By Carol Haig, CPT, and Roger Addison, CPT, EdD

Welcome to Fred Nickols, CPT, tool maker for knowledge workers, our guest this month. Fred,, has been affiliated with ISPI since 1968. His professional background includes a career in the U.S. Navy, another in consulting, and two executive-level positions with former clients. Fred currently leads Distance Consulting LLC, where he focuses on the performance of organizations, operations, and individuals. Fittingly, we are pleased to introduce Fred’s Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room with its growing collection of tools for improving the performance of people, processes, and organizations.

Genesis of the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room

Fred was a weapons systems technician in the U.S. Navy and has a strong bias for using diagrams to explain concepts and understand systems. He has always created visual tools for his performance improvement work.

Peter Drucker observed that, “tools are the bridge between work and working,” (Drucker, 1973, p. 225). Drucker thought that what Frederick Taylor did for manual work (Taylor, 1911) should also be done for knowledge workers, and that making knowledge work more productive is the responsibility of the knowledge worker (Drucker, 1969). Fred agreed and began to select visuals from his writings to fill the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room on his website.

The Knowledge Worker

Broadly, the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room is for people who think for a living. They use and create knowledge to generate results and may be managers, consultants, trainers, executives, students, or academics. In short, they are knowledge workers like us.

Fred describes knowledge workers as “people who apply and occasionally create knowledge in order to produce results.” What sets knowledge workers apart from others is that they must tailor their responses to the current problem or opportunity rather than simply follow a standard routine. Their core skill is problem solving. Their goal is to design a course of action that will produce the desired result and then manage events so those results are achieved. To be successful, knowledge workers need tools that produce the kinds of results they want in the types of situations they encounter.

The contents of the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room serve the work and the worker. Effective tools make the work itself more productive and the worker more achieving. If you are not yet familiar with the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room, now is a perfect time to visit and see what is available to you.

How to Use the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room

The Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room is a work in progress with new tools added frequently. Visitors to the Tool Room will find a carefully managed selection of thumbnails of the current tools available. Clicking on a thumbnail brings up a larger image. Clicking on the text below a thumbnail takes you to the tool. Each tool fits on one page with the visual and a small descriptive text. Each one-page tool also contains a link to longer pieces for those who want more information.

Often, performance improvement specialists are not familiar with the tools available to them or, if they do know what is out there, they are not sure which tool to choose. The Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room is a useful source for a broad variety of tools that are easy to access and fun to explore.

The Power of Visuals

As performance technologists, we have access to numerous tools to help us do our work. We have seen them in our workplaces and in the professional literature, attended presentations where tools were shared, and often we have had opportunities to try them out. Some of us, like Fred, have built our own.

Many of our thought leaders over the years have emphasized the value of “making it visible” when sharing information or making recommendations for improved performance. We asked Fred about the significance of the visual aspect of the tools in the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room. He said, “The visual aspect is the heart of the tool. The accompanying words just make clear how to use it or to what it applies.” Visuals done well are engaging to look at; simplify complex concepts; and can be self-explanatory, or nearly so.

We have featured visual practitioners in this space over the years and draw your attention to two previous interviews. Bob Horn talked about visual language, among other topics, at And Lynn Kearny,, was spot-on when she predicted an increase in the prevalence of visual communication in the workplace.

Advice to Users

Fred believes that visitors to the Tool Room are attracted by the visuals themselves and that they find value in the lucidity of the concepts and potential uses made clear in the visual representations. You can find a visual to use in a presentation, a tool to help you with a current problem, or a way to communicate a complex idea.

Tool Room visitors say things like:

These are the kinds of tools that take forever to either find or create when needing to put together a quick presentation. Thanks for all your efforts and great organization that went into this.

Very nice, Fred! I bookmarked it for later reference, but what I love most on the quick overview is the three levels of detail I can choose–the quick visual, the paragraph supporting the visual, and then the link to more detail. Thanks!

As a visual person, this is FANTASTIC! Thank you so much for the thumbprint pictures. It’ll make it a lot faster for me to find what I’m looking for. I appreciate you making all this information available to us.

Success Story
Fred finds that traffic to his website is up recently with the majority of visitors going specifically to the Tool Room where the average visit duration has also increased. He welcomes feedback from visitors about their experiences and is happy to answer questions by phone at 740.504.0000  or email.

Links to the Performance Technology Landscape

The Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room supports these principles of performance technology:

R Focus on Results–All the tools are designed to produce results.
S Take a System view–The tools are either part of a system or are used to explain a system.
V Add Value–The Tool Room adds value for our profession.
P Establish Partnerships–By building the Tool Room, Fred partners with all its users.

Application Exercise
Visit the Knowledge Worker’s Tool Room. Click on a visual that interests you. Click two more times to see the full supporting text. How might you make use of the tool you selected?

ISPI in Five Years?
Fred would like to see ISPI double its membership in five years and have HPT be a hot topic of discussion among senior managers and executives.

Drucker, P. (1969). The age of discontinuity. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Drucker, P. (1973). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Taylor, F. (1911). Scientific management. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Find all the models and tools featured in TrendSpotters at

Contact Carol Haig at or at

Contact Roger Addison at