21st century competencies

Source: Adapted from National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.



I came across this intriguing info graphic in the  2013 report from the US Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. That report sought to evaluate various research, emergent concepts and best practices in the still-nascent area around what I’d call the psychology of success.  It focused on reviewing this psychology, anchored with concepts of fuzzy words such as grit, perseverance, resilience and tenacity, which features the work of Angela Duckworth’s on grit and self-control, Carol Dweck’s on growth mindsets, among others, to theorize and plot out implementation tactics to instil these skills or competencies in school-age children.

One of the results of this report is the chart above, which I think, nicely visualizes and organizes a range of competencies that many educators, researchers, learning and development professionals, organizational development consultants, business innovators, and others are talking about. Moreover, while businesses and organizations have focused on the interpersonal competencies, with countless discussions on leadership, teamwork and collaboration and colleges and universities on the cognitive competencies, with its foci on critical thinking and analysis and various literacies, I think the intrapersonal competencies get less attention.


Yet, as we are learning from the psychologists of success, and its related concepts of ambition and drive, the concepts highlighted in the blue rectangle, bundled around work ethic and conscientiousness, notions such as self-regulation, self-direction, productivity, perseverance and grit, are essential, pivotal, vital to not only individual success and achievement, but I would argue, to that of families, teams, organizations, businesses, creative ventures, any enterprise. As someone educated in the social sciences tinged with cultural studies, some of these concepts around work ethic and self-regulation are problematic, for they reflect dominant social ideologies and cultural discourses and how they produce subjects. Importantly, educational systems shape bodies and minds, regulating behaviours by lauding some and punishing others. Moreover, notions of work ethic has long been used to stigmatize and marginalize certain social/cultural/racial groups and legitimate inequality in capitalist societies. Moreover, sociologists such as Annette Lareau have studied how many of these competencies are deeply class-marked, and  are part of the modus operandi of how (upper) middle classes parent. Thus, a psychology of success is insufficient without a sociology and an anthropology of success, centred around the notion of culture.
Certainly, part of the report from the US Department of Education sets out a call to transform the instructional environments for children, that is, school cultures. By extension, if, educators, learning and development professionals, organizational development consultants, change specialists, and the like, are serious about creating optimal environments for developing interpersonal competencies such as grit, perseverance, productivity and self-control in the pursuit of goals through obstacles and adversity, they have to tackle work and organizational cultures. They would have to build work and organizational cultures that allow these competencies to be nurtured and flourish. These work cultures would have to managers and leaders who practice, as Lareau says of middle-class parents, of “concerted cultivation,” actively creating the conditions for their employees to develop the practices of grit, self-regulation and all the rest and supporting and praising them for their efforts as they continue to strive.

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