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Future-Proof Skill Building

Future-Proof Skill Building
August 18, 2021  |  By Stacey Mason

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In a previous column I wrote that planning for the future is not a precise science.  There will always be, inevitability, trouble predicting the unknown.  With that in mind, I shared a list of personal skills that have wide-ranging application regardless of what the future may bring.  

Those skills were:  awareness, thinking, sense-making, margin, capacity, agility, fluidity, savviness, paradoxal, orchestration, human-ness, presence, smarts, simplification, hope.    

While constructing a skills list is an over-simplified process, acquiring future-proof skills is anything but.  Developing these skills forces us to think beyond the more traditional forms of education or development and seek to augment our knowledge base in more unique and all-encompassing ways.  

Two schools of thought are driving professional development through more creative and crossbred methods.    

First, a pivotal book by author Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) suggested that forces in the world economy would shift society from left-brain thinking to right-brain thinking as the dominant thought pattern.  Pink summed it up nicely as:  “The MFA is the new MBA.”  A bold six-word insight allowed for a reimagining of the skills necessary for the future of work – and where to get those skills.  In short, it seemed to grant legitimacy to those who would study in the arts and humanities, or maybe even to anyone who would endeavor to be educated outside of traditional learning platforms.  The future seemed to require less mastery in a single discipline and far greater exposure to a variety of thought streams. 

Second was the assertion that skills could be developed in a blended approach – such as the rapid rise in the interest of Applied Improvisation, where business thinking is merged with the performing arts.  Harvard Professor John Kao believes “…improvisation is probably one of the two or three cardinal skills for businesses to learn in the future.”  This thinking opened the door to hybrid approaches where the best skill development was realized through a marriage of disciplines.  It seems building skills of the future requires less of a deep dive and more of an exploration.  

If the aforementioned skills are on your radar, consider development through one or more of these approaches: 

  • Immersion in the arts and humanities.  Study religion, politics, history, philosophy, art, music, photography, film, design, dance, theater, literature, language, creative writing.  These disciplines allow you to see the world and your place in it through a different lens.  
  • Building divergent competencies.  Take a class in Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Criminal Justice, Law, Human Resources, Journalism, Corporate Social Responsibility.  Learn to debate the toughest questions from multiple angles.  
  • Increased knowledge in the realm of behavioral understanding.  Take a few different personality assessments.  Understanding how you tick allows you to put yourself in the place of most potential.  Understanding how others tick drives human connectivity.  
  • Change your reading habits.  Read biography and memoirs for perspective, history for insight, kids books for metaphors.  There is no monopoly on wisdom.  
  • Leave the city limits.  Travel.  Change time zones, change continents, change your comfort zone.  There are endless lessons from experiencing different cultures and learning to assimilate.  Learn to replace judgment with curiosity.
  • Participate.  Join boards, organizations, volunteer.  It’s when it gets personal that it gets your attention.  And attention fuels inner growth.  
  • Listen to Ted Talks, sign up for a MasterClass, enroll in a MOOC (massive open online course).  Technology is a big part of the future and it has arrived.  
  • Take a sabbatical. If the world is hyper vigilant, what will you notice when you experience a state of idle calmness?  
  • Brave an improvisation class.  It’s the ideal place to learn the powerful competence of reframing – where a learning in one context has application in another, potentially unrelated context.  Transference of learning has universal application.  

And here’s a new twist.  What we’re currently learning about brain neuroplasticity will change the future landscape of professional development even more.  Science has discovered that the brain changes throughout life, which suggests that we have the potential for continual rewiring.  It appears as if the future belongs to those who can learn, unlearn, and relearn.  

And that changes everything.  Again.  

Ancora Imparo… (Still, I am learning) 

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Matt WallerFounder of The Improv Lab, Stacey Mason has immersed herself in the field of Applied Improvisation for the last decade after co-founding several comedy improv troupes and training with various actor-teams including Second City in Chicago. Her corporate background includes nearly 20 years at Walmart in Logistics, Global Supply Chain and Merchandising/Replenishment before shifting towards culture coaching, stewarding the Walton Institute, Walmart’s flagship culture program. She partners with Walton College Executive Education on innovation programs and other initiatives