Future Job Skills: Cognitive Abilities

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

In Maria Konnikova's book “Mastermind - How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” she explores the skills needed to think like the fictional detective. In this article, I will compare his thinking abilities alongside three of the cognitive skills needed for the future: Cognitive Load Management, Sense-Making, and Novel Adaptive Thinking to understand how they can be used by individuals to enhance their employment opportunities.

For starters, how many of us feel like our memory is not what it used to be? Today, we are required to remember a lot of sensitive information like pin codes, usernames, and passwords. We need to filter and prioritize the most important information in our lives. This requires cognitive load management. In the "Study in Scarlet," Sherlock offers up an analogy that provides some insight on cognitive load management when he tells his assistant, Dr. Watson:

"‘I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.  A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands on it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.  He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.  It is a mistake to think that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent.  Depend upon it – there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.  It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.’"

Sense-Making is necessary for critical thinking. As robots and automation continue to replace workers in certain careers, it becomes an important skill to think critically from all angles and arrive at a solution that a machine program could not otherwise produce. In the complicated case of "The Sign of the Four" Sherlock reminds Watson:

"Observe Watson...How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. When, then, did he come?"

This leads to the importance of Novel and Adaptive Thinking, which deploys imagination and creativity in problem-solving. There are times where out-of-the-box thinking is important. It is a skill that automation and robots have not mastered. In the case of the "Silver Blaze," Sherlock shares with Dr. Watson the importance of imagination in problem-solving:

"See the value of imagination. It is the one quality which Gregory lacks. We imagined what might have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified. Let us proceed."

Even Albert Einstein credited imagination and intuition to solve the complex theory of relativity. Thus his famous statement, "I wasn't surprised when the results confirmed my intuition, but I would have been surprised had I been wrong. I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

For some, these cognitive skills and abilities may come naturally. For others, not so much. Do you know what abilities come naturally to you? The Highlands Ability Battery is an excellent career assessment that can help you determine what abilities come naturally to you, and which you may need to develop.

As the economy, the workforce, and careers rapidly change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, plan ahead take inventory of what abilities you have and what you need to improve. Contact us at Itinaucore@gmail.com.

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