21st. Century Skills Frameworks Learning Mindsets

21st. century skills: Fundamentals 1

An article in three parts. Part 1 – Three Internal Forces.

A case for mindset tool development supporting 21st. century skills.


In this series of three posts concerning 21st. century skills I want to discuss some simple ideas that are relevant to everybody — students, craftsman, academics, professionals alike. I want to discuss some basic fundamental aspects that relate to all of us: How can we be understand how our actions influence our ideas so we can improve both of them and be better at what we do?

This is based on one simple important idea — that the key to development, is through awareness of self — during activity. This is about developing a ‘new awareness’ — alone, and more importantly, together.

Why 21st. Century Skills?

For the first, because times are changing and we need to learn new creative skills better fitting for our age. Secondly, as a number design academics around the word are aware of, there is a ‘myth of design thinking’ that is prevalent amongst those who fail to truly grasp the fundamentals of creative processes. The business world is making a grab, design bureaus brand themselves on it, some wonderful guides have been developed by those in the know for tackling real world challenges and programs developed amongst the revered halls of esteemed places of higher education. However, despite all of this, what dominates, thanks to the search algorithms of the online services, is a repetition of the same recipe with minor variations – most of which is based on 20th century thinking and mindsets.

We are a world that develops inwardly by the ‘clip and paste’ culture: We think we know since we search for it on the web and paste it to our own recipes. Which is fine for some, but also bad news for others, since the repetition of out-of-date paradigms is what gains center stage instead of developing new thinking that is more suitable to the present climate.

Talking Of Which…

We are entering a new era. This new era is based on how people think for themselves when together with others.

There are many advantages to be gained and exploited — be it the work environment (organisational development, developing meaningful spaces to be in), a challenge in society to be faced (design thinking) or just wanting to be better at what we do (self-improvement).

All can be developed and improved opening new opportunities — by learning. How learning then conditions the re-application of what we have learned, developing new thinking is the next step in this new awareness. And neither can we afford to be complacent. We are all part of a paradigm change — the world is complex, changeable and nothing is certain. The tasks being laid before us as challenges are many and problems require invention as much as solution. Sometimes, chaos rules. Some call this disruption.

This article therefore addresses a simple aspect that is common concerning anyone who wants to learn a better way that is common to all: the one better way. Not the clip-and-paste way — but your way. Can there be a one better way when dealing with task — problem related productivity? And if so, how can this be supported? The objective for these posts is therefore to develop some simple fundamental thinking open to interpretation in all in order to develop learning, doing and thinking tools and the hell out of the rut of clip-and-paste navel watching.

The Problem Solving Agenda

Problem solving is here to stay. But is capturing and solving ‘problems’ the right way of addressing the challenges of the 21st. century?

I’ve spent the best part of my life designing, building, researching, thinking, learning and innovating (architecture and design) and here’s why I don’t like the term ‘problem’: It does nothing to suggest the ‘desired’. Problem solving is a 20th century century mindset. It suggests something is given and one way can be planned to solution. It says nothing about the doubt of which is the right way or indeed, the challenges of inventing or developing the right solutions to the wrong problems. Neither does it have anything to say about what we dream of. The difference between what fulfills our needs and what turns us on is the engaging of emotion — what gets us excited. It’s the reason we choose to fork out more for that new gadget. This is achieved by the process of design and is an illustration of why design and channeling creative processes in design is so important. So to get the ball rolling, here are a few simple insights:

Creative-Reflective DOING

This concerns the one better way, the way each of us can adopt to take control of our own learning and adapt it to our own doing processes — whoever you are, whatever you do, however you do it. It’s universal. By being universal, we climb right to the top of the tree and sit amongst the leaves in the crown, looking down.

The Importance of Design

Design is two things – a process and a product. Here I’m talking about the process. The process of Design concerns learning and thinking, teachers no longer teach and the dynamics of human interaction have been more challenging or exciting as they are today. In design we:

Keep assessing, keep testing, keep preparing, keep looking for opportunity…

Here’s what the expert says on design:

The designer calculates his moves in a threefold way: in terms of the desirability of their consequences judged in categories drawn from the normative design domains, in terms of their conformity to or violation of implications set up by earlier moves, and in terms of his appreciation of the new problems or potentials they have created.’

