Training workers to manage ideas and innovation

In a recent post to the FastCompany Weblog entitled “Simple A-ha’s: The Elephant in the Room,” Bill Jensen commented on the fact that the skills of many knowledge workers are out of date with today’s world of fast-moving, discontinuous change: “Asad Quraishi’s comment exposes the elephant in the room that none of us really want […]

In a recent post to the FastCompany Weblog entitled “Simple A-ha’s: The Elephant in the Room,” Bill Jensen commented on the fact that the skills of many knowledge workers are out of date with today’s world of fast-moving, discontinuous change:

“Asad Quraishi’s comment exposes the elephant in the room that none of us really want to talk about. Asad said ‘It’s no joke, people need to be trained in this — how to store notes for easy search and retrieval.’

I’ll go one step further. Not just storing notes. Who among us was ever formally taught to how to scan information? Or how to synthesize volumes into summaries without losing meaning and robustness? Or how to communicate complicated ideas simply and crisply? Or how to assess and prioritize multiple resource demands using multiple information sources and modes of communication? At least from my research and education data from sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, not very many of us. And yet look at the skills we are required to use and keep improving every day! If corporate HR/Training and our school systems aren’t helping us with this, what’s that mean to how we develop ourselves?”

I couldn’t agree more — this is indeed a major training need! As the pace of change continues to accelerate in business, the need for knowledge workers to gather, synthesize and make decisions based on ad hoc data is also growing. Workers today also need to be comfortable with a higher level of ambiguity; that it’s impossible to have all the answers before you make most business decisions.

We’ve given our employees the tools — programs like Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes — but little or no training on how to get the most out of these programs. Many of them don’t know how to organize their desktops and folder systems around projects and priorities, or how do efficiently search the Web or their company’s intranet.

Regarding the need to prioritize multiple resource demands using multiple information sources and modes of communication, this is another area of big need. It’s common for people do utilize e-mail like a blunt instrument, rather than a finely honed tool. For example, knowing when to send an e-mail versus when to have face-to-face conversation with a coworker, what types of information are most appropriate vs. least appropriate for e-mail communication, etc.

The people I see who are good at these skills are largely self-taught. Does this mean corporate training departments are behind the curve? Perhaps. But it may also speak to the fact that these skill sets must be customized around how a company organizes its data, files and other other electronic resources. And some job positions require more of these knowledge-finding and sifting skills than others do.

Still, I appreciate Bill Jensen bringing up this issue in the FastCompany blog — it’s something that every organization is going to have to come face to face with, sooner or later!

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