Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Sep 2020

Essential skills for Knowledge Workers

Was listening to a podcast recently by the good folks at Muse and the wheels started turning when they started speaking about building a framing or a better concept around what it means for knowledge workers to improve personally and professionally. This somewhat goes into some previous conversations here regarding the space called “deep thought,“ the behaviors of using a (digital) canvas, as well as a newer points around attention being a spectrum. All of these items form, or are building blocks into what is simply “how do we think.“

When it gets down to it, a knowledge worker is simply someone whose practices have turned into reliable outcomes. And their practices are not necessarily those things which can be measured from/by externalities. Can you really measure the time between ingesting concepts, the subconscious playing with it away from the workspace, and the the spark which pulls it into the conscious frame? No. These are the products of intentions, deliberate practice, and communicating applicable insight. No measurement, but perhaps, there are signals worth regarding, and weighing.

Sketching this concept of essential skills for knowledge workers sounds a little bit less like things that you obtain a certificate or degree for; more like base practices and common abilities, yet where awareness, talent, and/or skill can better over time or through particular outcomes.

So far, the skills are grouped into a few loose categories:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Ideation
  • Time bound
  • Presenting

There are specific items within all of these, yet not worth discussing those now. Still working on some of the finer bits.

Beyond those are two items which do have an external facing loci: active listening and experimenting. Both of these are items not necessarily measured, but can be perceived by others as the product of those forementioned items. And it’s possible in the mist of doing one or both of these two, the practice that is “knowledge work“ begets a type of shape understood by the worker, and also by those observing/consuming the work.

There’s more to be uncovered in this thesis. Certainly there is more sitting on both physical and digital whiteboards than what has been explained here. Sketching a clearer view of these essential skills may offer some types of persons who are in knowledge working the fields a bit of a framing to on their own career journey, while also folks who are in design and policy spaces a better box to sail toward.

That last sentence is a tick more key to current work: how to enable fields such as design and policy to shape a better understanding of their “how,” rather than just their outputs.