It’s no secret that the future of work is changing: the days of working at a respectable company until you can afford to build your dream home and retire with a comfortable pension are over.
Massive change is coming our way. Extreme longevity, unbridled population growth, the explosion of information flows, globally connected worlds, huge technological progress, big data, the rise of smart machines, and the advent of artificial intelligence are all quickly becoming a reality. The very nature of work might change forever. According to the World Economic Forum, in merely five years from now, over one-third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have become obsolete. How are we supposed to brave these fundamental transformations? Even more so, how can we harness them to drive our business to success?
1) Embrace change
The first rule of the future business world is not to resist the transformations to come. Don’t expect to grow old in one particular sector. Faced with many new challenges, we must be ready to adapt and evolve. Transitions can be very scary but they will prove necessary. Don’t be the one who drowns on the sinking ship merely because you were too afraid to jump into the cold water.
In order to stay competitive, it is essential to equip yourself with a diverse skill set that is relevant as well as highly transferable to different fields. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Be inquisitive. Be prepared to unlearn what you took for granted. Open yourself to new learning experiences. Remain on the lookout for new trends and big drivers, be it technological or socio-economic. Stay willing to continue learning far beyond the years of formal education. Evaluate which skills will push you ahead and will give you a competitive edge. Then, relentlessly pursue them.
2) Get creative
All signs point to the rising importance of creative skills. A well-known IBM survey of over 1500 CEOs from across the globe actually cited creativity as the single most important characteristic of tomorrow’s leading organizations.
Robots will quickly surpass our abilities to do manual labour if they have not already done so. Hence, there will be a rising demand for the kinds of skills machines are not good at. A robot might be able to produce cars much more efficiently than we do, but will it ever be able to invent an entirely unprecedented concept of mobility? Proficiency in higher-level adaptive thinking and creativity will be the foundation of success. Computers will always beat us at coming up with rules-based solutions by simply churning massive amounts of data. It is with out-of the box thinking that we can prevail.
3) Value transdisciplinarity
Another way to create a competitive edge for yourself or your business is to develop a broad set of proficiencies across multiple disciplines. In the past, acquiring expertise in a specific field was a straight path to success. Alas, specialization will only get you so far in today’s world. Many of the current global problems are simply too complex to be solved by one discipline. This translates directly into the business world. The more complex the challenge ahead, the more likely you are to overcome it through unorthodox thinking.
The ideal profile that will almost certainly boost your business or career is ’T-shaped’. This means that your skills cover a broad range of disciplines in which you are proficient but still offer deep specialized knowledge in one of them. Especially in a business environment where you can be certain to embark on different ventures throughout your career, the T-shaped profile of transdisciplinarity is a lifesaver.
4) Cultivate Empathy
Empathy lies at the heart of 21st-century work. Why? Because empathy is the key to successful collaboration. The software company Atlassian recently sponsored a study on the future teamwork. Their results are telling. 90% of companies stated that they are working on problems so complex they simply can’t be solved by individuals. Teams are a requirement. Yet, 75% of teams report being dysfunctional. So before even worrying about AI and robots taking over, we should take a hard look at how we can solve our basic human deficiencies.
So what does it take to develop an empathetic working style? According to Dr. Brene Brown, a leading researcher on vulnerability and empathy, empathy consists of four qualities: the ability to take the perspective of another person, staying away from judgment, recognizing emotion in others, and communicating that emotion. Working on those skills will go a long way.
5) Hone your cross-cultural competency
Linked tightly to the last point is cross-cultural competency. This will become an important skill for us all, not just those people who have to operate in diverse geographical environments. Organizations have come to see diversity as an immense asset as it works as a driver of innovation. Research has shown that the more diverse a group, i.e. in terms of age, skills, disciplines, working and thinking styles, the more innovative they are. Scott E. Page, professor and director of the Center of the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan has demonstrated that diverse groups outperform like-minded experts.
Yet, diversity is a double-edged sword. The innovative potential of diversity can be compromised if people cannot overcome their individual differences at the work space. In order to transcend these differences and collaborate effectively, we need to learn how to navigate in culturally and socially diverse settings. We need to learn how to create cohesion between our team members by identifying and communicating points of connection, such as shared goals.
In the end, our best chance to be successful in the future world of work is finding a venture that lies at the intersection of what we are deeply passionate about and where your talents lie. Combine this with the skills listed in this article and you are weathered for any storm to come. It ultimately all boils down to one question.