Uniquely Human: Creative People, Creative Future

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“Despite concerns that they are not prepared for the new era and the job losses that will result from automation, majorities in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. believe that advancements in machine learning will do more good than harm overall. And when asked about the best skills to withstand artificial intelligence, six in 10 respondents in Canada and the U.K. believe teamwork, communication, creativity, and critical thinking are most important in the new era of automation; whereas Americans are split 50-50 between those “soft” skills and technical skills like math, science, coding, and working with data.” -via TechXplore Ignore the hand-wringing headlines about the impending AI revolution, but get ready for the disruption

We live in a time of disruption…

A time that is being defined by the current level of digital disruption we are experiencing.  And unfortunately, it is technology, not humans that seem to be taking center stage and playing the hero in the future narrative we are currently writing.

In many ways, we only have ourselves to blame, as we have set the stage for this story…

From government, to business, and even education, we have pushed through the 19th and 20th centuries on a mantra focused on efficiency and standardization.  Our Tayloristic assembly-line approach that provided efficiency and effectiveness in prior times, seems to be a bit of our undoing in the present and for the future.  As John Hagel shares in Rethinking Race Against the Machines, “If you have tightly scripted jobs that are highly standardized where there’s no room for individual initiative or creativity, machines by and large, can do those activities much better than human beings.  They’re much more predictable, they’re much more reliable.”

Efficiency and standardization has become a sign of our past and present times…

For our future, of one that is being continuously shaped and shifted by our ability to automate and infuse artificial intelligence, this idea of standardization should then be sending some very strong signals of discord and incompatibility.  Especially as we find that the very idea of standardization has set the stage for the entrance of machine learning and with it, greater levels of automation.

Which means we have to begin to consider not only the skills that will be necessary and needed in and for the future, but those skills that are also uniquely human.  Those skills that stand the test of time, and automation.

While there are many, the road always seems to lead back to creativity.

In many ways, we live in times where we all have to be creative now, no matter what we do.  Creativity has always been, and even more now, continues to be a vital skillset for the future.  Unfortunately, in the past, we tended to relegate creativity to something that was only needed by the artistic class, rather than a skillset that serves us all, in both our personal and professional lives.

Too often, we have limited the idea of creativity to that of the artist, instead of seeing that creativity can exist in all that we do.  Especially as we look to the future and the skills that it is requesting – critical-thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, innovation – we see that creativity can and should be infused into how we approach and utilize all of those skills. As Creative Director Stefan Mumaw defines it, “Creativity is problem-solving with relevance and novelty.”  Which means, that we live in a time when efficiency and standardization have effectively run their course, and the need for more creative thinking and creative solutions is taking center stage and exponentially expanding into every profession.

In an age that is being defined by automation and artificial intelligence, we can no longer afford to not be creative.

We begin first by realizing that creativity is not a trait that only certain “artistic” individuals are born with.  Rather, it is a skill that we all possess.  Creativity is a skill that we can continuously improve upon, that we can continue to get better at.  However, with that said, it is also like a muscle, and the more we use it the stronger it gets.  And vice versa.  The less we use it the more atrophied it gets.  Which is why it is important that we exercise our creative muscle more and more, as it is a skill that makes us uniquely human in a time when what makes us uniquely human is becoming more and more vital to our future success.

Second, we have to determine, in regards to creativity, that we begin to unlearn, in order that we may reengage and relearn.  As what we have learned, is that we have become better and better over time of diminishing our creative spirit.  As shared in the article, What is Creativity? Defining Defining the Skill of the Future Kylie Ora Lobell adds, “Research proves that non-creative behavior is learned overtime.  According to George Land’s Creativity Test, young children are creative geniuses, and become less creative as they age.  His study took a group of 1,600 five-year-olds and tested to see how creative they were.  Ninety-eight percent were deemed creative geniuses, thinking in novel ways similar to the likes of Picasso, Mozart, Einstein and other creative personalities.  He tested them again at 10 years old.  That number dropped to 30 percent.  By 15 years of age, it had declined to 12 percent.  He gave the same test to 280,000 adults and found that only 2 percent were creative geniuses.”

We can no longer afford to diminish, be that in our business or educational organizations, the creativity and creative thinking of our people.  Instead, we have to look to opportunities to reengage and flex our creative muscles, especially in a time when the solutions to our most pressing problems may require a much more creative and innovative approach.

