Martin Fleming and Jim Spohrer of IBM recently wrote, "The role of higher education is important both in productively producing graduates with needed skills (Christensen, Horn, Caldera, & Soares, 2011), as well as being the central player in university-based entrepreneurship ecosystems (Fetters, Greene, Rice, & Butler, 2010).” This was in an introductory paper for the IBM conference on Future Skills and Jobs. All participants were invited to contributed position papers and this post is based on mine. I fully agree with Fleming and Spohrer's point, however, I offer that the process starts earlier.

The skills needed for modern productive work and life demand some level of system design skill from all of us and we need these skills even early in our education. Unfortunately, I do not see a clear set of resources to provide these skills and so a first step is to identify how to teach education and work design to individuals and teams. http://www.slideshare.net/terrigriffith/all-of-us-as-systems-designers-p...

Technology, and even parts of work, has been consumerized. Many tool and process decisions that used to be made by professionals with formal training and organizational authority are now made by the rank and file. This is the case for knowledge management in organizations, university education (e.g., MIT Open Courseware), and elementary education (see Wired's commentary on the Kahn Academy). Let's start with elementary education.

The growing popularity of The Khan Academy with its relatively low-tech videos, problem sets, and gamification raises the question of how students, parents, and teachers should use virtual education. While having access to free explanatory videos is good, having the skill to make effective learning design choices is better. Students, parents, and teachers all need to be thinking about the overall systems design and have evidence-based methods (at least conceptually) for evaluating past choices. Unfortunately the consumerization of education theory hasn’t kept up with the availability of educational options.

At Jim Spohrer's suggestion, I recreated a fourth "r" for the standard reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic, ideas around what should be taught in elementary school. The fourth "r" is recognition. The idea of recognition is that we need to stop-look-listen (prior version of SLL discussion) as we think about learning and work. Rather than chasing shiny technology objects as they appear, we can stop to consider our goals, look for existing solutions, and then listen for feedback as we take our first steps.

It's also true in work organizations that the consumerization of our practices and policies hasn't kept up with our tool opportunities. There is little written about teaching employees how design their work across the broad system of people, technology, and organizational process. For example, while scholars like Richard Hackman and Ruth Wageman provide insights for coaching in teams, they do not cover how teams consider the use of technology.

Organization science researchers (myself included), given the pace of modern technology change, will always be behind the curve unless they shift from studying what has happened to creating models of how to understand, design, adopt, implement, redesign, and ultimately educate others on the best strategies. It isn’t enough to acknowledge that sociotechnical systems exist and are correlated with particular results. We have to help people learn how to build and adjust the systems of their education and their work.

With my forthcoming book, The Plugged-In Manager, and with my academic research, I am trying to build tools and methods that will help all of us develop systems design skills.