Future Skills: Being Both Soft Specialists & Hard Generalists

Revealing the characteristics of future skills and how they form our future selves.

The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030 report has an interesting section entitled Action for Future Skills which highlights the following things that individuals will need to do to prepare themselves for the future.

Change mind-set regarding the nature of work, as it becomes less location-specific, more network oriented, project based and increasingly technology intensive.

Take greater personal responsibility for acquiring and continuously updating skills for progression and success in the face of limited investment from employers and government and increasing division between low and high-skill jobs.

Be open to and take advantage of new and different approaches to learning, for instance self directed, bite-sized learning, peer-to-peer learning and technology enabled training opportunities.

Be willing to jump across specialist knowledge boundaries as technologies and disciplines converge, developing a blend of technical training and ‘softer’, collaborative skills.

Focus on development of key skills and attributes that will be at a premium in future, including resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, enterprise, cognitive skills (such as problem solving), and the core business skills for project based employment.

If you encapsulate these things all together, you get a picture which looks very similar to the one I’ve been envisioning as already emerging for quite some time now.

We are radically changing the meaning of playing, learning, and working and understanding how they are becoming more integrated, whereby they are no longer sequentially progressive actions done at different stages of our lives—as a child I play, as a teenager I learn, and as an adult I work—but are now needed on a continuous daily level (i.e. lifelong learning) to adapt to this new world emerging.

Using self-directed learning methods, such as Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain and Progressive Summarization (or even just blogging or journaling on a basic level), we become more open, curious, and playful in exploring not only the world around us but our very selves, as we discover what pulls us and motivates us intrinsically.

Because of this, our imagination opens up and allows us to leap across disciplinary boundaries and see deeper connections between things that our previous conventional mindset blocked us from seeing, due to the rigid, limiting beliefs that comprise it.

And just as we are able to integrate previously separated and perhaps even marginalized bodies of knowledge together, so too do we begin to integrate the separated and marginalized aspects of ourselves, discovering a deeper, truer Self below the surface of our existing limited self.

In doing so, as we evolve and grow beyond seeing just the surface of ourselves in a technically, specialized sort of way (i.e. hard skills), we discover deeper social skills and abilities (i.e. soft skills) at the core of ourselves that form the roots and foundation of why we gravitate to certain technical skills in the first place.

Thus when we shift our perspective to seeing these deeper social skills and abilities at the core of ourselves as our real specialization (that everything meaningful in our life emanates from), suddenly we realize that every meaningful job or experience we’ve ever had in our life were just different, technical generalist perspectives or expressions of this deeper, specialized social self within us.

When we make this leap and radically shift from just trying to specialize ourselves technically (i.e. hard skills) to beginning to specialize ourselves socially (i.e. soft skills), everything changes and is reframed, suddenly make the impossible possible. No longer are we stuck in a “dead end” job with a specific technical specialization that has a limited “shelf life”. Instead we can now fluidly adapt to life as it changes because our identity and sense of Self is not contained in just a limited, technical generalist expression of who we are but within the deeper social specialization of who we are.

In this way, we are now like a house that has deep foundational columns that provide a greater stability during shifting seismic changes. Or we’re like a surfer or kayaker who wave after bigger wave can still remain upright because we’ve “re-conceived our own authentic center” to stabilize us. Or like astronauts traversing and navigate between worlds, we have created our own internal gyroscope to help us maintain a stable sense of direction.

Or perhaps most fitting of all, we individually are like an organization going beyond its limited, bureaucratic, conventional self by connecting up and networking once previous siloed aspects of itself, thus transforming and evolving it into something much more meaningfully human and alive than it was before.

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