Today’s core question asks: Are students acquiring the
right knowledge and the essential skills to position themselves to enter
and succeed in higher education and in jobs in the global economy? The
question places value on the increasing pressures of new knowledge
requiring new “on-demand” skills. In this economic climate, it’s not
just about finding skilled workers; it’s about finding elite talent. At
the center of today’s world is the need to be skilled, a term often used as a synonym for successful or elite.
A convergence of national needs and educational responses lend
plausibility to the rise of a new super-skill, such as ingenuity, now
allied with success and national prosperity in the twenty-first century.
A powerful new voice, “A National Strategic Narrative,”
sends us in search of the new twenty-first century skills that are key
to developing the “intellectual capital” vital to maintaining our
national prosperity and security (http://nationalstrategicnarrative.com/).
Written for the Woodrow Wilson Center at Princeton by two prominent
advisors to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Captain Wayne Porter of the U.S.
Navy, and Marine Corps Colonel Mark Mykleby, the narrative is based on
the authors’ assertion that “We must recognize that security means more
than defense. The first priority should be intellectual capital …” (Mr. Y
Another influential voice, author Thomas Homer-Dixon (2000), advances an innovative theory, The Ingenuity Gap,
defined as “the chasm between problems that arise and our lagging
ability to solve them” (2). Homer-Dixon posits that in a given economy
the flow of ideas leading to useful technologies is a direct result of
investment in human capital. The demands of “human/intellectual capital”
require exceptional skills. Ingenuity, which will combat the gap
between global problems and solutions, performs as a new basic skill
elevated to a super-skill, taking its place in the skills ecosystem that
will generate the dynamic chemistry to be demonstrated as intellectual
The new super-skill of ingenuity requires the design and
development of a skills formation system. The challenge is not just to
know what ingenuity is, but how it works as a skill and what to do with
it. The goals for the skills formation system for ingenuity require us
to (1) create it, (2) describe it, and (3) show how it works.
Skills Formation Models: From Remedial Models to Upskilling
In the twentieth century the challenge was
underdevelopment of basic skills. In the twenty-first century the
challenge is developing super-skills. A 2013 skills assessment model
shifts from yesterday’s dominant education skills deficiency model of
students (remedial, underprepared, developmental) to a national emphasis
on formation models of lifelong development of skills underlying key
job and life performance qualifications. The British use the term upskilling for this emphasis. Here, skills formation is a live and dynamic process.
How Can Ingenuity Be Developed as a Skill?
Ingenuity is the skill of working out how to achieve things or invent new things or ideas. Guiding questions include:
A Different Rhetoric Emerges from the Principles of Ingenuity Skilling
Ingenuity is unique as a pluralistic skill; it is not
part of a skills sequence or hierarchy of skills as in taxonomies of
skills. The rhetoric of super-skills development discards the historical
identity of skills as developed in a linear hierarchical progression
from basic to advanced. Instead, it utilizes the characteristics of
today’s powerful nonlinear theoretical influences, reflected in the
identity of ingenuity as a pluralistic, blended skill, built on a fusion
of aptitudes, capabilities, proficiencies, and abilities.
Ingenuity skilling denotes “collective action problem
solving.” As a super-skill, ingenuity is interdisciplinary, deriving its
energy from shared communication, creativity, and cognitive behaviors
of problem solving, acting as inventive skills or imaginative and clever
design of new ideas. Synonyms for ingenuity include inventiveness, resourcefulness, and shrewdness—cooperative processes resulting in the production of new ideas.
Blended competences of creativity stress that innovation
is problem solving. The behavior of “working creatively” blends with
cognitive skills of developing, implementing, and communicating new
ideas effectively to others, while demonstrating original and inventive
Recent research suggests that creativity is not simply a
product of personality or individual psychology, but rather is rooted
in a set of teachable competences, which include idea generation,
improvisation, metaphorical and analogical reasoning, divergent thinking
that explores many possible solutions, counterfactual reasoning, and
synthesis of competing solutions. (Lingo and Tepper 2010)
Cognitive development behaviors related to idea
development are reflected in the abilities to use metaphors and
analogies, which can take into account various points of view and blend
with creativity to produce new ideas. Metaphors open windows to new ways
of seeing ourselves and our situations. Homer-Dixon (2000) believes
that we have an important capacity for metaphor: “to see patterns and
similarities among vastly different things and to allow ideas to flow
across the porous boundaries” (202).
