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David Brooks on Key Skills for the 21st Century

posted Apr 17, 2015, 7:15 PM by HSD Principal

    “As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too,” says David Brooks in this New York Times column, “and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged.” He gives several examples:

Herding cats – Doug Lemov has catalogued the “micro-gestures” of especially effective teachers in his book, Teach Like a Champion 2.0 (Jossey-Bass, 2015). “The master of cat herding,” says Brooks, “senses when attention is about to wander, knows how fast to move a diverse group, senses the rhythm between lecturing and class participation, varies the emotional tone. This is a performance skill that surely is relevant beyond education.”

Social courage – In today’s loosely networked world, this has particular value – the ability to go to a conference, meet a variety of people, invite six of them to lunch afterward, and form long-term friendships with four of them. “People with social courage are extroverted in issuing invitations but introverted in conversation – willing to listen 70 percent of the time,” says Brooks. “They build not just contacts but actual friendships by engaging people on multiple levels.”

Capturing amorphous trends with a clarifying label – People with this skill can “look at a complex situation, grasp the gist and clarify it by naming what is going on,” says Brooks. He quotes Oswald Chambers: “The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”

Making nonhuman things intuitive to humans – This is what Steve Jobs did so well.

Purpose provision – “Many people go through life overwhelmed by options, afraid of closing off opportunities,” says Brooks. But a few have fully cultivated moral passions that can help others choose the one thing they should dedicate themselves to.”

The ability to simultaneously hold two opposed ideas in mind – “For some reason,” says Brooks, “I am continually running across people who believe this is the ability their employees and bosses need right now.”

Cross-class expertise – “In a world divided along class, ethnic, and economic grounds,” says Brooks, “some people are culturally multilingual. They can operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider.”

“Skills in Flux” by David Brooks in The New York Times, March 17, 2015,


Except taken from Marshall Memo 579 dated March 23, 2015