Core design competencies

In his wonderful book ‘Imagine If‘ Ken Robinson talks about the flaws within the educational system.

He argues that what students need from their education is to become proficient in some core competencies in order to prepare them for the economic, personal, cultural and social challenges they will face in their lives.

The competencies he identifies are curiosity, creativity, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship.

Here’s how Ken breaks them down in his book :

Curiositythe ability to ask questions and explore how the world works

Creativitythe ability to generate new ideas and apply them in practice

Criticismthe ability to analyse information and ideas and to form reasoned arguments and judgements

Communicationthe ability to express thoughts and feelings clearly and confidently in a range of media and forms

Collaborationthe ability to work constructively with others

Compassionthe ability to empathise with others and to act accordingly

Composurethe ability to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance

Citizenshipthe ability to engage constructively with society and to participate in the processes that sustain it

I’ve often thought about what being a good designer actually means and I think that these competencies would be a brilliant framework to use to help work that out in practice.

When I think about the best people I’ve worked with I realised that it is these things that they’ve been really good at.

As a designer being good at the tools and methods is one thing but if you don’t have these competencies then you’ll struggle.

They aren’t just relevant to designers of course, but feel really useful to help us to recruit people, set objectives and design our own training and development.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Ken’s book, it covers many other fascinating and important subjects such as creativity, positivity, sustainability and systems thinking.

The get a feel for his work check out his TED talk on ‘Do schools kill creativity‘.

What are your superpowers?

I love asking people what their superpowers are.

It’s a cracking opening gambit, particularly over a few drinks.

I’ve learned all sorts of amazing things about the people I work with.

One colleague can guess the price of any banana by simply weighing it in her hands.

Another knows exactly where they are on their commute without looking out of the windows of the bus.

Since an early age I have been able to throw cricket balls unfeasibly long distances.

All good stuff!

It’s a really useful question to consider from a work perspective too.

Your superpowers are the things you find easy, that other people value and find very hard to do themselves.

Perhaps you find it really easy to build rapport with people or you might be completely un-phased by giving presentations to large groups of people.

Knowing what your superpowers are is a superpower in its own right.

I’ve started to adapt it further when interviewing senior stakeholders about their business strategy.

I simply ask “What is your organisational superpower that your customers value and your competitors find really hard to do themselves?”.

It’s a nice way to liven up what can sometimes be quite dry conversations.

Businesses should not only be trying to get better at the things they do badly, but also to optimise their superpowers – as it is these that their competitors will always find so much harder to match.

Take a moment to think about your own superpowers and ask your colleagues about theirs too.

You may never look at them in the same way again!