University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

15 Skills to Build Regardless of the Future

A man with a cape and lightbulb in hand

March 31, 2020 | By Stacey Mason

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In 1997 a fascinating read hit the bookstore shelves titled The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be: The 40 Cultural Trends Transforming Your Job, Your Life, Your World by the Iconoculture trio Vickie Abrahamson, Mary Meehan and Larry Samuel. It examined not only the cultural trends that were transforming the future of work, but how humans would identify with and contribute to the world at large.

Here we are, nearly a quarter of a century later, still trying to predict and plan for the unknown. We continue to grapple with preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet, using technology that hasn’t been invented, to solve problems that haven’t been uncovered. That may be the very definition of a Herculean effort.

I think it’s safe to say that the future will inevitably be a moving target. Change really is the only constant. And while preparing for the unknowable may seem like a monumental task, I believe these 15 skills have wide-ranging application regardless of what the future brings.

  1. Awareness. The ability to pay attention. Not to just see what is there, but to see what isn’t there in equal measure. It is about noticing and connecting the dots. Awareness is about being present, being in an observant state of mind. Fortune favors the prepared mind.
  2. Thinking. Holistic and integrated thinking. Both ends of a spectrum, both sides of the brain, both parts of an equation. Divergent and convergent. The MBA and the MFA. Old school and new school. The adage of less-is-more has no place here. In thinking, more really is more.
  3. Sense-making. The ability to extrapolate meaning by applying intellect. Information is all around us, but knowledge is more nuanced. It’s the ability to separate the signal from the noise.
  4. Margin. White space. Unscheduled time. The ability to create a cushion around the fray in a hyper busy-changing-connected-loud world. To carve out space that belongs to no one but you. Space to breathe.
  5. Capacity. The desire and the ability to grow. The continual quest for greater competence. A relentless drive to develop personal bandwidth.
  6. Agility. Nimbleness. More than just quick, clever quick. With elegance.
  7. Fluidity. The ability to shift, morph and evolve. Seamless maneuvering. This is beyond merely going with the flow, but being in the flow.
  8. Savviness. The ability to leverage networks and resources – not for the singular advantage but for the advantage of many. Savvy is the thinking skill on steroids.
  9. Paradoxal. The ability to hold and process self-contradicting thoughts and ideas in your head at the same time. Embrace dichotomy. The world has eclipsed a mere either/or mentality and landed squarely in the both/and camp.
  10. Orchestration. Being in sync. Calibration and alignment. To be able to keep a cadence when all the moving parts are, well, moving.
  11. Human-ness. There is almost a visceral sensation when you come to understand the world of someone else. Through grace, kindness, empathy, perspective and understanding, we see the world not as it is, but how it could be. Human-ness is the heart of humanity.
  12. Presence. Finding one’s voice. Clarity, confidence, character. The ability to know who you are, and to be comfortable with that answer. To be able to stand in the middle of your heart and know your truth. Simply, to exude your self.
  13. Smarts. The theory of multiple intelligences asserts that there are 9 intelligences: linguistic, musical, mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and spiritual. Being smart is essential. Being differently smart is a force multiplier.
  14. Simplification. Less is more. The ability to remove the complex and the complicated may never be more urgent. Plain, simple, elegant. That’s what really works. “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
  15. Hope. The mere ability to hope. Because there is nothing more compelling than the audacity of hope.

We know that planning for the future is not a precise science. But you can put yourself in the place of most potential by developing timeless skills.

One thing is for sure: we can’t stop the future from coming, we can only prepare. And fortune favors the prepared.

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