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Helping People to Authentically Adapt

Going beyond our “hard” shells and understanding our “powerfully soft” centers.

Last night, my wife and I had some company over. Getting to know each other better, the usual question of “What do you do?” was asked of me.

I replied that I wasn’t so sure you could conventionally encapsulate what I did in a couple of words that would make sense to most people. I then proceeded to say that I researched Creativity, Social Innovation, and The Future of Work but that the interesting twist was that it all arose out of playing games online and building communities around these games.

I then told a simple story of how I got here. I meandered from being on top of the world as a Senior Web Developer building community hubs for notable video game publishers, sinking to the lows being unemployed due to the ways companies caused the Dot-Com Bubble and its crash, to realizing that my previous experience building communities online mirrored how The Future of Work will effectively work as well (as IBM correlates in their 2007 Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders report).

Our guests connected with what I was saying and even chimed in with their own experiences. For example, the husband indicated that the place he was working at didn’t value the warehouse staff who helped keep the company operational on a daily basis but rather saw them as disposable. Yet he indicated, that he was emerging as a leader, trying to become a bridge between management and the staff, listening to co-workers frustrations and issues on a daily basis but management not listening and not caring. I felt deeply for him because his experience mirrored one I’ve had in the past as well, almost exactly.

Two Words That Encapsulate My Work

This morning, while going over some past research and discovering some newer avenues, I kind of kept stepped back, more and more, to try to get this bigger picture and perspective of what my life’s work was about and how it related to me. Suddenly something clicked and I discovered a word that resonated not only with me but would probably resonate with others as well, encapsulating what I was trying to help individuals and organizations with.

Adapt.

That’s it. I was trying to help people adapt. In the business world, many people may use many other words like transition or transform a business but really what they’re simply saying is they’re trying to help a company and its people adapt to the times.

Even when I talk about Creativity, Social Innovation, The Future of Work, and Play in a larger context, the whole purpose of these things are to help people adapt. Even the focus of Be Real Creative, as a creative company of mine, is to help people adapt.

But just saying that makes me realize a second word is need to clarify how we need to adapt.

Authentically.

In effect, I’m not just trying to help people adapt to the times we’re in. I’m trying to help them adapt authentically. In other words, I help them adapt by moving them closer to who they truly are, deep down inside, rather than moving them farther away from their true selves. This mirrors with what Margaret Wheatley said about species paradoxically “changing so that they can stay the same.”

Learning to Adapt Softly First

Now if you look at most conventional organizations today, they aren’t adapting to the times at all. They’re completely stuck in the past and, even worse, aren’t even aware of it. These companies are like dinosaurs that will die out because they’d rather stick to old, outdated beliefs and methods that are weighing them down.

But even if you look at post-conventional companies today, who do realize the importance of adapting to the times we’re in, they’re not understanding that the way you adapt is just as essential as adapting itself. Right now, most of these companies are singing a narrative of job and skill retraining. This is important but the why and how of it is also essential.

Why? Because we’re entering a period of exponential change. By the time a person comes out of job retraining, their new job may be obsolete as well. That would be pretty brutal for someone to experience again, just after losing their previous job. This is why it’s not about helping people to adapt to a new job but instead helping people to adapt as a life skill. And to do that, you really need to go way down the rabbit hole and understand a person on a really deep level, understanding the roots and intrinsic motivations of their life that they are probably not even aware of yet.

This is why most companies, even post-conventional ones, are missing the boat to the bigger picture here. They keep focusing on the skills gap but primarily just hard (technical) skills. In fact, if you think about it, most of the hard skills that are in demand right now are programming, robotic, or AI skills which are helping to alleviate the need for hard skills in more physical or mundane rote work. The irony of this is hilarious, yet sad at the same time for many people losing their jobs because of this.

But this is why this skills gap is the right focus but it’s focusing on the wrong types of skills to teach people first. We should be teaching people soft (social) skills first, sometimes called transferable skills, which some are now calling “power skills” because they’re so essential to the times, when everything is so rapidly changing.

To put this simply, until you can help a person truly understand themselves and their abilities and talents at a much deeper level that goes beyond a conventional job and a conventional career, they will never be able to flexibly adapt repeatedly, which is what they need to be able to do to survive in this future emerging presently all around us. As John Seely Brown describes it, we need to go beyond being just sailors, tacking and “pivoting” occasionally, and instead become kayakers in a “white water world” of ongoing change on a daily level.

Discovering a Sense of Stability Within Ourselves

What happens when a person learns these power skills first is that they find their center of gravity, as John Seely Brown describes it. This creates a sense of stability within their life that comes from within intrinsically rather than coming from outside extrinsically. In this way, people learn to chart their own course and path, that truly is their own, rather than what society expects them to be.

In addition, in truly knowing themselves, they’ll begin to see that the future is most definitely about increasing specialization but the specialization of their power skills rather than the specialization of their hard skills. And in doing so, they will begin to understand that these two types of skills are actually connected together, in that we will be power skill specialists and hard skill generalists, learning hard skills only as needed as noted below.

The rate of change in the workplace is increasing, and yesterday’s technical skills have quickly become devalued. That’s why soft skills like flexibility and adaptability to learn what is new and upcoming is mandatory in order to stay relevant. Meanwhile, a range of soft skills like persistence and motivation can drive a team forward – persevering and learning new technical skills on the fly as needed to meet specific project demands.

Ross Sedgwick, Soft Skills vs Hard Skills: What’s Better to Enable Tomorrow’s Team Success?

This pretty much encapsulates the evolution of my life. I never learnt hard skills because I saw them as a means to a job. I saw them as a means of expressing myself in a larger way. Once we make this shift societally, the passion, productivity, and creativity of people will explode, releasing their untapped potential on a massive scale.

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