Donald Schön – The Reflective Practitioner. 1983

This still holds true today and in that respect, nothing has changed in calculating moves, in figuring out, what we are going to do next in any situation where we are in the driving seat. And let’s face it: Managers and educators are not going to do this for us — we have to learn to do things for ourselves and be aware of our thinking when we involve ourselves in what we do as and when we apply ourselves. We also need to figure out how best to communicate and share with our team or network what we have done through whatever media channels we use to do that.

Important References

Of other references can be mentioned Meta-cognitive strategy, Visible Learning (Hattie) and Experiential Learning (Kolb), Strategic Doing (Morrison) are just some of the new ideas, tools and methods being developed, discussed, shared and adopted to taking control of ‘better ways’: What we do when directing experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge (Association for Experiential Education).

Experience, Reflection, Meaning & Acting

Experiential Learning, or the process of learning from experience is especially interesting for all, since it reinforces an understanding that we already have some idea about, since it confirms our own way of interacting with the world around us. Represented by David A. Kolb as a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, making meaning and acting. However this shows what is happening, but tells us nothing about that magic word: Application.

David Kolb - model of experiential learning
David Kolb – model of experiential learning

Abstract conceptualisation and making meaning will be dealt with in the next installment. But for now, I want to make it clear that we need something, some simple model of understanding that accounts for how we do work, work made in the real world, while also showing us how to move forward. Call this a map of you like, a navigational aid that allows us to not only get from A to B, but to provide a means of assessing alternative routes so we arrive at a better destination than one we set for.

Best Fit

Learning is the model – based on the four aspect of experiencing, reflecting, making meaning and acting… learning, or experiential learning is what Kolb’s model is all about. However, for me this doesn’t quite equate to the way we work – the cyclical mode suggests one thing leads to the next in a cycle of activity. The real world does not work this way. I prefer instead to think of each as a ‘force’ – it is something we do that acts on something, or something that attracts us. It has effect both in the whole, but also in the parts. This can get quickly complicated which isn’t the objective of this exercise – which is to simplify.


Let’s recap for a moment: Change today lies in the way we go about looking for a best ‘fit’ between what we perceive and what we do. Or put another way, between what we think and what we learn. We do according to what we have learned. We think based on our perceptions. Calculating what we do next is based on what we have learned.

So this isn’t rocket science, just a simple appraisal of what is important when looking for a better way of ‘thinking about doing things as we do them’ – using reflection-in-action as introduced by (Schön) coupled to some fundamental ideas concerning how we need to understand the way we work creatively in problem solving.

Mapping Out: 3 Internal Forces

The reuse of learning intelligent processes is task related:

  • How we think > conditions > what we do
  • What we do > conditions > what we learn
  • What we learn > conditions > how we think

Each of these three aspects is not hierarchical or necessarily dependent, they are three forces in the mind and the body. The focus is the person – me. And the group – us. These three forces has meaning but has little value unless applied. Think of them as three ‘forces’ connected by elastic bands that can never be broken.


The Kolb model can be referred to here, but this is not the same thing, this simplification (this not intended to be a replacement, just a simplification in order to develop some simple but powerful insights):

  • Experiencing – part of doing
  • Reflecting – part of thinking
  • Making meaning – part of thinking
  • Acting – part of doing

The difference in representation is Learning is treated as one force of two more forces, each given equal weight. Exerience as doing is treated equally with thinking about what we do. This is more general than the Kolb model but also more applicable, since the object to these posts is to develop learning, doing and thinking tools.

Developing Understanding

This is an important distinction even though it is very simple because the more we stretch one of them, the longer and stronger the relations to the other two. The longer we stretch one, the stronger the relations become. The three aspects are one, not separate. The other two act – not according to any laws of the universe – but according to ‘a law of us’, to pull the one aspect back into balance – as long as we are aware of all three.


