The most important skills for the future

"What are the most important skills for the future I need to help my children start developing now?" 

I was asked the above question by an audience member a few years ago, immediately after a keynote that I had opened with:-

"65% of children entering primary school today, will enter jobs that don't exist yet" *

I had gone on to hypothesize what a few of those jobs might be (some of which have already become real jobs) as I outlined the key drivers of innovation, change and transformation that are shaping our near future.

What clearly shook the person in front of me, was just how unprepared his children were going to be for the future world of work if he was going to rely solely on the current education system to prepare them for it!

AND - I suspect he was more than a little concerned about his own future employability as I had also pointed out that the current half-life of a job skill is around 5 years ........ and falling!

He continued with a barrage of further questions - "Should I be sending them to code camp? What computer languages and applications should they be mastering? What technologies should they focus on? How can I even prepare them for a future that is unknown?".

His first 3 questions were in my opinion, not the right questions to be asking.

Sadly however, it seems that these are the very same questions that management in many organisations appear to consider when contemplating their own employees and they also often appear to be the questions many people ask themselves too!

His final question he asked just before he was forced to take a breath, was the one I answered.

I was reminded of my response during the recent interview with Stan Horwitz who shared his Digital Transformation Monsters and Myths and we ended up talking for a bit about how people could better prepare themselves to face the future.

I shared the following 3 skills which I consider to be the most important skills for the future that EVERYONE needs to have in order to face the future (not just kids):-

Constant curiosity coupled with an insatiable thirst for knowledge

Kids and (most) small animals are constantly curious. This is how they test boundaries and learn the way the world around them works. If you are a parent, or you can remember your youth, you will know that every child goes through that "WHY" phase ....... which can be frustrating at times!! It's tempting to answer some of these questions with "because I say so" but it's far more productive to say "why don't you go and find out and then come back and tell me what you think the answer is".

I am frequently frustrated by the naive, uninformed opinions and blatant biases put forward as irrefutable arguments by my own friends and family on social media. They clearly fell foul of their parents "because I say so" trap and now they simply regurgitate other people's opinions as their own "because they say so".

I can't figure out if they don't care or they simply don't know how to fact check.

And they certainly don't seem to have any idea how to separate out the concepts of correlation and causation.

For example, there is a correlation between ice-cream sales and drowning - in many countries, there are more deaths by drowning reported on days with high ice-cream sales than days with low ice-cream sales.

Now some people might leap to the (frankly ridiculous) assumption that eating ice-cream causes drowning ........... and they end up sharing such a ridiculous statement on social media. But high ice-cream sales are normally reported on hot, sunny days - when many more people go out swimming and therefore are likely to drown - not because they ate an ice-cream!

Correlation does not imply causation.

I chose this example as a simple illustration of what happens when people don't apply simple logic and basic research principles in order to reach their own opinion on a topic.

You will be surprised (or maybe not) at how many times I have seen this very same flawed logic applied by people in business!

When you are constantly curious, you constantly question EVERYTHING until you feel you have accumulated enough information and different points of view in order to form your OWN opinion.

And you learn to ask the right questions - yet another skill that is largely lacking in many people.

I've never grown out of my "WHY" phase ......... and I encourage everyone to tap into their inner child to do the same.

The next on my most important skills for the future list is

A sense of adventure and exploration

This builds on the first skill but takes it further.

So many parents limit their children's interests to their own.

Many parents try to force their children to pursue careers, pastimes and activities that they themselves had done or wished they could have done.

They consciously and unconsciously impose their biases and beliefs on their children.

  • "you must take piano lessons" (because I did)
  • "you must join this sport team - you'll love it" (because I did, even though you are an introvert and love painting, which I don't understand)
  • "you must become a lawyer" (because it's family tradition)
  • "don't waste your time on music, it will never pay the bills" (because I say so)

and so it goes on and on.

And many organisations do exactly the same thing.

They hire people with industry experience. They look for people that are the same as them. They reject ideas and concepts that don't come from within their own industry. They seldom (if ever) venture beyond their own known areas of expertise.

How will we ever discover our true potential if we are constrained by some else's limiting beliefs?

We need to strike out and explore - beyond the horizons of those that try to limit us.

When we embark on adventures, no matter how big or how small, we rapidly build resilience as we learn to deal with ambiguity and unexpected events in order to survive and thrive in a new environment.

We pick up new knowledge and skills that we may never have thought we needed, that may have many applications in many diverse areas of our lives.

In fact scanning the horizon for opportunity is one of the critical skills I teach in regular workshops - how can you ever expect to deal with the ambiguity of the future if you don't know what lies beyond your current horizon?

Now of course I'm not suggesting that you put your kids (or yourself) in danger by setting them out in the world to go and explore all by themselves - but I am asking you to support and actively encourage them to explore - when last did you push yourself to explore beyond your known limits?

The final skill I personally believe needs to be developed is

The will to succeed without the fear of failure.

This is NOT the same as "giving everyone a participation prize" so that everyone feels like they have succeeded.

Nor does this mean encouraging reckless abandon.

For context - I was brought up to fear failure.

My father was tough and old school - to him, outcomes were binary - you succeed or you failed.

He could be a bit of a b*st*rd at times and failure was punished.

I mean physically punished - with a belt, strap or sjambok as it was known in South Africa.

His reasoning was that failure has consequences and I needed to learn that failure means pain.

He was wrong.

Yes, he taught me to fear failure.

But the result was that I was too afraid to try anything that I might fail in.

The approach of "everyone gets a participation prize" does not reflect life either and it too encourages the wrong behaviour.

When everyone gets a participation prize, there is no incentive to succeed.

All actions have consequences and this is an important lesson for everyone to learn.

Later in life I learned that failure is a necessary part of learning. It's how we improve and learn not to fail (or at least not to fail in the same way).

Nobody ever learned to ride a bicycle without falling off a few times.

Fail fast and often, learn from each failure, improve, iterate, succeed.

That's when life rewards you.

So encourage your kids, your team and yourself to succeed.

Give them space and time to fail without reward (don't get me started on the whole "let's celebrate our failure" culture of Silicon Valley startups right now.....) but more importantly, without fear.

No matter what industry you are in, no matter what career path you have chosen, no matter what age and stage of your life you are in, these are what I consider to be the most important skills for the future for everyone to have as the core foundation to build upon.

These are the skills that will endure the test of time - all others are transient.

What would you add to the list?