What Skills Are in Your 2021 Toolkit?

Which skills helped special librarians, competitive intelligence practitioners, and other information professionals get through 2020, and which ones will make a difference in 2021? Those two questions were the focus of “Planning for Post-Pandemic Work,” an online panel discussion presented by SLA’s Competitive Intelligence Community on February 17.

Led by moderator Craig Fleisher of Aurora WDC, the panelists—Stephanie Heyroth Wilcox of the Nevada legislature, Tommy Goodwin of the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance, Phil Britton of the Sedulo Group, and Jim Miller of Connect Public Affairs—described the skills that made a difference for them in 2020, what they wish they’d done differently last year, and how they plan to achieve better outcomes for themselves and their clients in 2021.

For Tommy Goodwin, the skills that made a difference last year will do so again in 2021—and may gain more respect as a result.

“There’s a terminology in the broader business lexicon that I absolutely cannot stand, which is ‘soft skills,'” he said. “I think it’s one of the worst turns of phrase in the management literature, because really what they are is power skills. If you think about the power skills that CI practitioners have and that are innate to success in this profession, you think about flexibility. You think about perseverance. You think about relationship management. You couldn’t have survived 2020 without them, and I think they’re the skills that will carry us through 2021.”

Stephanie Heyroth Wilcox sees resourcefulness and especially organization as the skills that will prove crucial to success this year.

“That’s what we librarians pride ourselves in—we know how to classify and store information and make sure you can find it later,” she said. “The past 12 months have highlighted how important that is, because when people no longer have access to a physical collection and they contact you and wonder if you can help them, the beauty of being able to say, we have that and here it is, and you can keep on going—that’s really, really important.”

Jim Miller emphasized the value of adapting—and helping others adapt—to changes in technology.

“The tech acceleration and helping people with that is something I’ve been focusing on, because we all have 55 million chat apps on our phones right now,” said Jim Miller. “There are a lot of new tools coming out, and if you look at the education space, for example, there are some community colleges here in Canada that have really had to pivot—how do you teach culinary skills online, how do you teach nursing online. There’s some adaptive work being done, but at the same time, there’s an overwhelmingness to all of the technology that is coming forward. Helping people sort that out is something a lot of us in this area are looking at.”

Phil Britton piggybacked on Miller’s comments, noting that the technological advancements are combining with the pandemic to hasten the evolution of trends that were already taking place prior to the onset of COVID-19.

“All of the trends that we saw before the pandemic are still there—they’re just accelerating,” he said. “I came out of retail, and as I look at the retail stores that have closed, they were going to die anyway. They were just euthanized instead of suffering a long, lingering death. So helping people understand that all the trends that were already there are still there—they’re just on steroids—is something that we want to help our clients recognize.”

“Planning for Post-Pandemic Work” was the CI Community’s first learning program of 2021; the next one, “CI Toolkit: Financial Analysis,” will be held on March 24. To learn more about SLA education programs, visit the SLA Learning Hub.

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