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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Hinton

Communication and Collaboration Critical Skills for the 21st Century Economy

Researchers continue to debate how long human beings have been able to talk with one another. Estimates for the use of oral language range from 50,000 to 2 million years ago. Writing, however, is a much newer phenomenon and can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, beginning in 3400 BCE with the cuneiform writing system. Oral and written communication are not exactly new skills. Still, they are just important today as they have been throughout history. A Pew Research Center poll of American adults revealed that they believe communication is an essential skill for all students "to get ahead in the world today." This is because a person's ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing is a fundamental component of most careers at all levels and is essential to the successful transmission of ideas from one person to another and groups of people.

Effective written communication involves knowing the rules of English grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The most obvious reason to use Standard American English is that incorrect grammar and spelling can adversely affect your credibility with readers. Readers may make assumptions about the writer's intelligence or education levels or may believe the writer does not care if the message contains errors. For example, a billboard from a technical college advertised, "Be a Biomedical Technician." While this is a simple mistake, future students will likely question the credibility of an institution of higher learning that overlooks spelling errors. In the often-cited example, "Let's eat Grandma!" instead of “Let’s eat, Grandma! the comma can make all of the difference between an exhortation to dinner or having grandma as the main course. Bad grammar could even affect your love life! A study of 1700 adult online dates found that 43% of users consider lousy grammar decidedly unattractive, and 35% think good grammar is appealing. Further, good writing could make the difference between getting a job or not. A recent hiring managers' survey revealed that 86% of them would not hire an applicant who had grammar mistakes on their résumé or cover letter. It is interesting to note that many search engines punish content with grammar and spelling errors by pushing it down in its search results. As a senior product manager for Bing pointed out, "…but just as you're judging others' writing, so the engines judge yours. If you struggle to get past typos, why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of error-free content exist to serve the searcher? Like it or not, we're judged by the quality of the results we show. So we are constantly watching the quality of the content we see."

In addition to using English grammar effectively, communicators must be aware of who will be reading their content. "Know your audience" is one of the cardinal rules of good writing because it informs the kind of voice writers use. It is crucial to understand that an appropriate communication style with family and friends may not be suitable in a professional setting. Writing a text message or social media post is very different than writing a professional email or memo. In the former, texting abbreviations, emojis, and slang is expected but would be inappropriate in the latter. Writers need to articulate their ideas clearly and succinctly so that the author's meaning is transmitted effectively, leaving little room for ambiguity and interpretation. Good communicators should be able to express logical arguments based upon evidence clearly and concisely. Additionally, effective communication is the foundation of successful collaboration because it allows for building relationships. Good relationships allow for productive collaboration.

In the industrial past, machines replaced skilled artisans in the mass production of consumer goods. The assembly line reduced manufacturing into small repetitive tasks requiring workers to perform for 12-16 hours a day, six days a week. Factory supervisors enforced strict discipline to keep workers productive by limiting bathroom breaks and mealtimes. Talking between employees was forbidden. The 21st -century knowledge economy requires a new kind of worker, much different from its industrial predecessor. Today's workplace requires a workforce that must collaborate effectively as members of teams both in person and across networks. Teamwork and collaboration are essential because they have been indelibly linked to organizational success. This is because collaboration promotes problem-solving, boosts learning and sharing of skills, increases employee satisfaction and productivity, and spurs innovation. The popular image of the lone inventor tinkering in the garage to create the next significant innovation may have been true in certain limited cases. Still, today's and tomorrow's breakthroughs will result from the collaborative efforts by teams of people. As the author of TheOne Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard, once wrote, "None of us is as smart as all of us." For example, the Department of Energy's network of National Laboratories have advanced supercomputing, decoded D.N.A., kick-started the development of the worldwide web in North America, powered N.A.S.A. spacecraft, harnessed the power of the atom, invented new materials, mapped the universe, and the dark side of the moon confirmed the Big Bang and discovered dark energy, just to name a few. None of these discoveries and innovations was achieved in isolation. Instead, they were all the results of teams of researchers and scientists working together to find solutions to complex problems.

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