a foundation for the future of work

So what is the future of work and how can we best learn how to adapt to a post-industrial, network economy? There is no shortage of future skills prescribed by various think-tanks and organizations. The World Economic Forum (2016) identified 10 work skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. McKinsey & Company (2017) stated that, “We will all need creative visions for how our lives are organized and valued in the future, in a world where the role and meaning of work start to shift”. PwC concluded (2017) that the nature of future jobs is unknown.

“It’s impossible to predict exactly the skills that will be needed even five years from now, so workers and organisations need to be ready to adapt – in each of the worlds we envisage. Inevitably, much of the responsibility will be on the individual. They will need not only to adapt to organisational change, but be willing to acquire new skills and experiences throughout their lifetime, to try new tasks and even to rethink and retrain mid‐career.” —PwC Workforce of the Future (PDF)

The Institute for the Future (2011) identified 10 skills for 2020 and I still find these useful, especially the way they are related to six drivers of change, and remain relevant in 2018.

  1. Sense-making
  2. Novel & Adaptive Thinking
  3. Social Intelligence
  4. Trans-disciplinarity
  5. New Media Literacy
  6. Computational Thinking
  7. Cognitive Load Management
  8. Cross-cultural Competency
  9. Design Mindset
  10. Virtual Collaboration

Much of this shift in work skills is driven by two factors: the automation of work by machines, including AI, and the increasing interconnectedness between people, machines, and ideas. In the book, Only Humans Need Apply, the authors identify five ways that people can adapt to automation and intelligent machines. They call it ‘stepping’. I have added in parentheses the IFTF (2011) competencies I think are needed for each adaptation.

  1. Step-up: directing the machine-augmented world (Trans-disciplinarity)
  2. Step-in: using machines to augment work (New Media Literacy, Virtual Collaboration, Cognitive Load Management)
  3. Step-aside: doing human work that machines are not suited for (Social Intelligence, Sense-making)
  4. Step narrowly: specializing narrowly in a field too small for augmentation (Cross-cultural Competency, Design Mindset)
  5. Step forward: developing new augmentation systems (Novel & Adaptive Thinking, Computational Thinking)

Learning is the key to facing our current and future technological, environmental, and societal changes.

“We are going through a similar period of rapid change today. The pace of destructive weather events is quickening; the world is going from interconnected to interdependent; and machines and software are devouring ever more middle- and even high-skill jobs. The country needs a plan for investing in more resilient cities, in lifelong learning systems for every worker and in a safety net of mobile/universal health care.” —NYT 2017-12-13

Developing these new skills requires learning that is rather different from existing training and education systems though. This is learning that is informal, requiring significant amounts of implicit knowledge, as well as social sense-making. Critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills are not developed in a vacuum. These are permanent social skills.

“Our research shows a growing demand for what are known as soft or foundational skills. We prefer to call them human skills, the ones that tend to separate good from great in every walk of life. Critical thinking and creativity, communication and collaboration – these will be the standout skills in the age of advanced technology.” —Globe & Mail 2017-12-17

I developed the personal knowledge mastery discipline as a unified framework of individually-constructed enabling processes to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society. It has been recognized by several organizations and companies as a foundational workplace skillset.

“A model of curation for the digital era that is being used in health and care is Harold Jarche’s ‘Personal Knowledge Mastery’ (PKM). This is about individuals making the best use of their networks and other sources of knowledge so that they can keep up to date with the most effective thinking in their area and practice new ways of doing things. Leaders who take responsibility for their own effectiveness through PKM create leverage and value for their organisations.” —UK NHS White Paper

PKM is based on the premise that we need to actively seek diverse sources of knowledge, develop routines where we can make sense of new knowledge, and create processes to share appropriately in order to make our networks smarter and better able to make decisions. Resilient knowledge networks make for better social safety nets in a complex or even chaotic world. Those who have mastered PKM understand its importance.

“The more I am out there chatting to clients, the more I realise that your PKM approach is the number one critical skill set. Any way I look at it, all roads seem to end there. It is the foundation. That’s why I thought this is where they need to start – and not just the employees – everyone including the managers.” —Helen Blunden

Personal knowledge mastery skills are directly related to four of the IFTF (2011) future of work skills: Sense-making, Social Intelligence, New Media Literacy, & Cognitive Load Management. PKM skills can be developed by engaging with others, such as in an Online Workshop or as an organization with your work colleagues. These are the foundation for whatever cognitive work we will do in the future.

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