Monday, December 17, 2012

Framing Leadership Literacies

Then there’s now, our very own information age, the fastest and most global of all the four great epochs in the history of human communication.  It’s a bit startling and perhaps humbling to consider that one of the greatest transformations in human interaction is playing out across our everyday lives…We’re so busy attending to multitasking, information overload, privacy, our children’s security online, or just learning the new software program and trying to figure out if we can really live without Twitter or Four Square, that we haven’t rethought the institutions that should be preparing us for more changes ahead.     From Cathy Davidson, NOW YOU SEE IT! How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn

The future is not what it used to be.

For the past five or so years, I’ve been pearl diving for insights into what’s needed for rapid shift times, looking for a touchstone to frame key organizational survival skills.  I use the term survival both in the sense of organizational viability and of organizational well being when there’s turbulence all around.

The future is not what it used to be, nor are the literacies called for to help our organizations and communities flourish.

The use and usefulness of the term ‘literacies’ for essential for 21st century knowhow didn’t originate with me. Last year, I worked on a client project to assist an organization in rethinking their talent strategy.  During the process, we pulled up diverse vantage points on skills needed for the 21st century workplace.

The term ‘literacy’ generally refers to the ability to read and write, the most basic of skills, in western culture at least. But as I reflected on what will be called for from us in the next years, where even the probability of human survival is being questioned, it seemed that what is needed is more fundamental than skills or competencies. To flourish in the next iterations of our organizations and communities, we have to become literate in new ways, not just a linear progression of enhanced skilling up.  What is needed is somehow fundamentally different than before.  

Literacy is a more generative, as well as more urgent, term.  If we must be literate in something, it means that we cannot fully participate or craft our human world without a particular ability.

In searching around to see how literacy is now defined, this from Queensland, Australia educational planning stood out: “To be literate in the 21st century, one must have ' the flexible and sustainable mastery of a repertoire of practices with the texts of traditional and new communications technologies via spoken language, print, and multimedia, and the ability to use these practices in various social contexts. [Adapted from Anstey, M. Literate Futures Report, Queensland, p.9, 2002]

Another new take on literacy from the Oregon State Board of Education: The combination of foundation skills (reading, math, writing, and communication) and workplace skills (teamwork, resource allocation, decision making, problem solving, critical thinking, personal self-management, and technology competence) necessary to adequately function as workers, family members, and members of a community in an information society.  []

And, as it turns out, both Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan used the term ‘literacies’ a generation ago to mean much more than reading and writing. More recently, Cathy Davidson, Duke University professor provided her own checklist of literacies for the digital age in her recent book, Now you See it: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, [see Appendix.]

The Institute of the Future has done deep work on literacies for the future. In 2004, they published a paper by Andrea Saveri, Howard Rheingold, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and Kathi Vian on the literacy of cooperation, considering the opportunities of collaboration, cooperation, and collection action applied to the dilemmas of our time. And, they continue to do groundbreaking work in the area.

New literacies mean that leadership is also called to be different.

Over the next weeks, this will be our topic.

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