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School's Out: 11 Critical Skills for the Future

The workplace of tomorrow will look quite different – Here are some management tools to help you cope and thrive


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If you’re like most people, your job description has evolved over the past five years. For many, their role today didn’t exist a short time ago.

The workplace of tomorrow will, indeed, look quite different.

At the same time, our evolving workplace is creating a skills-divide. Some jobs require software proficiencies tied to cybersecurity. Others require pattern-matching skills tied to system-related problem solving. Still others demand people skills coupled with a deep understanding of HR law.

We have a large number of jobs that require relatively high-level skills and a lot of those jobs will grow increasingly obsolete in the future as individual tasks are being automated out of existence.

At the same time, every new tool will require a full complement of updated skills, training, support, sales and more.

Emerging high-tech jobs continue to challenge the status quo because of the steeper-than-normal learning curve. While most professionals haven’t been paying attention to the evolving workplace, the half-life of their skills is growing shorter, causing the overall value of their superpower to diminish over time.

Here are a few hard-to-teach skills and superpowers that will keep you employable for many decades to come.

1. GIG MANAGEMENT

Rather than serving at the mercy of a single company that rarely has your best interest in mind, freelancers have the ability to migrate toward better opportunities, renegotiate salaries and form relationships with businesses and organizations around the world.

That said, it’s not easy to become a sought-after freelancer – it requires talent in many areas. Networking, finding gigs, writing proposals, forming contracts, managing accounting, sales, scheduling and project management are all part of the rigorous lifestyle that comes with the territory. But, in the end, skilled freelancers have the ability to control their own destinies.

Note: Over the coming years there will be a number of reports that say the gig economy is not happening, but those will be very misleading. Any freelancer that earns enough money will naturally incorporate for tax purposes, masking the true nature of their operation.

Gig management will be a career-defining skill for the future.

2. DISTRACTION MANAGEMENT 

We live in the most unfocussed society in all history. In a recent Pew study, 45 percent of teens said they use the internet "almost constantly." Another 44 percent said they go online several times every day. Nearly 70 percent of today’s workers keep their smartphone "within eye contact" at work, and more than 50 percent of people check their phones if they wake up in the middle of the night. The average smartphone user checks his or her phone more than 220 times a day. During peak times, this number jumps to every six or seven seconds. Total addicts will actually check in more than 900 times in a day. Several reports have revealed incidents in which “drama-junkies” have been hospitalized due to exhaustion because “fear of missing out” caused them to stop sleeping altogether.

Since workers typically take around 25 minutes to recover from interruptions before returning to their original task, it becomes a greater challenge for people to have meaningful accomplishments.

Further complicating the situation, a 2015 study showed distractions multiply. Workers who are interrupted by text messages are significantly more likely to self-interrupt – allowing their attention to ricochet from thought to thought while losing their ability to fully concentrate on any one thing.

One recent study showed 53 percent of people would rather give up their sense of smell than their smartphone. One in three would give up sex before their phone.

After all that, how much time do you really have left for your job, your family and friends, and actually experiencing the world around you?

For these reasons, distraction management will be one of the most critical skills for successful people to master in the future.

3. RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT

Our work, social and family lives are all formed around relationships.

There are few schools that do a good job teaching this even though there’s been over 1 million books written on the topic.

Social media relationships now consumes the vast majority of our relationship-building time and our expectation of what constitutes a good relationship has vastly changed over the past two decades.

Digital connection services have done more than just change how we find romance, they’ve changed how we network, form business deals and make a sale. Keep in mind, it wasn’t all that long ago when most relationships began with a smile and a handshake, rather than a click or a swipe.

In the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar claimed the number of people you can manage strong relationships with was around 150. This became known as the Dunbar Number. However, social media has somewhat blurred this entire theory.

In spite of our ability to loosely connect with thousands, even millions online, new research from Dunbar concludes we're only able to maintain a small number, at most five, close friendships at one time. 

People who understand the constantly morphing values and techniques for building and managing relationships will be a hot commodity in the future.

4. RELEVANCE MANAGEMENT

What are the skills that will make and keep you relevant in your profession, company, team and among your peers?

Relevancy goes deeper than work history and current credentials. Relevancy is all about your willingness to adapt. People who are resilient, flexible and resourceful are more valuable than even the best technicians today.

  • What is that unique or special contribution that you bring to the table?
  • What is the thing that separates you from others in the company?
  • Do you have a special talent for dealing with people?
  • Are you forward-thinking?
  • Are you decisive?
  • Do you have the ability to make sense out of complex situations?
  • When presented with new tools, systems, processes or management, how quickly are you able to adapt?

