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Commons Competencies: Rethinking Hard and Soft Skills for a Disruptive Era

September 13, 2011

Filling the Ice House, 1934 oil on canvas by Harry Gottlieb

Since working and pursuing a Ph.D.–both fulltime–are so consuming, my opportunities for blog posting are extremely limited. However, I recently submitted a conference proposal that reflects my research thinking that excited me a great deal. I wanted to share it, in the hopes that it would spark interest and conversation.

The title of the proposal is “Commons Competencies: Rethinking Hard and Soft Skills for a Disruptive Era.” I recently submitted it to the upcoming the 21st Annual Kravis-de Roulet Leadership Conference at Claremont McKenna College in California. The conference theme is Understanding and Assessing “Soft” Leader Skills.

Since my research is focused on the developmental processes of post-industrial and sustainability leadership dynamics, I thought it would be a good opportunity to refine my thinking. The basic premise explored by the proposal is that while it is true that “soft skills” promote a more humanistic flavor of leadership practice than that found during the industrial era, this notion still undermines creativity and innovation by subtly reinforcing the same kind oppressive mindset found in traditional, hierarchical approaches.

I instead propose a new framework based on a synthesis late stage developmental models (such as that proposed by Robert Kegan or William Torbert) with the social orientation of an intellectual “commons” (as recently advanced by Pisano and Shih in Harvard Business Review). This combination allows me to cultivate the idea of advancing collective skill orientation—through the idea of “commons competencies”—over an approach privileging individual skill sets.

I thought this was intriguing idea, but it stills needs a great deal of further development. Also, I knew that this conference regularly attracted many established leadership scholars and other assorted heavy hitters, so I wasn’t going to be terrifically disappointed if I wasn’t accepted; however, earlier today I did receive an invitation to take part in the conference’s Poster Presentation. That’s great—although given it’s on the other side of the country I am not sure that I will attend.

In the meantime for anyone who might care to explore these ideas further my original proposal and resource list can be downloaded in .pdf format here.

As always, comments—particularly those that will help to strengthen my basic premise—are very appreciated.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 4:57 am

    Hi David,
    We are going to have SOOOOO much to talk about in London!! I’m very interested in the same sorts of ideas on leadership–a leadership with humanist implications for governance of people and the planet.

    I look forward to reading the abstract. One area I’d suggest that you think about reframing is the notion of competencies. Competencies are reminiscent of industrial era thinking, whereas capability, or even leadership literacies are more in keeping with the rest of your argument.


  2. November 20, 2011 2:21 pm

    Interesting. I think using a anthropological approach, rather than psychological approach would be more in keeping with the vision of integration of the commons. It seems to me one of the things that holds back education and leadership is that we appear much more aligned with using psychological ideas as our underlying framework, when anthropology and sociology probably better address issues of groups and communities and how they grow, change, and interact. Just thinking aloud here.


    • November 20, 2011 3:59 pm

      Thanks Bonita,

      I agree with your points and, interestingly, just earlier today I was thinking a bit along similar lines. Although, as an interdiscplinarian I’m really looking for something of a dialogue between several domains. For example, while I shy away from the notion of growth via rigid stages (vis a vis Maslow or Kohlberg) I do thing there is a developmental process at play. That’s what draws me to integrate psychological theory. However, where these theories fall short, for me, is that they do not address the larger cultural unfoldment at play. This is where I find anthropology and ethnography are very helpful.

      At the moment, I’m working on a paper that looks at the notion of liminality (as advanced by van Gennep and, later, Turner) and its influence on our current social emergence. Whereas nearly all of the literature I’ve found frames liminality as a metaphor–or as a state experienced only by individuals–I’m starting to ponder the notion that as a culture we are now undergoing a liminal passage as part of our development toward a more complex and inclusive worldview. This last part draws from psychology so I’m treading carefully since I know that mixing disciplines and epistemologies can result in a muddy mess if the arguments are not laid out carefully.

      Thanks again for your insight and I look forward to further comments.


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