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Fred Nickols

"Tool Maker for Knowledge Workers"

About My Work

I'm in the business of making business better. My work centers on three broad categories of performance: people, processes and organizations.  For the most part, solutions to problems in these areas are "engineered," that is, brought about as the result of skillful, artful contrivance, not as the result of employing by-the-book approaches.

I was employed as an Executive Director at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey from July of 1990 until mid-December of 2001.  I left to devote more time to reading, writing and consulting.  Before joining ETS, I was Senior Vice President for Systems & Operations at a financial services firm in New York City.  Before that, I was an independent consultant as well as a member of three small consulting firms.  For details, see my resume.

My main intellectual interests include performance, productivity, systems, work and working (especially knowledge work), management, organizations and, above all else, learning, problem solving, decision making and human behavior.  I've spent many years developing and refining a problem-solving approach called "Solution Engineering."  One problem with which I've been wrestling for more than 40 years is the shift to knowledge work and its implications for management, productivity, performance and the knowledge worker.  I've spent several years refining a model of human behavior and performance called "The Target (GAP-ACT) Model."  It is based on Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) as articulated by William T. Powers.  

You will find a PDF version of a PowerPoint presentation about me at this link: Fred Nickols


About Me

I was born in Fort Madison, Iowa in 1937. I graduated from Fort Madison High School in 1955 and, three days later, joined the United States Navy.

I spent 19 years and three months in the Navy, retiring in 1974 as a decorated Chief Petty Officer (E-7).  My rating or occupational specialty was that of FT or fire control technician.  I was responsible for operating, maintaining and repairing complex, shipboard weapons systems (guns and missiles).   Early in my Navy career, I was trained in electronics, servo-mechanisms, optics, hydraulics, gyroscopes, radar, electro-mechanical analog computers and ballistics.  Later, in advanced technical training, I learned about mathematics, ranging from simple arithmetic through algebra, plane geometry, trigonometry and calculus (differential and integral).  Still later, I learned about missiles and digital computers.   Most important, I learned about the fire control problem - which is essentially a problem in changing rates of change, all having to do with how to hit a moving target (a handy skill, even in the civilian world).  Beyond these technical skills, I was also trained as a classroom instructor, a programmed instruction writer, an instructional systems developer and an internal organization development (OD) consultant.  In the early 1970s, I ran the programmed instruction writer's course at the Navy's Instructor Training School in San Diego and, while there, I developed the Navy's first instructional systems development training course. 

Since retiring from the Navy in 1974, I've worked roughly 25 years as an independent management consultant and another 15 years as an executive. 

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This page last updated on November 18, 2014