Thinking Alone

So in other words sure, we can sit on a bench and think about something. But we won’t be learning and we certainly are not doing anything else other than thinking. We can work as we want, immersing ourselves in each aspect, or in two. But without the other two even being together, we are really only on our own.


(Photo by Paul Lieberwirth on Flickr)

Doing Alone

We can do, say play with Lego. One of the most enjoyable things about having boys as children is be able to just play, letting the process dictate the outcome. But doing without purpose is precisely that, play. It is not objective since there is nothing we have to do, we just do.


(lego image. Photo by Steven Andrew on Flickr)

Learning Alone

We can learn by reading a book. The words on a page is not learning – we first need to have something from our own experiences to make real. So we read someone’s words, as mine here. We learn something because we have constructed an understanding by relating what we already have as experience – then transform that into perception using the words as a catalyst. By having that perception we did not have before, we have learned something.


(image: Yours truly)

The Three Internal Forces

Putting this all together is critical to be able to develop ourselves and our 21st. century skills. To do this we require an approach to real-world problems or challenges that this is truly about by understanding our three internal forces and how they work together. The same holds true for ‘thinking together’, ‘doing together’ and ‘learning together’. It’s when we can think and do and learn – both alone and together – and figure out how we can support that (so we can do so much more) for ourself, but far more powerfully together, that things start to get really interesting. That will be the subject of a future article.

Streamlining the LTD:

Learning – Thinking – Doing

If we can order our thinking, it becomes streamlined – it favours a particular direction above others, focussing our actions as the results of what we do show us what works, what doesn’t. By learning and adjusting our doing as we reflect on what we learn, we achieve in theory at least, a faster, better way of doing what we do.

Without learning, the value of how and what we think and do is limited. This might sound obvious, but the process, the exercise, that document, the act of doing or producing tends to take over the reflection of what we ought to be doing, not what we are doing.

Learning-Thinking – Doing:

Seeing The Wood & The Trees

DO LEARN THINKBy using the above as a simple tool for perceiving what we do as we do it, we have a way of:

  • developing understanding and knowledge of how we work, think and learn best
  • improve on what we do by seeing the wood and the trees.
  • see how our actions have influence on what we want to achieve in accordance with aims, wants, dreams and desires.
  • focus on our strengths and weaknesses by seeing how they relate

This article can also be read on Medium.

Frameworks Organisation

From IQ to CO-Q

Developing the Adaptable Learning Organisation – by Collaborative Intelligence


The abbreviation “IQ” was coined by the psychologist William Stern for the German term Intelligenzquotient for ‘scoring method’ for intelligence tests in 1912. Over one hundred years later we’re about to move the goalposts well and truly into the 21st. century. Before we talk more about intelligence, let’s consider for the moment the difference between two organisational paradigms: The ‘traditional’ and the ‘untraditional’, which for the sake of argument will build on the accepted model of the ‘Learning Organisation.’

The Traditional Organisation

Traditional hierarchies and processes can be thought of from two perspectives: As an ‘operating system’ dictating the extents that the ‘people system’ are able to operate within: People and teams operate as the foundation upon which the structure of the organization rests, managers sending corporate or organisational strategies, plans, time schedules, direction on down from the penthouse suite to the team leaders and teams on the floors below, who then implement that strategy and convert it into organizational benefit.

The problem is, the strategies being developed in the penthouse suite often fail to reflect the disruptive environment the organisation is a part of and relies on for its markets or existence. Information is kept specific to the team domain, meaning it doesn’t get shared or is able to cross-pollinate other team’s ideas and understanding keeping the organisation inflexible and unable to adapt to the changing environment.

The Learning Organisation

In the learning organisation, leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers according to Peter Senge, whose breakthrough book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ changed we already thought back in 1990. The world has changed a lot since then, but the message still remains the same: That the problem with traditional ‘operating systems’ is that these are most often implemented by management are not capable of handling the dynamic challenges of complexity, change and person to person interactions that increasingly define how we do business today. The people at the bottom traditionally go about doing what they are good at using their intelligence in the fulfillment of strategical objectives. Until recently, this is the way things are done. But not any longer.


