The New Skills  

I just saw a post by Kimberly McCollum, The networked nature of information, where she raises an interesting question.

I’ve been following the work literacy blog trying to get an idea of what other people think are the required skills for professionals in today’s workplace. My main research interest has been the process of developing and cultivating a personal learning network/environment and I’ve been pleased to see the work literacy blog devote some time to PLN/PLE. However, the more I learn about PLN/PLE, the less “new” the skill seems.

I completely understand the question, and it is actually an important problem we face because the new parts somewhat get hidden in the parts that have not changed.

"New" depends heavily on what level you are looking. I have run surveys where I ask people to rate their knowledge work skills. The self-ratings are around skills that I describe in the initial knowledge work framework. For example, I ask people to rate themselves around the skills associated with Keep / Organize / Refind / Remind. "How well are you able to keep information that you feel will be important to access later?" Etc. Every knowledge worker recognizes this part of their work, and is able to rate themselves, and generally rates themselves fairly high on these skills.

However, when you drill down a bit and begin to look at specific methods and related tools, you begin to see that many knowledge workers have opportunities to build new skills. In Keep / Organize / Refind / Remind, I tell people that at the highest level, the goal is to keep everything you've encountered in a way that makes it easily found at the time of need and also to be kept in a way that you can be reminded of it even if you don't remember what it is. For example, you might keep the soccer teams phone numbers to be able to pull up when needed, but you also need to have tagged them as the soccer team so that you have a list of them available, because you likely won't remember everyone on the team. Also, you don't want to spend any extra time/effort on keeping / organizing that is minimally necessary to meet your future information needs. There's a bit more detail to this, but roughly that's the goal.

Considering these goals and considering things like using Google History + search of history, tagging instead of hierarchical folders, social tagging, desktop search, mobile devices and mobile look-up - it's easy to see that there are a host of new possible methods to apply to this part of knowledge work. I would claim that there are some new knowledge and skills to be developed around the use of these things. The way in which you operate is different given these new methods and tools.

When you begin to look at areas like Scan, Find, Network, Collaborate and Learn, the "new" skills are even more new because we are going from individual to social. This causes a bigger shift for most people. For example, most knowledge workers are quite comfortable with their ability to Find information. That's because they translate it to search. However, there are types of find operations that are likely much better done via reaching out to people. In Value from Social Media, I point to experience, boundary/existence, confirmation and other types as where you really should reach out to people. Developing this ability is important.

So are these "new skills"? I would claim that the basic structure of knowledge work and the top level categories haven't really changed. However, within these categories, there is quite a bit of change, there's lack of awareness around these changes, and change is coming faster such that knowledge workers cannot wait to learn through ad hoc means.