What Skills Will People Need In the Future?

I started reading a book about what sort of skills people will need to have in the future in order to survive and thrive.  I am interested in this because I see the rise of robots and artificial intelligence happening very fast.  This will have some big implications to our society.

Most see obstacles.  I see opportunity.  But, you have to be in the right frame of mind and set yourself up to take advantage of the opportunity.  As Henry Ford said, “If I listened to my customers I would have built a faster horse.”

My friend Brad Feld has said, “Startups are transforming our society. Over the past 100 years, we’ve gone from an industrial era to a post information era where the network is rapidly disrupting the hierarchy and transforming the way we work and live.”

Arvind Sodhani of Intel Capital said, “What’s different today is that we are seeing on a daily basis revolutionary new ideas, devices, and form factors, not evolutionary enhancements.”

A Chicago think tank, The Doblin Group, has listed ten ways where innovation can deliver advantage to companies.

  1.  The business model or how the enterprise makes money.
  2. Networking, including organizational structure, the value chain and partnerships
  3. Enabling processes, or the capabilities the company buys from others
  4. Core processes, or proprietary methods that add value.
  5. Product performance, including features and functionality
  6. Product systems, meaning the extended system that supports the product
  7. Service, or how the company treats customers.
  8. Channels, or how the company connects its offering to its customers
  9. Branding, or how the company builds its reputation
  10. Customer experience, including the touch points where customers encounter the brand

On the surface, this isn’t an earth shattering list.  This is basic business school blocking and tackling.  All of this is easily copied.  But, layer artificial intelligence and robots over it and it gets really interesting.  Layer human creativity over it, and it gets exciting.

The only thing that can’t be copied is being original.

Right now, our educational and government hierarchy is starting to focus on STEM.  We are encouraging kids to take science and math classes, learn to code, and do other things that we think will help them survive the onslaught of technology in the future.  I don’t think this is incorrect, but it needs to be combined with a healthy unbiased teaching of the Humanities canon on Western Civilization.

To be clear, our educational and government bureaucracy is way behind the curve.  Because change is happening so quickly, they won’t be able to keep up.  They also have artificial barriers set up that stops change from happening.  Our system is not nimble and flexible.  It is a monolith.

Future people will need to be able to combine technical skill with the ability to critically think and be creative.   This isn’t 50 years from now, it’s more like within the next decade.

Let’s look at some things that are happening in real time.  The Institute of the Future came out  6 drivers of change.

  1.  Extreme longevity, humans are living longer; how we work, the nature of work, how many jobs we have and how we do it all are changing
  2. The rise of smart machines and systems; if the job is a rote, repetitive task it will be gone
  3. Computational world; sensors proliferating will cause demand for people with the skill to sift the data to make meaningful inferences
  4. New media ecology; Knowledge workers need more literacy besides writing.  Knowing how to design and how to tell stories will be important
  5. Superstructured organizations; this means working in a massive organization at scale, or working in a very small nimble organization. The middle is getting squeezed out.  This is already happening
  6. Globally connected world; People who can work with different cultures, and work virtually will be able to deliver extra value to companies.  Having an international network will be valuable

Layer these over the traditional business concepts in the first list and it becomes a source of power if you are creative.  If you don’t brainstorm and think creatively, then you will become fearful.

The world is in a second Renaissance.  The first one started in the 14th century and went on through the 16th century as the ideas spread across the world.  Today, it happens almost in real time.

Sensors, algorithms, robots, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are all going to impact our world soon.  It’s impossible to imagine the jobs that will come from the innovation.  It’s easy to see the ones that will be lost.

Did anyone think that a business would have to employ someone to manage “social media” for them in 2000?  That person is valuable to a company today.  That person knows how to critically think, how to communicate in different ways, and how to design messages along with weaving a story.  They don’t have to be a technical nerd to succeed.  But, they can’t be one dimensional either.

Ron Immink wrote, Leonardo DaVinci said “imagination without experience is weak.” Originality without craft, to a Renaissance artisan, would have seemed like marriage without sex—lofty but Platonic. Mastery by Robert Green, talks about the importance of an apprenticeship as starting point for reflection-in-action was “knowing-in-action,” a dynamic way of knowing that stands in stark contrast to the kind of static knowledge we’re taught in school.

This is exactly why innovators must get out of their house and experience the world.  They have to interact.  They have to sensually feel and touch.  They have to try and fail.

It’s totally frustrating.  But, those that celebrate the struggle eventually will triumph and win.




5 thoughts on “What Skills Will People Need In the Future?

  1. Jeff, nice article. Good reminder of all the awesome change coming our way. I like the line about it being easy to see the jobs that will be eliminated but not the ones that will be created. It also makes me think of the categories of technology that we don’t even know about in the works today.

  2. Jeff, thanks for writing this to spark the conversation that is essential. While its true that the rapid growth of technology is changing everything around us, I will also like to point out that there are some fundamental geo-political (human migration), socio-economical (decreasing employee tenure, complex organizations), behavioral (continuous lifelong learning, rise of spirituality) forces of transformation will compound the rate of transformation.

    1. Great point. I agree. At the same time, I find that all people are generally rational, and want a better life for their offspring. If we start from that spot, we can get along.

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