Tomorrow’s Skill Sets Today: Being Future Skills Ready

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By Lynn Oucharek

No organization today remains untouched by the ongoing shifts in our economic, technological and cultural landscapes. With the pace of those shifts continuing to increase, even the hardiest of us can feel like every day is a roller coaster ride—with no certain destination.

Planning for the future can be a challenge given the ongoing nature of the changes in play. As a result, while it is difficult to predict exactly what future work will look like, the nature of the shifts we are experiencing puts an emphasis on developing particular skills in the present—many of which are centred on becoming better collaborators and problem solvers.

The great news is that gaining these competencies empowers the whole person—granting us the opportunity to use our individual talents and grow in confidence, while better serving our teams and organizations.

Simple Steps to a New Mindset
Working with organizations to foster innovation and engagement, I have seen the results of making ‘future critical’ skill sets a present day reality. Embracing a mindset wherein small risks and experiments become the norm brings down walls, and allows for trial, failure, and kickstarting the curiosity required so people—and organizations as a result—can truly thrive.

Most importantly, gaining this experience is less about large scale programs and more about a commitment to simple, ongoing practices which can move through leadership teams to your front line as part of existing activities, projects and processes.

From thought leaders at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) to those connected with technological changes and social impact like economist Andrew McAfee, all agree the next industrial revolution is already underway. Alex Gray’s WEF article, “The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in The Fourth Industrial Revolution,” and McAfee’s TedTalk, “What Will Future Jobs Look Like?” are both well worth a look.

So, the question is how can we create fertile ground for the competencies needed most? Taking practical steps to stay ahead of the curve is key. Here are some areas to focus on and ideas you can start with as you look ahead.

Complex Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
The ability to be an outstanding problem solver and idea developer—especially on the fly—is more important than ever. As technology takes on a larger degree of first level problem solving and rote tasks, how we look at challenges and develop more complex solutions will be highly valued at all levels.  This is not just for the MBAs in your group, but a necessity for everyone.

Organizations like Toyota have long expected all employees, right down to the factory floor, to put forward ideas on how to make their products and services better. Everyone’s voice and perspective matters.

The most awarded thinkers make a practice of searching out diverse sources of information daily. With a variety of exposure points, you’ll have a pool to pull from when a crisis hits or new solutions are needed immediately. Great thinking does not live in a vacuum.

Analyzing and Prioritizing Information
The ability to deal with the sheer volume of incoming information—and then be able to recognize the relevant points to create answers—will be coveted. Other extensions to watch for in this realm are mind/machine interfaces where information and decision-making is shared with the technology which empowers us.

On a simpler level, consider the design-thinking practice from Tom Kelley’s YouTube presentation, “Thinking Like A Traveler. Pay attention to the moment with the same heightened senses with which you take in a new vacation spot—pull minute details from the everyday so you can find new discoveries and ignite ideas. It’s an easy way to get back into—or develop—the habit of seeing things with fresh eyes and analyzing information on a higher level.

Making and Prototyping
The ability to turn information into matter and vice-versa—or break down products and processes, and then build them back up through prototypes and 3D printed materials—will be a much sought after talent.

This requires tapping your inner MacGyver which can take effort; we may have become a little rusty since our stand-out fifth grade science project. A terrific start in this area is jumping in to the world of design-thinking and more specifically building prototypes.
If this sounds complicated, consider taking IDEO’s Design Thinking Prototyping (plusacumen.org/courses/prototyping/) course online through the Acumen Fund. Having taken it myself, I can attest to how surprised you’ll be at what you’re capable of creating—and how much more confident you are at moving thoughts to solid examples.

Reigniting Creativity,Curiosity and Adaptability
The ability to focus your inner 10-year-old to make full use of your innate creative abilities in any given scenario will enable the speed and success of your best-built solutions. Re-energizing your curiosity—and the understanding of how to ask great questions—will become table stakes in the next era.

Begin with something as simple as switching your Internet browser to create change in this area.  According to Adam Grant, author of The Originals, research on moving from your default browser to alternative browsers can result in increased curiosity, work performance and fresh perspectives which will allow you to adapt to new situations that arise.

Being a Connector, Collaborator and Storyteller
One of the elements great connectors have in common is taking both data and challenges and turning them into stories with which people can connect. Connecting global and diverse workforces will go hand-in-hand. The ability to bridge gaps across platforms and cultures with collaborative teams will become common place.

If you want to create engagement through your communications, try integrating Pixar’s top storytelling secrets into your next presentation or discussion. Additionally, consider that MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) offer the opportunity to build experience working on international group projects. Recently a friend took an online course through Stanford which allowed them to experience new technology and work closely with team mates from India to Argentina.

Increasing Service Connection and Community

As in Robert Putnam’s classic book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, we know that the decline of community connection will continue to have ongoing negative effects on individuals and their sense of wellbeing at work and home. The need for work environments to create social capital or relationships which can fill gaps in connection and support a whole person perspective will become more important than ever.

Take a look at your current social responsibility program, is there an opening to help people build relationships while doing good for others?  Don’t think big events as much as lighter occasions.

Getting Smart About Emotional Intelligence
There are many discussions surrounding emotional intelligence or EQ, and our ability to empathize with others. Unfortunately, we see empathy scores declining, and recent University of Michigan research shows a 40 per cent decrease in EQ scores of college students after the year 2000. Moving forward the ability to reach out to others and create engagement will continue to be sought after in order to pull together high functioning teams and environments.

Try stepping away from your digital devices and focusing 15 minutes a day on building work relationships.  I’ll guarantee you’ll see a difference in your interactions and experiences within weeks.

Often the largest hurdle I see with introducing these types of skills is a lack of confidence in our abilities. For many of us, the first step is moving out of our comfort zone, which is easier said than done.

First, foremost, and lastly: success with much of this knowledge is hinged on developing environments which support learning and welcome vulnerability, allowing individuals to take more risks while building great collaborations along the way—no matter what twists and turns lies on the road ahead.

Lynn Oucharek is founder, head cheerleader and idea juicer of Ovision Consulting, committed to finding way stop ignite the desire for great work, engagement and bigger ideas in others.

(PeopleTalk Summer 2016)

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