Or as Mike Walsh shares in his book The Algorithmic Leader, “Here is the important part of the story: while machines will get dramatically better at extracting insights from data, spotting patterns, and even making decisions on our behalf, only humans will have the unique ability to imagine innovative ways to use machine intelligence to create experiences, transform organizations, and reinvent the world.”

While the future is currently being defined by changes brought on by the digital disruption, automation, and artificial intelligence, which is bringing about deep changes to how we communicate, learn, live and work.  What have to realize, especially in regards to this skills upheaval, is that some skills will continue to shift and change, and some skills will continue to stand the test of time.

Creativity is one of those skills to continuously stands the test of time.  One of those skills that remains uniquely human.

So, while it seemed that in the Industrial Age, we were intent on finding the Einstein’s.  In the Exponential Age, more and more, we find ourselves looking more for the DaVinci’s.

“You can provide a great education, but if that education is not getting drafted into future skills, questions will be raised about the value of that education.” -T. Kapilashrami, Group Head, HR Standard Chartered Bank






The New Electricity: And The Challenge Of Change

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“The adoption and integration of artificial intelligence into the global economy is set to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of workers around the globe.  Some experts estimate this disruption could result in the loss of up to 50% of the world’s jobs as these positions are replaced by AI and Automation.  Preparing the global workforce for this disruption and equipping displaced workers with new skills that allow them to succeed in this environment is essential.  The challenge posed by preparing the workforce and allowing workers to continue to add to their skills for the future will require coordination on the part of higher education, business and government.”  -Facing the Future: U.S., U.K. and Canadian Citizens Call for A Unified Skills Strategy for the AI Age via Northeastern University and Gallup

For many, we seem to be approaching the future unfolding before us with very trepidatious steps, moving forward with a sense of both wonder and fear of what is to come.  It is a time of great change, and it remains difficult to fathom how deep and far-reaching these changes will be.  This is a mind shift for all of us.  As this digital disruption is touching every part of our lives, both personally, professionally and socially.  As Andrew Ng, former Baidu Chief Scientiest, Coursera co-founder, and Stanford Adjunct Professor shares, “Artificial Intelligence is the new electricity.”

And it is on a course, much like electricity, to change everything.

Many see the often volatile and accelerated rate at which technology is bringing about change as a Pandora’s Box that needs to be closed, and closed soon.  However, that is a door that will no longer shut, as innovation has this tendency and will to find its way.  Make no doubt about it, this disruption is upon us and no matter how many times we click our heels and mumble “there’s no place like home,” it remains wishful thinking to believe that things will go back to “how they used to be.”

So now, the question becomes, what kind of narrative is it that we are going to write for the future?

Will this be a technology-centered story?

Or will this be a human-centered future?

What we often fail to realize, is that we are the ones in control of determining who will be the hero in this narrative…

And unfortunately, right now, technology seems to be winning that recognition.

But it does not have to be that way.  

In all actuality, it is up to us to design the future, not for the future to design us.  We have to strategically determine what kind of world we want to create, what kind of world we want to live in, and not just accept the future that is coming at us as predetermined and set in stone.

We are the future-makers and we write the story.

While there is no crystal ball that allows us to determine how to future-proof our children for a world that is shifting in exponential ways, we can sometimes turn to the past to see how it may shed some light on how to approach this uncertain and often ambiguous future.

Which takes us back to Andrew Ng and the idea of Artificial Intelligence as being the “new electricity.”  As we compare the disruption of electricity in the past, to our current technological and digital disruption.

While the times and the pace of change were quite different, we can see parallels in how overwhelming these “industrial revolutions” were to people, both personally and professionally, and what they required of people, especially in the midst of deep personal, professional, organizational, and societal shifts.  Shifts that required…

  • Adaptability and Agility
  • Initiative
  • Resilience
  • Critical, Creative and Innovative Thinking
  • Problem-Solving
  • Learning New Skills and Behaviors
  • Shifting of Mental Models

While, with every paradigm shift, the mantra remains that there have never been times like these before…we realize that there really have never been times like these before.  Especially as companies like McKinsey Global Institute share research that points to, “Automation technologies are likely to transform the vast majority of jobs” and “The next generation of digital tools will bring even more far-reaching changes in the decade ahead.”  It becomes very difficult to determine if we will cope effectively with the current and coming changes that will be brought upon us by the accelerating nature of innovative technologies and the digital disruption.

