Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Cognitive Age As Pivot Point

Columnist David Brooks' article The Cognitive Age provides much needed explanation of the current economic environment in which we, as a country and as individuals working jobs and raising kids, find ourselves. Brooks explains that the current economic environment is, without a doubt, global, high tech, and both, fast and free.

In this political season we are getting a steady dose of blaming others - foreigners and Republicans - for our economic ills. This is the wrong type of discourse to be having. The issue is about our collective and individual relevance in the current economic environment. Brooks heeds, "The central process driving this [change] is not globalization. It's the skills revolution. We're moving into a more demanding cognitive age." Technology and innovation within industries means employers require fewer and differently skilled workers.

As the Industrial Age displaced human workers in the Agricultural Age, the current economic environment of the Cognitive Age will render the Industrial Age a TKO punch. The winner will be the worker skilled in cognitive abilities such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and systems thinking. Even the technology gurus of the Information Age who showed us how to excavate, collect, catalogue, and sell information will be outpaced by those Cognitive Age workers who can use the readily abundant information to solve problems. A worker's skills that have served him well for the last 30 years on a production line are no longer relevant because of the technological innovations within his industry. Employers need differently skilled workers, ones who can better absorb, process, and combine information. Workers who can take all of the information that is now at our fingertips instantaneously and not only make sense of it, but manipulate it to competitive advantage.

Brooks see the first critical step in solving our lack of relevance as understanding the paradigm shift. Technology has created a different kind of fast and furious game. The playing field is global. We cannot be effective in addressing our competitive weaknesses as long as we have a victim mentality. We need to be reflective as a society and as individuals to solve the problem of irrelevant skills.

Once the Cognitive Age paradigm is understand and accepted, I think the direction gets clearer, although not easy, by any means.

What are the skills that are valued in the Cognitive Age?
How does an Industrial Age worker reinvent himself? How long does it take? How much does it cost? Who will pay for it?
Why should I/we bother?
Will all geographical areas be able to re-align themselves socially, emotionally, economically?
Are we preparing (educating) our children to be skilled Cognitive Age workers? Why not?
Are our leaders promoting victimhood or re-alignment?
What opportunities are we uniquely poised to leverage in the Cognitive Age? How? Who?
What happens to those who don't want to play? Who takes care of them? For how long? Who pays for that?

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