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.

The toys of today, the tools of tomorrow

At the end of a brief history of human communication, Dave Gray of XPLANE gets to what he sees as the future of communications: visual communications.

Today, we are free once more. Paradoxically, now that everything has been reduced to zeros and ones, our only limit is our imagination. What’s interesting is that we continue to constrain ourselves to the grid, even when it is no longer necessary. The conventions of printing, which once liberated ideas by making them mass-producible, have now become a prison.

So what’s next? Watch the kids. In the 1970s we started playing video games, and although we didn’t know it at the time, we were learning how to interact with digital technologies. We were learning the hand-eye coordination skills we would need to operate the computers of the 1980s.

The toys of today are the tools of tomorrow: blogging, podcasting, photosharing, videoblogging – these are all early indicators. People are making their own movies and publishing their ideas to the world. With every passing year the technology gets cheaper and easier to use.

As Dave alludes to, we all learn how to use tools when we are young, by playing with them as toys. How many of you had toy trucks and played at construction. How about “play” carpenters? (I’m a guy, so please excuse the boy bias.) Using the “toys” of today is much the same, with one key difference being that the “toys” that kids play with are often the very same “tools” that adults use. (No plastic saw blades here!) This obviously presents some dangers, and how kids play with their digital “toys” needs to be watched, but it makes the process of gaining literacy go that much faster.

So next time someone asks you why you’re “playing around with those toys”, or why you let your kids spend so much time on the computer or playing (or designing!) video games, just tell them you’re not “playing”, you’re learning how to use the tools you’ll need to be successful tomorrow.