Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Work Skills Keeping Up?

In New Work and New Work Skills, I discuss the fact that most of us have not participated in formal learning since college on foundational knowledge work skills - especially metacognitive skills. Our last formal learning used card catalogs, microfiche readers, Xerox machines, libraries, etc.

Most of us have strong skills in some areas and are much weaker in others simply due to the fact that we acquire our skills in completely ad hoc ways.

When were you taught:
  • how to take take notes on a laptop during a meeting,
  • how to filter a flood of new content,
  • how to reach out via networks to find expertise,
  • how to leverage the wisdom of crowds?

Tilde Effect

What epitomizes the situation for me is the Google ~ operator. A lot of people who are concept workers use Google every day and have no idea that the ~ operator even exists. Sure they can get along without it. I only use it in about 2-3% of my searches. And folks can probably get along without using the filetype, inurl or a myriad of other search operators and techniques.

But, the fact that concept workers claim in surveys to be above average in their search skills but they don't incorporate these operators tells me that there's a gap.
Tilde Effect - gap between available tools and methods and the average capabilities of concept workers due to the ad hoc nature of work skills acquisition.
My strong belief is that the foundations of knowledge work are changing fairly quickly and most of us learn completely through ad hoc mechanisms that are not likely to yield good coverage. If you could have an expert look over your shoulder at how you do things on a day-to-day basis, you likely could find many improvements. Every one of us would be somewhat embarrassed to have that expert sitting there because we know that we could stand to do things better.

Tangible Impact

The Tilde Effect at an individual level has massive aggregate impact.

A recently released Workplace Productivity Survey, reported by MSNBC, had the following findings:
  • 62 percent of professionals report that they spend a lot of time sifting through irrelevant information to find what they need;
  • 68 percent wish they could spend less time organizing information and more time using the information that comes their way.
  • 85 percent agree that not being able to access the right information at the right time is a huge time-waster.
  • More than 40 percent of the survey participants indicate an inability to handle future increases in information flow.
  • White-collar professionals spend an average of 2.3 hours daily conducting online research, with one in 10 spending four hours or more on an average day.
The figure from Basex as reported in the New York Times of $650B as the cost of interruptions and the total cost information overload is $900B (see comment).

When you couple this with the fact that we have moved to a knowledge economy where the dominant value is our concept work capabilities and where pace needs to be continually faster - we can't afford to have a workforce that lags in their concept work skills. This is a big reason behind new offerings like the work skills workshop.

Bottom Line

The bottom line for the Tilde Effect is that we live in a time of incredible innovation that directly affect the methods we use to work and learn. Our work skills cannot sit still. There's a lot of discussion about 21st century skills to be taught in schools, but what about the rest of us?

And how important is this? Let me rely on a few other people to help here:
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
Roy Amara, Institute for the Future.
It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, it’s the ones most adaptable to change.

Being adaptable in a flat world, knowing how to ‘learn how to learn,’ will be one of the most important assets any worker can have, because job churn will come faster, because innovation will happen faster.

The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st Century is to increase the productivity of the knowledge worker.
We are truly in a time of incredible innovation of work skills. We are struggling to keep up. And we need to collectively be focused on this issue!

Other Posts in the Series

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