those who have gone before. While not “lessons learned” in the usual sense, this type of lessons learned (or best practice) can be of value.

In fact, I think that assimilation of this knowledge, obtained from lessons learned by others, is a key early step in helping people become able to learn their own lessons later on in their career. Without a solid foundation of what has already been learned, the apprentice is destined to “reinvent the wheel” more than is necessary. (Note the “more than necessary” caveat: I believe that it is important for the novice to attempt some reinvention of their own; this gives them an understanding of the importance of those early lessons.)

The journey of an apprentice to the realm of the master is, in many ways, a journey from knowledge consumption to knowledge creation. As an apprentice, the reliance on existing knowledge is very high. The journeyman learns to understand the knowledge in use and apply it in creative, new ways. The master, while grounded in the existing knowledge of the craft, is not constrained by that knowledge as he creates new knowledge for use by the next wave of apprentices.

The same progression can be seen in many aspects of knowledge work. Most will start off in college, accumulating that basic information they need for their chosen field, then move on to a “journeyman” stage in a company (or their own company) where they will learn how to apply that accumulated knowledge. For most, this is the stage they will remain at for most of their career.

If they are lucky, and of course diligent in continuing to develop their own work literacy, they will progress to the “master” stage where they can re-write what is taught to students in college.

Missouri creates Autism Commission, Office of Autism Services

I don’t have a lot of details, but heard this in the local headlines on KWMU this morning. Just a couple of links on Google News, I expect more over the next few days (weeks)? From the Joplin Globe:

A statewide commission on autism spectrum disorders will be assembled and, by July 1 of next year, will produce a plan for Missouri to offer treatment, training and other services.

[…]

The commission will be made up of representatives from the General Assembly, health-related state agencies and autism-related organizations, and parents. Kinder was filling in for Gov. Matt Blunt, who is out of state.

[…]

Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea said members of the state commission should be chosen fairly quickly.

As you might imagine, there is a lot of disagreement about what exactly the commission should do, what should be its priorities, blah blah. I applaud the gesture, and the intent, of the commission, but I’ll withhold any real assessment until I see what they actually plan to do.