How do you prepare yourself to succeed in a future of unknown needs and opportunities? This is a question that every professional must face, no matter where you are in your career, from the most senior executives to the new grads and interns. What separates those who succeed from those who do not is their attitude and mindset towards an ever changing world. Those who succeed accept, embrace and adapt to change.
Humanity has undergone several major industrial revolutions and each time, the way we lived, worked and played changed in fundamental ways. In the 18th century steam and water power enabled mechanical processes. In the 19th century, invention of electric power made mass production possible. In the 20th century, the prevalence of electronic technologies brought us into the digital age. Now, in the 21st century, we are in amidst humanities’ 4th industrial revolution which is characterized by and a society that is always connected to unprecedented computing power and access to knowledge and the blurring of machine and human coexistence in the form of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence.
Accept and Embrace that our World is Changing fast
If history is any indication, then we can conclude that change will always come. The rate at which our world is changing, in terms of technological advancements, is exponentially accelerating . A futurist, Thomas Frey, predicted in 2011 that 60% of the best jobs in 10 years have not yet been invented . This makes sense if we think about the jobs that have newly emerged in the last 10 years: app developers, social media managers, Uber drivers, YouTube content creators, drone operators, big data analysts etc. The U.S. Department of Labor has also estimated that as many as 65% of children entering primary school today will work in professions that are not yet invented . Those of us already in the workforce will have to adapt to these new jobs and opportunities that have yet been created.
The first step towards succeeding in a future full of unknowns is to accept the change that will inevitably come. You can either fear it or embrace it. We are living in a time that is changing faster than ever in human history! If you accept that change is coming, then you can prepare for it.
Succeeding in a Changing World
It is difficult to predict the exact professions that will exist in the future and the type of skills they will require (i.e. the augmented reality and smart watch hypes have been around for 30 years!). However, there are character traits you can develop to ensure that you are well prepared to tackle an unknown future. Once you embody these traits, you will be prepared take on challenges and opportunities in any industry - even industries that do not exist yet. Here are 3 character traits that will help ensure that you will be indispensable in the years to come.
1. Be a Creative Problem Solver
People react to problems in one of two ways: some become distressed and avoid their problems, others accept the situation, face it head on and come up with creative ways to resolve issues. You want to be the latter. Every job at every company will always be full of challenges. There will be layoffs. You may disagree and your team members, bosses, or clients. How you choose to handle these situations can demonstrate to your team and manager whether you’re a positive leader or a negative influence to the company. People with negative attitudes towards problem solving are toxic to any workplace and are usually first to be dismissed!
Creative problem solvers help businesses overcome internal and external challenges. Creative problem solvers will thrive in any industry. To be a creative problem solver, be someone who is always ready to try different solutions, regardless of whether they will succeed or fail. Focus on understanding and fixing the problem rather than fixating on the issue and complaining about it. Creativity cannot be contained in a box. Thus, don’t feel pressured to only try things you know will work. The greatest achievements of mankind only occur when someone dared to venture into the unknown.
Practicing creative problem solving is actually quite simple. We face challenges everyday both in our personal and professional lives. Hence, opportunities to sharpen your creative problem solving skills are everywhere. Approach your next challenge with these steps to practice your creative problem solving skills.
- Acknowledge that the challenge exists.
- Remain calm and stay positive.
- Seek first to understand the root cause of the issue.
- Come up with 5 different solutions (yes, 5!).
- Try each solution, if all 5 fail, try 5 more.
- Rinse, repeat.
2. Be a Critical Thinker
Rather than approaching work with a mindset of “I will just do as I’m told to do” or “I go to to work to shut off my brain”, approach work with an analytical and critical mind. For example, ask yourself “Why am I being asked to do this for the business?, “What is the big picture goal?” and “Is there something I can do to be more efficient, cost effective, and overall more successful?”. (If you feel like you are doing something that you can’t ask these questions about, try talking with your manager, coworkers, and even your family.)
Critical thinking is defined as the ability to think rationally, and formulate connections between complex ideas.Critical thinkers are valuable to businesses because they not only raise questions when things do not make sense but also articulate clear suggestions, backed by logical reasoning, on how things could be improved. A critical thinker is an asset to any team in any industry.
Critical thinking is a skillset that can be applied to and practiced via all aspects of life. Critical thinkers seek first to understand rather than believing things as they are told. Here are some ways to practice critical thinking in your daily life.
- Reflect on your day and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses (i.e. When did I encounter successes? When did I encounter failures? What did I learn from my failures? If I had to repeat today what would I do differently? Why? Did I do anything today to further my long-term goals? etc.)
- Analyze how group pressures influence your life and decide for yourself whether to conform to those pressures. Do they align with your own personal values?
- Get in touch with your emotions and seek to understand what circumstances led you to feel the way you feel. Practice not letting your emotions drive your decision making.
- Learn new skills and understand why certain actions need to be taken to master the new skill
You may be wondering how these exercises could help you be a better critical thinker in the workplace. Improving critical thinking boils down to improving your cognitive abilities to analyze, reason through, and reconstruct abstract concepts. Hence, by becoming a more analytical and reflective individual in your personal life, you will naturally transform into a critical thinking team member in the workplace.
3. Excel at Interpersonal Communication Skills
Today we live in a world where we primarily communicate behind emails, text messages, tweets, and status updates. Face to face communication almost seems like a lost art form! Do not fall into the trap of always communicating from behind a screen. The ability to communicate effectively in person, and hence build good rapport, is the foundation of any successful professional or personal relationship.
Interpersonal communication includes both verbal and nonverbal communication. Most of communication is actually nonverbal. Studies have shown that 93% of our day-to-day communications come from nonverbal cues such as facial expression, body language, gestures etc . Hence, the most effective way to communicate with someone is face to face. We greatly increase the likelihood of miscommunicating with someone when we choose to communicate from behind a screen. If you are going to have an important conversation with somebody, prioritize your communication medium in the following order:
- Face to face
- Video conference
- Phone call
- Email (This is the worst!)
The most important nonverbal communication skill is listening. Communication is bidirectional and is only ever successful when both the sender and receiver mutually understand each other. Of the total time we spend communicating, we actually spend 45% of it listening . The best way to listen effectively is to listen actively. The good news is, listening is a skill that we can practice with anybody, anytime and anywhere. To improve your active listening skills, practice “SOLER” in your face to face conversations.
- Squarely face the person
- Open your posture
- Lean towards the sender
- Eye contact maintained
- Relax while listening
Adapt to Your Changing Environments
You can spend time and effort predicting how our world is going to be in 10, 20 or 50 years but the reality is nobody can really know with 100% certainty how our world is going to be. Ultimately, those who succeed are those who are flexible and adaptable to their changing environments. Those who succeed embrace and are motivated by the idea of change. We can’t predict for certain the top jobs of the future but we are confident that those jobs will require creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, and master communicators.