Toolset, Skillset, Mindset

Toolset, skillset, mindset

Over the last few years I have developed three different lenses through which to see any creative inquiry process. When we are facilitating or planning with clients, schools and teachers we explicitly talk about our Toolset, Skillset and our Mindset.

The design thinking process has distinct phases and although we may well be seeking to developing an overarching capacity it has always been helpful to be a little more specific about what this actually means. Sometimes it can seem a little fluffy around the edges. When we link Toolset, Skillset and Mindset to a particular phase of design thinking inquiry it becomes much clearer what is expected. This intentionality is wired into each of the different lenses helping to clarify to those involved what tools are involved, what skills are likely to be required and what mindset is needed.

Below is a good set of definitions which helped me better understand their relevance to my work with design thinking and creative inquiry:

Toolset (How you Get, Have, Use) – Means a set of widely accepted methods, techniques, models, approaches and frameworks that can create value in the chosen field.

Skillset (How you Do, Act, Behave) – Means a number of things like a person’s capabilities and abilities, knowledge and understanding, and motivation and ability to use these capabilities and knowledge. The level of expertise in a particular task determines the efficiency and effectiveness to perform that task.

Mindset (How you See, Perceive, View) – Means a set of beliefs, a way of thinking, a habitual mental attitude that determines somebody’s behaviour and outlook and how s/he will interpret and respond to situations. Without a change in mindset, the world cannot be viewed differently.

[In addition to these you may well consider a Knowledge set, something to activate and use or to continue to add to.]

For example during the Synthesis phase you might see the following explicitly shared with participants or students and dialogue to make the expectations clear:

Toolset: Patterns and grouping of physical artefacts, Hexagonal Thinking, P.O.I.N.T (Problems, Obstacles, Insights, Needs and Themes)

Skillset: Pattern recognition, categorisation, organisation, problem finding, prioritisation

Mindset: Convergent, combinatorial, relational

What we have found is that most people want to have a conversation about the Toolset. It is the most enduring memory of a workshop: the physical, tactile experience of the tools we used. All too often creative processes focus too heavily on simply the tools, moving from one thinking activity to another, from one framework or post-it note task to the next. At NoTosh we escalate the dialogue to the Skills we need to operate those creative thinking tools. The last step is to engage colleagues in a dialogue about what Mindset is needed or expected in order to be most successful.

You might consider having a conversation about these three elements before a lesson or period of learning with students: what are the tools we are going to use, the skills we will develop or need and the mindset we should take. This offers a much clearer way to talk about learning intentions or success criteria.

The Mindset at each stage of the design thinking process is much more constant and more persistent, whereas the Skillset and the Toolset can always change. We should be drawing from a range of tools to suit the part of the inquiry process – but regardless of the tools we use the Mindset remains relatively constant.

It would also be true to say that out of the three different lenses the Mindset is harder to observe, whereas the tactile Toolset is much more explicit. From Change to Constant, from Extrinsic to Intrinsic, from Toolset to Mindset.

Whereas it is easy to switch out and change a tool during a phase of the process, it is much harder to change a Mindset if it does not currently exist. An example we see most often is a convergent mindset – “I know what the problem is and I know what we should do” – when we are immersing ourselves in the area of development. This Immersion phase requires an open and divergent Mindset. You can change the activity to explore the topic but it is much harder to change the disposition.

Stick around for future posts exploring some of the design thinking inquiry Toolset and the activities we all enjoy. In addition we will explore the Skillset and the Mindset needed to make the most of them.

Tom Barrett

Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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About Tom Barrett 552 Articles
Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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Andy Vasily
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8 months 6 days ago

Tom, this is a great post. Thanks for generously sharing your vision, tools, and ideas. Looking forward to maybe catching up and meeting in person when I visit Melbourne in late November.

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