8 non-obvious skills that your children (and you) will need in the future

In a world that’s evolving faster than ever, it’s very difficult to predict which kind of skills will still be relevant in the future.

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April 20, 2023

LinkedIn data shows that the skills sets for jobs have changed by around 25% since 2015. By 2027 that number is expected to double.

Image: LinkedIn

One thing is certain: cramming the heads of students with static knowledge will become increasingly irrelevant in a world overflowing with quickly accessible information with an increasingly short shelf-life. We’ve seen a rising number of articles that focus on hiring for skills, rather than expertise or knowledge, exactly because of that. Some skills that are already very relevant today, will prove to stay that way in the coming years.

As a lot has already been written about the importance of skills like lifelong learning, entrepreneurship, complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, cross disciplinary thinking, digital literacy, collaboration and active listening. So I tried to focus on the less obvious ones:

Emotional resilience, tolerance to stress and emotional intelligence

We are currently experiencing what Microsoft calls a “global human energy crisis”. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, a global survey of 20,000 workers, 48% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re burned out at work. According to Gallup, seven in 10 people globally are grappling with their mental health.

People all over the world are suffering, because of the increasing rate of change, the cost-of-living crisis and the heightened overall uncertainty. Learning to cope with the stress triggered by the latter and adapting to a changing context, not only requires cognitive and behavioral adjustments – as has been overly documented - but affective (emotional) skills as well. Learning to emotionally accept that the world is a complex place and that adaptation first requires a period where the comfort of your experience is gone, will truly become a competitive advantage.

At the same time, understanding and respecting the emotional state of team members, will truly distinguish those who excel at leading and collaborating. In a world of technology and permanent change, managing emotions (yours and those of others) is key. This is especially true because polarization is on the rise (also increased by technologies like social media), and being able to navigate disagreements, find common ground, and reach mutually beneficial agreements will be vital in various settings.

Cognitive Flexibility

The ability to switch between different mental tasks and modes of thinking, will probably become one of the most valuable skills in the future. But though most people are natural learners, we are also creatures of habit and often scared of change. Being able to unlearn irrelevant mental models, will therefore become an important part of stimulating our cognitive flexibility. It’s actually not the learning part that is so challenging for the most of us, but the emotional strain that comes with being able to let go and moving into a role that at first will feel very uncertain and uncomfortable.

Asking great questions

In a time when so much knowledge is all around us, answers are at our fingertips, we need great questions in order to be able to know what to do with all that information and find our way to the next answer.

- Warren Berger

We are slowly but steadily moving from a world where answers were the most important to one where the value of questions is essential. Questions are what keeps us critical when the line between fake and real is fading. They help us innovate, questioning the status quo. They help us gather new information. They are how we can ask for help when we feel overwhelmed and unsure. They help us better listen to and communicate with others. They help us stay sharp and critical about our own position, skills and knowledge. They help us better analyze and solve complex problems. Last but probably not least, the modern skill of AI prompting or AI whispering promises to give people a definitive edge in a world driven by generative AI.

The good news is that, we were all question-asking geniuses as children, so we’ll need to find ways to keep that skill alive as we grow up.

Human-AI Collaboration

In our last e-book, the Talent Equation (download it for free here), Frederik Anseel wrote about what he called “AI as doping for the knowledge worker”, comparing the gap between cyclists who (knew about and) used doping and those who didn’t to that of the one between those who minimize the ability of generative AI tools and those who are learning to use it:

A key trend that is emerging is the growing divide between those who can work effectively with AI and those who cannot. My expectation is that AI surely will replace some jobs and will create new jobs. But not for the same people. It will create a significant separation between those who can work with AI to enhance productivity and those who cannot. The first group, let’s call them AI-talents, will grow exponentially more productive and more competitive, while the second group will struggle to keep pace and may be mystified about why they can’t keep up.

Mockup of the Talent Equation ebook
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AI-powered tools have the potential to trigger a skills-divide between those who can work effectively with them and those who cannot. Being able to intelligently collaborate with AI systems – understanding their strengths and limitations - will become a very important skill.

Ethical Decision-Making

In an increasingly complex world, filled with global challenges like climate poverty, decoupling and ageing demographics, and a rise in complex tools that are great at managing information but poor at emotions, nuance and making the distinction between what is good and bad for humanity, ethics will play an essential role. (Yes, I understand that humanity also often seems bad at making the distinction between what is good and bad for humanity – but the difference is that (apart from certain psychological types like psychopaths) most of us know the difference but sometimes we choose not to act upon it.)

The future of the individual will depend upon it, as well as that of society and the environment (which are – if we think about the point about systems thinking) basically the same thing.

Cross-Cultural Competence

In a globally interconnected world (in spite of the rising decoupling), it is and will remain an important skill to be able to understand, respect and deal with the different opinions and perspectives of people from other cultures. But it’s not just about acceptance and communication, cross-cultural competence is also an important part of increasing one’s mental flexibility, being able to jump from one mind-set to another.

Systems thinking

In a world that is increasingly interconnected, understanding not just the individual people, concepts or objects, but the relationships between them and how they function as a whole, will become increasingly essential. Our entire world is made up of systems - from organizations and governments to platforms and ecosystems - and as these are becoming increasingly complex, this skill (combined with the ability to solve complex problems) will become a true advantage.

In fact, on a more philosophical note, according to Carlo Rovelli, “things only exist in relation to other things” in what he calls a “relational” interpretation of quantum mechanics:

“20th-Century physics is not about how individual entities are by themselves. It is about how entities manifest themselves to one another. It is about relations.” Rovelli suggests that this perspective applies not merely to electrons and photons but to all of reality, whether material or mental. “I see no reason to believe that this should not be sufficient to account for stones, thunderstorms and thoughts.”

Graph view of relations
Image: Not Boring by Packy McCormick

In that view, understanding relations has in fact always been crucial seeing that they orchestrate the nature of reality. Hence the fact that many eastern cultures are a lot more collectivistic and relationship-focused, compared to our Western individualism.

Environmental and Social Awareness

Part of systems thinking is the insight that humans, too, are not an island, but a part of a bigger whole. Being able to grasp globally interconnected issues and their impact on society, geopolitics, the economy, and the environment, will help make better decisions about our companies and help turn some of the biggest challenges of our times into opportunities.

Business does not happen in a void and the most relevant products and services are those that solve real and poignant problems. Though this mindset is already deeply embedded in some other cultures – India has the “Sewa” mindset (they want to build great societies rather than ‘just’ build great companies) and Japanese companies want to solve “Fu” (some unsolved large issue that could potentially transform an industry) – Western culture could stand to learn a lot from these approaches. Hence also why the aforementioned cross-cultural competence is highly relevant.

What do you think will be the most important skills of the future? Let me know in the comments of our social media.

Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and science on the way we work, consume and live our lives.
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April 20, 2023