Creative Commons Licence
CO-Q by Mark Dyson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

In the learning organisation our actions create our reality. Our reality is who we are, who we work with, how we can contribute to the success of the organisation so we have a place in its growth and development, cementing us as people in the greater context of sharing and interacting.

  • The structure is based on people, not on strategy
  • The division of information and team working is a thing of the past
  • Managers are not a barrier between us and the development of strategy

Dealing with Disruption and Change

In times of change and disruption, strategy can be or even worse, non-aligned to an appreciation of context and operating environment. Kotter introduced the idea of a new operating system continuously assesses fit for purpose, monitoring and to provide an active self-adjusting means of implementing strategy:

‘An organisation that’s facing a real threat or eyeing a new opportunity tries – and fails – to cram through some sort of major transformation using a change process worked in the past. But the old ways of setting and implementing strategy are behind us… the existing structures and processes need an additional element to address the challenges associated with complexity and change. The solution is second operating system, devoted to the design and implementation of strategy using an agile network and a very different set of processes.’ (Kotter 2012)

Advocating a network instead of hierarchies, the keypoints of the second operating system were:

  • continually assesses the business, industry, organisation
  • reacts with greater agility, speed & creativity
  • compliments the traditional hierarchy freeing resources
  • makes enterprises easier to run
  • accelerates strategic change

Creative Commons Licence
CO-Q by Mark Dyson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

What we have is a reversal of the traditional model where strategy and objectives, visions and concepts must be aligned to the eyes, ears and minds working together – adapting and adjusting to latest observations, perceptions, understandings and insights to keep on top and ahead. This is why we advocate CO-Q or Collaborative intelligence. The common denominator characterizing multi-agent, distributed systems.

In such a distributed system each agent is uniquely positioned to contribute to an evolutionary network of people interacting to produce intelligent outcomes, sharing information & reusing it so others learn and share their knowledge in turn. So what happens is the external ‘reality’ is used to foster interaction as CO-Q developing new, aligned capability that in turn can contribute to better, smarter, better aligned strategical plans and canvasses to ‘reality’ – what is going on around you: Your market, your competitors, your dna.

Multi-agent interaction

In a learning organisation based on a distributed system, we work as ‘multiple agents’ developing CO-Q collaborative intelligence. As a part of a multi-agent network, an agent is not only aligned with the current visions of the organisation employing you – but far more importantly works pro-actively to co-develop the same strategies, evolving the organisation along the way.

This means directors need to let go as close-tie teams using key players tuned in to management objectives effectively and continually assessing objective, process, organisational composition and fit-for-purpose.

Developing the adaptive learning organisation.

This means a business or organisation us able to develop an internal dynamic operatability  – working not the way they want to but working the way they need to, since the collective aspect means the test lies in fit for purpose over and above any persons individual purpose. This is the adaptive organisation actually learning, acting and working as an intelligent organism. The result is faster reaction times, increasing speed and adaptive agility – so agents and teams able to influence their organisation and organisations strategic intelligence with the capability to constantly redefine.

What we end up with is an evolutionary networks motivated by and contributing to central CO-Q drivers. These are the engines moving minds forward by interaction, aligned understanding. In CO-Q, people contribute to each other’s task as well as their own having influence on strategy and direction that is now receptive to the ‘minds in the field’: By linking people to process through CO-Q.

The success of the organisation is of course dependent on the level of understanding and knowledge of how CO-Q can be implemented. Therefore, it is paramount that tools and mindsets are developed that allows the agents, or team members to work systematically within an overall thinking-doing framework. In turn, this enables adaptive fleixble processes that change in accordance to insights and decisions that continuously define ‘the learning plans of action.’ This can only arise by close-tie intelligent team collaboration. But don’t just take my word for it:

IBM look at the same issues from the point of view of developing responsive technology. As a business on the front-end of innovation they see the problem as being one of developing key cornerstones that changes the way organisations work so they themselves are responsive and adaptive to change.

