To embody future work skills we have to counter our evolution

When I embarked on the project of building the Fourth Industrial I had very little understanding of the 10 future work skills identified by the Institute for the Future in their seminal 2011 report ‘Future Work Skills 2020’.

The journey has become somewhat of a story in itself and also a great learning experience. So I have decided to share some of this in the occasional random article.

My first area of interest was understanding the inter-connectedness between these 10 skills. A large number of people contributed to the project’s workshops; many conversations were had before the final top 10 were decided upon.

It became clear to me fairly quickly that the skills could be divided into those which require us to effectively interface with and utilise machines (we call this Working with the Bots) and Others. Take for example Computational Thinking (CT). Here is Google’s definition of CT ‘Computational Thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out’. Given that the continued ascendancy of the machine and the rise of automation are at the heart of the 4th Industrial Revolution future workforces need to be CT savvy. And we aren’t talking working with word processors here. These machines require us to understand a goal, identify inputs, define constraints and dependencies then construct these into a language through which we communicate with the machine. It’s not pressing buttons and it isn’t coming to the rust belt of any country, any time soon.

Another skill we have placed in the Working with the Bots category is Cognitive Load Management (CLM). It has its genesis in the domain of instructional design but in the IFTF’s future CLM is about managing the massive data load coming our way every, single day. We can’t work effectively if we don’t manage the data associated with the technology that enables our work.

Then we have the Walk and Talk in the New World of Work. This is about new ways of navigating and new ways of communicating. Sitting in this category are Virtual Collaboration and Cross Cultural Competence (both skills I think we all have a basic grasp on) Transdisciplinarity and New Media Literacy (NML).

Transdisciplinarity, according to the Institute for the Future’s report, relates to the development of more than one competence. It refers to the ‘T shape’. Workers of the future will require mastery of one discipline and good grasp on a couple of others.

And I liked this definition: ‘Transdisciplinarity has been described as a practice that transgresses and transcends disciplinary boundaries’ source. There is a groundswell of opinion that pedagogy must change to reflect the reality of work and that education institutions are not changing fast enough. And the type of changes required are on a revolutionary level.

Google defines NML thus ‘Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media.’ Well, the ML part anyway and then we add the New to the skill because there has been an extraordinary rise in new media. And it requires skills different to the media of old.

Then there is the Art of Humanness. These skills focus on what the Institute for the Future refers to as our ‘humanness’. That which separates us from machines. These skills include: Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Social Intelligence, SenseMaking and Design Mindset.

I’ve spent every day since July last year trying to understand these skills from the people who make them their own. Researchers, scientists, academics, educators, consultants, authors some of whom have now joined our faculty and are currently designing and building the training program that will be released in June.

So, we have categorised the skills based on similarities but what about connectedness? Apart from CT one shared characteristic associated with the embodiment of these skills is being present.

New Media Literacy requires the user to be a conscious consumer of media. You need to be present in the decisions you make, you have to be in control of your message, you have to be critical of information presented to you.

These skills require a disposition of deliberateness. Most people have to think about them or they forget to use them. Many people don’t know to use them because they don’t know they exist. A big question that has arisen for me is whether these future work skills are counter to our cognitive constitution. Are actually wired to be reckless, reactive, self-serving organisms blinded by our own existence?

Take Novel and Adaptive Thinking (N&AT).  Novel thinking (or creative thinking) requires humans to dispense with bounded rationality. We all suffer from it and we are blinded by it: we can only see through the lens of our own experience, we only know what we know. This limits creativity significantly.

Adaptive Thinking is what it says on the label. At work, now and increasingly in the future, we are required to adapt our thinking based on the changing circumstances presented to us. We have to stop, reflect, adjust. We have to be conscious and present to do this. Our ancient brains would have us react the way we routinely react because this is a survival mechanism.

SenseMaking requires us to spend a significantly longer time on the problem than we do on the solution. Again, speed to solution is a human trait. Ruminating on a problem doesn’t seem to come naturally to us.

Social Intelligence requires us to be present; to stop to observe and to adapt in favour of the human beings around us; sometimes to the betterment of them as opposed to ourselves. It’s not about us, it’s about others. A notion quite counter to natural instincts.

Design Mindset requires us to be empathetic to others when designing a product, system, process; anything others will use. We have to stop and think about others as an essential path to creating optimal experiences for our fellow human beings.

Even a quick glance at Virtual Collaboration and Cross Cultural Competence leads me again to the conclusion that these skills require mindfulness, and empathy.

I’m looking forward to learning more about these skills but I already know one thing: that to embody these skills in my work I need to be self-aware, actively seek out opportunities to apply them, to lead with empathy, to be conscious of my actions and be present. Because it seems I am not cognitively wired to do this subconsciously.

PS: The image is a photo I took today as I sat at the water’s edge and formulated this article. What struck me was that the boat in the front is a very traditional craft, in the middle ground there is a more contemporary one and in the background a large naval ship no doubt fitted out with the latest technology in warfare. In one frame we see an evolution but they are all still boats. And similarly we are all evolving at different levels but we are all still people. And we can master our destiny by accessing and elevating that which sets us aside from machines.

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