Investing in a New Educational/Assessment Paradigm Featuring the New Super-Skill of Ingenuity
The following questions and responses help to describe
essential links in student outcomes, reflecting how new ideas are
generated and how the significance of an idea is determined in practice.
1. What is the ingenuity gap and how can education close it?
The gap is the chasm between problems that arise and our lagging ability to solve them.
2. How much and what kinds of ingenuity will be required?
“Social and technical ingenuity” (Homer-Dixon 2000, 4).
Strategies and techniques for developing social and technical ingenuity
include: group problem solving, cooperative student projects, simulated
problem-solving exercises, case studies, problems, and solutions.
3. How is the pluralistic skill ingenuity linked to problem solving?
The number and variety of skills categories contributing
to the development of Ingenuity, a super-skill, create a context of
aptitudes, proficiencies, and subskills, which drive the
skills-formation process and idea-generation outcomes. The function of
ingenuity is to solve problems. Critical thinking and problem solving,
along with imagination and creativity, coexist at each level of
development to produce problem-solving and idea-development behaviors of
producing, solving, understanding, defining, and viewing the new from
4. What actions/abilities influence achievement as ingenuity?
Generating, delivering, and implementing useful ideas,
and initiating a flow of the right kinds of ideas are essential. Also
important are using cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor and the
essential tools of creativity: abilities to see similarities among
diverse things, combine ideas from different domains, and take on new
perspectives. Integrating knowledge is emphasized: concepts are related
to other concepts.
Other core requisite abilities include essential fluency
responses: ideational fluency—calling up as many ideas as possible
about a given topic or theme; word fluency—the ability to think of words
with certain characteristics; fluency of expression—the facility for
formulating ideas. Expressive language, the language of exploration and
discovery of new ideas, is another requisite, along with unique
responses: producing different combinations of ideas.
5. What incentives will produce new idea generation as the core objective of the skill of ingenuity?
Self-initiated learning, active approaches to learning,
group interaction in classrooms where human relationships are stressed,
and building a capacity for self-exploration of ideas provide examples
of such incentives.
6. How can we measure ingenuity?
We need assessment instruments that can document actual
practice in idea generation. The amount and processes of information in
this communication age can be measured in the following ways: energy
reflected in problem solving, intensity and pace of interactive speed of
decision making, and amount of information communicated in a message.
We can also use rudimentary measures of complexity such as information
content, length of its grammar, and mathematical tractability
(Homer-Dixon 2000, 118–119).
7. What assessment principles will guide skills measurement?
Homer-Dixon (2000) emphasizes the collective action of
problem solving. We must move beyond testing toward effective assessment
practices in measuring student outcomes as student accomplishments. Key
8. What assessment tools are needed?
Activity-based assessment tools should simulate the
types of situations students actually will face on the job, such as
coaching others and handling conflict. Examples include writing or
drawing a chart to predict relationships. Tools available to build an
action-based assessment program include cooperative student projects,
team member (coaching) interaction, internal partner (managing conflict)
interaction, planning, and simulations.
9. How can we institutionalize the development of
ingenuity as a super-skill? We can’t use the older models of teaching
and learning to develop the newer skills.
Increase the focus on the blending of skills that,
working together, enable the super-skill of ingenuity. These skills,
comprehensively articulated by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills
(n.d., 1–2), include:
Topics for continuing this conversation include:
Conclusion: If Skills Could Talk
This essay, describing the impact of new, emerging
influences in transforming the national skills dialogue, introduces
“ingenuity” performing as a new super-skill category. The transformation
is not being planned; it simply is happening. The premise, that our
economic processes ultimately are entangled with the production and use
of ingenuity, prompts this key question: How can education meet the
challenges of developing and assessing the super-skill of ingenuity? The
national conversation, still at the formative stage as a new vision of
skills and assessment evolves, invites further dialogue and definition
by practitioners on this critical twenty-first-century national and
Homer-Dixon, T. 2000. The Ingenuity Gap. New York, NY/Toronto, Ontario: Alfred A. Knopf.
Lingo, E. L., and Tepper, S. J. “The Creative Campus: Time for a ‘C’ Change.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Creative-Campus-Time-for/124860/.
Mr. Y (with preface by Anne-Marie Slaughter). 2011. “A
National Strategic Narrative.” Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center for
Scholars, Princeton University.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. n.d. “Framework for 21st Century Learning.” Retrieved March 2011 from www.p21.org.
Dorothy H. Bray is owner of Bray Consulting in San Clemente, California.
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