Many companies want to innovate—but not all understand the importance of collaboration to making innovation possible. Many are hobbled by old concepts of collaboration that can slow their success. People in the company may, for example, consider collaboration to be extra work. But to today’s innovative worker, collaboration is what work is all about. In the old way of thinking, employees make themselves valuable through what they know. But in the new way, people make themselves valuable by seeking opportunities to work with others and tapping into the expertise that others possess. (IBM 2008)

The Value Proposition: From IQ to CO-Q

When we boil it down to the simplest ingredients its really quite simple. The value proposition is this:

We may have the connections and may have the skills to develop dynamic interactions. What we don’t have is the understanding, the skills or the tools to implement them. In other words, no amount of know-how or technological investment will make difference without effective collaboration and intelligence sharing. And that’s why CO-Q comes into the picture.

Our message is the development and implementation of smarter and better ways of working is the key to adaptation. To adapt does not to send strategy down to the teams, but to see the entire organisation as a self- evolving hub of people, ideas and interactions where managers, team leaders and personell are equally valid according to the extent they can contribute to the collective development of knowledge and understanding.

In the old way, content is owned and protected. In the new way, content is developed through participation; it is fluid, contextual and leveraged to create opportunities through ongoing collaboration. In the old way, directories of people provide static contact information. In the new way, dynamic profiles reflect what people do, with whom and how well they do it. (IBM 2008)

Agent-to-agent evolutionary close-tie networks: A reversal of traditional management practice

This is a radical and different proposition than the one most of us have been used to and effectively challenges the traditional structures advocated by management. It means understanding and adapting: How we interact and combine to develop ideas, content and action. Smarter ways of working is the doing part and is based on thought – developing ways of thinking, thinking about doing and thinking about how people work best together. As collaboration is implemented and becomes successful, it becomes both more fluid and responsive. And this is where the thinking side of things enters into the equation.

CO-Q teams impart ‘strategic fitness’ to process, organisation and the interactions between people. The more the organisation exercises strategy skills, the more trying out feedback and iterative development is offered by the teams on the evolving strategy, what Kotter describes as ‘a hypercompetitive environment’ (Kotter 2015). IBM look at this from the aspect of transcending normal document based working connecting systems and data. As IBM points out, this too often ends up producing content for its own sake:

The people-focused style, which connects people and ideas, taps people for knowledge and insight in pursuit of an activity in which content is only one part. In the new collaboration, information is made available to a wider group of people who work together openly, quickly and more cost-effectively. Finding and connecting with subject matter experts are critical steps to the success of collaboration. (IBM 2008)

It’s all based on team performance. The more the organization exercises its strategy skills, the more adept it becomes at dealing with a hypercompetitive environment. The network and the hierarchy, functioning as dual operating systems (CA’s generating system), can produce more wealth, better products and services, and a more exciting place to work in an era of exponential change (Kotter 2012).

With new styles of collaboration in place, companies can be positioned for solid business benefits because they can harness the innovative power of shared knowledge. Companies can improve service to customers, partners and other stakeholders because they can not only communicate more readily, but they can also work together to solve common problems and meet common needs. (IBM 2008)


Kotter’s 8 Accelerators


COALITION: Build and maintain a guiding coalition

FORMULATE VISION: Formulate a strategic vision and develop change initiatives designed to capitalize on the big opportunity

COMMUNICATE VISION: Communicate the vision and the strategy to create buy-in and attract a growing ‘volunteer army’

REMOVE BARRIERS: Accelerate movement toward the vision and the opportunity by ensuring that the network removes barriers

CELEBRATE: Celebrate visible, significant short-term wins

LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE: Never let up. Keep learning from experience. Don’t declare victory to soon. (Or at all)

INSTITUTIONALIZE: Institutionalize strategic changes in the culture.


IBM 2008: The new collaboration: enabling innovation, changing the workplace.’ Online; January 2008.

Kotter 2012: Kotter, John: Accelerate – How The Most Innovative Companies Capitalize On Today’s Rapid-Fire Strategic Challenges – And Still Make Their Numbers’ . The Harvard Business Review; November 2012.