5.) MANAGING YOUR AWARENESS

How do you stay up-to-date on the latest information? Who are the thought leaders in your area of expertise and how do you stay current on their work?

While the average American is consuming information 12 hours and 7 minutes every day, how much of what you consume is truly germane to your area of expertise?

We now have thousands of possible information channels for even the most niche areas of interest and those who manage to carve out the right combination of newsfeeds will find themselves in driver seats of their own career paths.

6. MANAGING YOUR TRIBE

Everyone has people that care about them, their own personal fan club. Our ability to grow, study and interact with these people is a powerful resource that can be leveraged in many ways.

Each new connection intensifies the network effect, adding to our overall value. Over time, the value of our personal network in tomorrow’s hyper-connected world will become far more quantifiable.

It’s rare that people become famous without effort. It typically requires effort, usually sustained over a long period of time. Managing a fan club is part of the work that prepares people to climb their own ladder of success, and our ability to master the tools for managing our own fan clubs will largely determine where we end up in life.

7. MANAGING OUR DIGITAL TOOLBOX

Our choice of technology defines how we show up in an increasingly tech-dependent world.

The very first Apple iPhone entered the world in 2007.

So what now should we be paying attention to, and what can we dismiss?

With sensors becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday life, we will soon be wearing smart shoes, sleeping on smart pillows, eating smart food with smart spoons, while watching our children play with their smart toys.

Very soon we will be downloading apps for our drones, our smart houses, our pets, our cars, our clothes and even imaginary friends.

Our relationships with our personal technology will continue to be an ongoing challenge and improving skills in this area will give us a distinct advantage.

8. PERSONAL BRAND MANAGEMENT

This is another way of describing your reputation portfolio.

Being successful means setting yourself apart, and you’ll need a personal brand that defines who you are and who you want to become. The impression you project is crucial for finding the best workplace fit and for inspiring confidence in your coworkers, clients and managers

Working with a team, start by auditing your online footprint. This will include all images, posts, videos, connections and correspondence. Since a personal brand is all about what others think, it’s critical to assess how others are interpreting your words and actions.

Your goal is to ensure your image comes across as professional, polished and appropriate, both now or in the future.

9. COMMUNICATION

On average, women utter around 7,000 words a day compared to only 2,000 for men.  Communication is an essential ingredient in all of our lives, but too much or too little can have devastating effects.

With life unfolding at a far greater pace and new channels springing up incessantly, people often stress over not keeping up with their friends or families. And when they turn things off, they suffer even greater anxiety over feeling left out.

Finding effective ways of managing our communication channels is a critical skill to master in the future.

10. PRIVACY MANAGEMENT 

What exactly does privacy mean anymore?

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that forced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress, privacy has become a hot topic in the online world.

Privacy and transparency live on opposite ends of the information spectrum, but they’re both part of the ethical issues that falls under the banner of privacy.

The landmark European Union court decision granting the “right to be forgotten” has been replaced by a more manageable “right of erasure” in 2014. This ruling has been one of the foundational privacy rights granted by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In practice, the “right to be forgotten” was always more about the “right to be favorably remembered.” People don’t like being the subject of a smear campaign and naturally want some control over having it removed.

For this reason, GDPR is becoming an important piece of life.

People can often derive significant benefits from sharing their personal details as they take advantage of relevant and useful services online. However, once collected, businesses often exploit and monetize personal information, leaving people exposed and placing their information in predatory danger.

Yes, protecting and enforcing privacy is an added burden for business, but a lack of privacy creates risk for users and reduces trust. Trust plays a key role in virtually every form of innovation.

Understanding both sides of this equation will be a critical skill for future generations. Your value as an employee will rise dramatically by having a nuanced understanding of GDPR and the overall ramifications of personal privacy.

11. TIME CONTROL 

The most precious commodity in everyone’s life remains time. You can ponder it, over-schedule it, spend it with others, account for every second of it, squander it or simply act as if it doesn’t exist. But so far we’ve not found a way to stretch it, reverse it or buy extra bags of it when we run out.

Time management systems of the past will continue to morph and shift to accommodate lifestyles and business demands of the future.

Yes, the key word in this list is “management.” It will be up to us to manage every aspect of our increasingly complicated lives.

This was not intended to be an all-inclusive list of skills for tomorrow. The goal was to draw attention to some of the most critical tools that currently seem to be overlooked.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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