Overview: Future or Revival?
The Future Work Skills 2020 Report seeks to bring into focus critical skills necessary to succeed in the work environment of 2020. Gathering experts in diverse fields such as Education, Technology, Work and Health, the IFTF aggregated data, and applied insights from its own methodology to form this report.
This is but one of several studies from educational institutions seeking to make order out of a rapidly changing world. Our culture is at an inflection point. At question is the human relationship with technology, and implications for management and proper development of human potential. How can we make the best of this rising technology, while honoring our innate human powers of abstraction and innovation?
The study is careful to point out that they do not care to predict jobs of the future but skills necessary to succeed, as the future world is a moving target. Instead of 2020, it might be said these are skills necessary to succeed today, as organizations struggle with a change that is already underway, but poorly understood. Organizations are feeling the affects, yet may not know why. We see companies such as Yahoo struggle with this, making arbitrary decisions about working at home, versus the value of in-person collaboration and shared mission. So far our traditional and reactive approach to these questions lacks nuance and understanding.
It might also be argued that these are a revival of skills that are natural to humans, developed over centuries of social contact with one another in a world where work and family was more closely intertwined. We need to both rediscover these skills, and learn how to adapt them to an environment that is rapidly changing and global in its scope.
Instead of lifting and moving objects, we sense, seek, and manipulate abstracted ideas through the power of technology. Technology itself relates back to us humans by using these same abstractions to seem familiar and non-threatening, through interface design. How technology itself can drive value for the future remains in our hands, requiring a thorough consideration of management roles and techniques such as environments, evaluative measures and incentives.
Humans and Technology: an evolving space
Processing power and smarter automation will integrate with human consciousness at every level. New forms of technology will integrate into our environments and in some cases become completely transparent. “The Machine” can simply accomplish brute-force tasks faster, and provide us with more valuable data than ever before. Harnessing this output in collaboration with humanity becomes the challenge of our age. We need to re-evaluate our relationship with technology itself, and weigh what “work” means alongside this new partner.
It comes down to simply letting machines do what they do best- process and move data. This allows humans to apply their unique human intelligences to guide this power into the future. The challenge for us is to build management structures that allow this to happen naturally to improve the workplace.
Six Drivers of Change
The Future Work Skills Study brings into focus six specific forces that are driving the evolution of the work, and home environment. Business value will come from the unique interpretation and application of these concepts in new and compelling ways. The question becomes one of creativity and insight, as our management and work structures need to evolve to make the best of these forces:
- Extreme Longevity – People live and work longer, and have multiple careers in a lifetime. It’s no longer possible to have one career with no expectation of change. People need to be flexible and adapt to changing requirements over time.
- Rise of Smart Machines and Systems – Workplace automation, and closer integration with machines in many unique forms, will replace nearly all rote and repetitive tasks. Nearly any task will be subject to this change. It’s important to let automation do what it does well, and encourage humans to apply their unique creativity and insight to guide the computational power of these machines. Understanding and adopting our role as stewards of technical systems, instead of competitors, is key to success.
- Computational World – The world becomes a programmable system with access to massive inputs of data and computing power to sense trends. We need to be able to recognize the nature of this equation, and seek ways to harness this computational power creatively against valid human needs.
- New Media Ecology – New modes of communication demand literacy beyond text into images, sound, and video. Communication becomes the primary currency in this new world of ideas and concepts. To trade in ideas is to communicate.
- Superstructed Organizations – Social structures will drive new forms of value creation, beyond traditional roles and corporate rankings. Individuals will need to create value on the basis of ad-hoc contributions where and when it suits. The timeworn org chart will inevitably give way to gatherings more like an organism than a machine. This structural change will allow for rapid adaptation and successful evolution alongside rapid technological change.
- Globally Connected World – Interconnectivity drives a need for diversity and adaptability of culture, thought pattern and expectations. We’re no longer a monolithic industrial culture. To succeed, we need to recognize concepts and ideas that will come at different frequencies, and from different value-systems.
Skills for 2020, and now
As a result of these six forces, the study identifies a set of new skills necessary to succeed in the world of 2020, though as stated above these also apply today in many situations. Adapting and developing these skills to varying degrees will be critical to every person seeking to drive value in the new economy. It will be critical for our education systems to foster these skills in multiple ways.
These skills rely on the still-unique capability of humans over machines, notably the ability to think in abstract ways, and to form connections among people and data from a collection of information, using insight and human intuition. These are the ways humans will excel over machines for the foreseeable future:
- Sense Making – Apply human context to information, and generate insights that can guide strategy and decision-making (value creation). This allows humans to resolve ambiguity through the application of social context and intuition.
- Social Intelligence – Utilizing ‘feeling’ as a component, and respecting Emotional Intelligence and socialized cues is a basis for decision-making and engagement.
- Novel and Adaptive Thinking – Machines as yet are uniquely incapable of this synthesis. It calls for application of situational adaptability, and utilizing natural intuition and intelligence with new problems as they arise.
- Cross-Cultural Competency – Able to leverage empathy and multiple perspectives to find areas of mutual benefit and connection. Humans can form Can form shared goals and priorities, and frame the opportunity space in compelling ways to each other in ways machine technology can’t.
- Computational Thinking – Humans need to filter and manipulate large datasets to find the critical information necessary at the moment. Though machines can provide data, precisely which data becomes a human question. Humans can resolve ambiguity and can reconcile contradictory information in order to move forward.
- New-Media Literacy – Humans are able to communicate in multiple ways beyond words. This is the basis of art, a uniquely human trait, with storytelling, narrative and empathy.
- Transdisciplinarity – Able to understand a range of concepts across disciplines. What is the implication of something in another context altogether? What new meaning does it create when put in an entirely new structure?
- Design Mindset – Creativity based on a desired outcome is the art-form of design. What are the conditions that will create a certain outcome? Who is affected, and how will they respond to this input? Humans can hold apparently contradictory goals and find creative ways to drive value in these situations.
- Cognitive Load Management – Humans are able to filter and ignore what is not important, as a survival skill. Finding ways to focus on what is immediately relevant is highly related to sense-making.
- Virtual Collaboration – Humans in work environments can be present and able to create value in multiple forms in virtualized environments. Being sensitive to context whether in person, or as part of a virtualized space is critical in our distributed workspace.
Education and support
Educational systems will need to recognize this sea change and help focus on these ten skills of the future. Instead of rote learning, we need to honor broad education that provides human context, that creates the broad top of a “T” shaped employee. Focusing on Liberal Arts as well as on technical skills will help create a working population who can see context, and who have the skills to make the valuable connections among collaborators and the ever-growing mountain of information presented by technology.
The inflexible organization won’t succeed
Organizations need to acknowledge rapidly changing expectations both from employers and employees, and be open to re-engineering of the social contract. This technical revolution stands to completely change the nature of work and value creation. It’s not about Managers and Workers anymore. It becomes a relationship among Enablers and Contributors.
The challenge remains for management to become Enablers, leading in this transition. This will be difficult, as it threatens to up-end traditional power structures within enterprises large and small. We can no longer grant power to those who simply stand at the top of the pyramid. Authority will come to those who adopt a leadership stance that enables and promotes individual creativity and initiative. Leaders who can create the safe environment for collaboration and innovation will find themselves pushed to the top as their initiatives succeed over more traditional power structures.
It’s no longer acceptable to take a single role, or do a single task without question. We must as Contributors find ways to create value and handle change as individuals leveraging our unique skills as independent thinkers; humans.
Organizations who can build evaluation and incentive systems that honor this new structure, while promoting individual creativity and collaboration will come out ahead in this transition.