Friday, February 17, 2012

Institute of the Future: Future Work Skills 2020

In a December 2011 report for the University of Phoenix Research Institute, the Institute for the Future investigated the key drivers influencing the world of work, as well as identify the proficiencies and abilities needed across different jobs and work settings (1). While 2020 was used as a prediction point, many of the skills are critical, right now.

Drivers are defined as “big disruptive shifts that are likely to reshape the future landscape.”  The six drivers they identified are:

·         Extreme Life Longevity
·         Rise of Smart Machines and Systems
·         Computational World
·         New Media Ecology
·         Superstructed Organizations (‘superstruct’ means creating new forms of organization that go beyond those with which we are familiar. For example, new structures emerging from application of social technologies)
·         Globally Connected World

Given these disruptive forces, 10 skills emerge as highly relevant to the productivity of the future workforce:

·         Sense-Making: Being capable of getting to the deeper meaning or significance of what is being communicated
·         Social Intelligence: Being capable of relating to others deeply and directly
·         Novel & Adaptive Thinking: Being capable of thinking and solution-generating outside of the norm to respond to unexpected and unique situations.
·         Cross-Cultural Competency: Being capable of operating in unfamiliar cultural settings, and utilizing differences for innovation.
·         Computational Thinking: Being capable of translating large amounts of data into useful abstract concepts, and to understand data-based reasoning.
·         New-Media Literacy: Being capable of leveraging new media forms to communicate persuasively.
·         Transdisciplinarity: Being capable of understanding concepts across different disciplines to solve multifaceted problems.
·         Design Mindset: Being capable of designing tasks, processes, and work environments to help produce the outcomes we want.
·         Cognitive Load Management: Being capable of filtering important information from the ‘noise’, and using new tools to expand our mental functioning abilities.
·         Virtual Collaboration: Being capable of working productively with others across virtual distances. 
 All of these skills resonate with my own thinking about the future workplace, but let me frame them a little differently. Playing and re-framing often helps me understand more clearly. I would have liked to see ‘play’ mentioned more explicitly in the list, but I assume it’s part of Novel & Adaptive Thinking.

I see five interdependent skill clusters. At the center would be Virtual Collaboration and spinning around this nucleus would be four electrons: Relationships, Data, Meaning, and Innovation.

Virtual Collaboration: The rapid development of collaboration technologies, along with the competitive need to leverage the knowledge and skills of a global talent pool, are pushing and pulling Virtual Collaboration onto center stage. New Media Literacy is a skill in its own right, but also a critical component of virtual collaboration.

Relationships: Highly productive collaboration within and across geographic, cultural and organizational borders will depend on high levels of Cross-Cultural Competency and Social Intelligence.  Technology will not be the differentiating success factor; the quality of the relationships enabled by the technology will make the difference.

Data: The increasingly massive amounts of data becoming available create high stress points for individuals and collaborative groups.  Finding patterns and filtering out the ‘noise’ are of great importance, and so Computational Thinking and Cognitive Load Management are essential to future work.

Meaning: In a highly complex world of multiple cultures and disciplines, superficial and one-dimensional thinking can lead to overly simplistic understandings and solutions. Real meaning and significance can be lost when we rush to impose what is familiar.  While simplicity can be a virtue, ‘simplistic’ never is. Avoiding dangerous over-simplification requires both Sense-Making and Transdisciplinarity.     

Innovation: In a hyper-competitive environment driven at Internet speeds, few innovations will have a very long shelf life. That doesn’t mean stop innovating, it means innovate faster or go obsolete. In creating and implementing the ‘new’, Novel & Adaptive Thinking and a Design Mindset are must-haves.

I’m a great fan of the Institute for the Future, and I hope they don’t mind me ‘playing’ with their work. to access the full report.



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