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Basic competencies for disruptive work

Digitalization is currently disrupting all work. But in fact, competence requirements of occupations and jobs have always changed as a consequence of technological and societal change. Basic competencies are age-old ways of working, planning, solving problems and viewing oneself and the world. They remain as the platform on which new occupational and job competencies are built. They just need to be made explicit.

Competency pyramid

All jobs can be viewed as comprising three components of competence. Together they form a pyramid-like structure. At the peak are Job-specific competencies, developed from work experience. They are positioned on top of Occupational competencies which develop from all kind of formal education. The pyramid’s bottom structure houses Basic competencies which develop from life experiences. Basic competencies represent more stable, generic ways of working, planning, problem solving and viewing. They guide all job-specific and occupational competence and serve as a development platform to all competence.

Components of competence

Competency pyramid
The platform characteristic of Basic competencies is becoming more important as the disruption of competency requirements gains in speed. Occupations and jobs change, competence in them has to be renovated and rebuilt from time to time but Basic competencies change more slowly. Most of all, they guide behavior and competence in all occupations and jobs.

Various general concepts such as learning to learn, problem solving skills, critical thinking, etc., are offered as cures to the current disruption of occupations and jobs. Shifting attention onto such abstract, high-flown regulators of behavior sounds at first like a reasonable thing to do. But as solutions to the problem, such meta-skills remain rather academic and abstract. Instead, the fourteen Basic competencies provide a hands-on, comprehensive set of building blocks for capturing all kind of competencies, including those evolving in the future.

Basic competencies

Basic competencies are based on five universal, age-old work processes: independent action, leadership, collaboration, planning and problem solving as well as viewing. The five processes are performed through altogether fourteen Basic competencies.

Basic competencies serve as agile building blocks of work. Every job can be described with a profile of desired Basic competencies to indicate for example, its emphasis on quality vs. results. People are then matched to jobs with corresponding profiles of competency drivers indicating e.g., the person’s tendency to seek quality vs. results in independent activities.

Basic competencies are also building blocks of work groups' or teams' competencies. Calculating the average of members’ competency drivers allows one to examine work groups as competence units and describe them e.g., as quality vs. results-seeking or as process maintaining vs. process creating teams. Understanding teams as competence units links them in an unforeseen way to business goals and strategy.


What makes Basic competencies so “basic” for work? The platform-like quality of Basic competencies derives from their being driven by age-old psychological processes which have been slow to change even along evolution. Human motivations, thinking and attitudes remain fairly unchanged regardless of time. The very same drivers regulate competencies subscribed by whole societies across different eras.

As it happens, the Harvard psychologist David C. McClelland and colleagues have measured collective achievement motivation levels of Pre-Incan civilizations (1961), even in Minoan cultures dating back to Bronze age (Davies, 1969), as the driver of their economic performance. Even the competency drivers of hunters, gatherers and shamans in the Stone age might be identified with the same motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes that drive behavior and competence of people today.


Achievement, leadership and interaction motivations are the drivers of independent action, leadership and collaboration. The picture of the individual becomes more distinct through attention to the profile of all seven motive drivers. The profile indicates whether a person wants to excel in independent activities by seeking quality vs. results, whether he or she wants to lead others’ behavior vs. their thoughts and, what the person tends to emphasize in his/her collaboration: communication, guidance of others or, listening to, and serving other people.

Ways of thinking

Different ways of thinking are the drivers of planning and problem solving. Planning and problem solving always work either to strengthen existing processes or to create new processes. People tend to tilt onto either direction. Another feature is that planning and problem solving is carried out in a four-step process from approaching the problem to implementing solutions. The picture of the individual becomes more distinct through attention to the step-specific influences of each way of thinking. An individual may strengthen existing processes by approaching things based on facts but promote creation of new processes by producing creative solutions.


People’s attitudes "drive" different viewings at work. The most important is the attitude toward ambiguity and change. In the world of work this indicates the individual’s suitability to either stable or mobile work environments. Other important viewings are success expectancies driven by optimism and self-reflection.


Perhaps the most important feature of Basic competencies is self-direction deriving from the personal drivers. Jobs and occupations are built and become changed from external factors (technological progress). In contrast, Basic competencies become initiated and directed from the person him or herself. Personal motivation, thinking and attitudes create a sense of ownership needed for truly self-directed competence development.

Davies, E. (1969). This is the way Crete went - not with a bang but a simper. Psychology Today, 3: Jun-Nov, 43-47.
McClelland, D. C. (1961/2010). The Achieving Society. Van Nostrand/Free Press: NY.
McClelland, D.C. (1973). Testing for competence rather than for intelligence. American Psychologist, 28, 1-14.


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