Especially as business, government, higher education and education as a whole struggle to parallel pace the current rate and volatility of change.

We know that these shifts of the past were disruptive as well, but we adapted, adjusted, and learned to move forward.  However, many say that this change is different and it is difficult to determine how effectively we will come out on the other side.  Which means we are going to have to be much more determined in how we strategically design our way forward, as well as remain vitally aware of current and coming shifts to better support us in how we prepare our children for this very non-obvious and unknown future.

Especially if we are going to create a human-centered future narrative where our children truly become the hero of the story…

“A central challenge in the automation age will be connecting millions of displaced workers to new, growing jobs.  Some may need to change jobs within the same company, and employers would provide the necessary training in these situations.  But many workers may need to find work with new employers or make even bigger transitions to different occupations in new locations.  A survey of US households found that more than half of workers displaced between 2005 and 2015 found their next job in a different industry.  For these workers, governments and other stakeholders can help to make local labor markets more fluid and easier to navigate.”  -The Future of Work in America: People and Places, Today and Tomorrow via McKinsey Global Institute

The Two Camps: Dystopia Or Utopia?

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“Our observation is that the experts engaging in the current debate about knowledge work automation tend to fall into two camps – those who say we are heading inexorably toward permanent high levels of unemployment and those who are certain new job types will spring up to replace all the ones that go by the wayside – but that neither camp suggest to workers that there is much they can do personally about the situation.”  – McAfee and Brynjolfsson via Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines

And while the debate rolls on, we just don’t know which way the scales will tilt for the future…dystopian or utopian?

How much of an affect will this digital and technological disruption, especially in regards to automation and artificial intelligence, have on society?  Will it be eradication, augmentation or freedom from jobs and work?  Will we be facing technological unemployment or technological freedom from employment?  Will safety nets such as Universal Basic Income or a “Robot Tax” as Bill Gates has mentioned, be necessary to keep people and the economy running?

Let alone, all of the other issues and concerns that are rising up from this digital and technological disruption and the advent of artificial intelligence, such as data privacy and surveillance, algorithmic bias, digital manipulation, cyberattacks and cybersecurity, and technological transparency.

But these are concerns that we must be wary towards, the growing societal shifts and changes we must have awareness of, and the plethora of questions that we must be asking of ourselves.

We can either choose to let the future happen to us, or we can determine ourselves to be designers of that future.

As Davenport adds in Only Humans Need Apply, “This was what economics Nobel laureate Robert Swiller had in mind when he called advancing machine intelligence “the most important problem facing the world today.”  He elaborated, “It’s associated with income inequality, but it may be more than that.  Since we tend to define ourselves by our intellectual talents, it’s also a question of personal identity.  Who am I?  Intellectual talents are being replaced by computers.  That’s a frightening thing for most people. It’s an issue with deep philosophical implications. Are we having these conversations? Is this being discussed in a proactive manner, rather than waiting for reactive response?  Are we discussing beyond the fiscal, welfare ramifications, to the wellness issues that may accompany the trajectory we have set ourselves towards.”

While we can never be completely sure of what kind of future we are hurtling towards, much of the current data and surveys do show that most people are at least nervous or somewhat concerned about the advancement of today’s technological capabilities, especially regarding Artificial Intelligence.  As Allan Dafoe, associate professor of international politics of artificial intelligence at Oxford shares in the Vox article, The American Public is already Worried About AI Catastrophe, “People are not convinced that advanced AI will be to the benefit of humanity.”

Concerned or not, it is difficult to forecast a future that is divided so glaringly by such different viewpoints and divided camps on where this technological and digital disruption is headed.  As Davenport shares in his book Only Humans Need Apply, “Silicon Valley investor Bill David and tech journalist Mike Malone, writing recently for Harvard Business Review, declared that “we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value.”  Whereas, when we look to the outlook of the other camp, we find CNBC shares, “By 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) will generate 2.3 million jobs, exceeding the 1.8 million that it will wipe out.  In the following five years to 2025, net new jobs created in relation to AI will reach 2 million, according to the report.”

At some point, we must become not only much better at building up our forecasting skills for the future, but determining how we better prepare our students for not only a very non-obvious future, but a future that is in the throes of constant and an accelerated pace of change.  As Chief Economist for the World Economic Forum Jennifer Blanke shares, “disgruntlement can lead to the dissolution of the fabric of society, especially if young people feel they don’t have a future.”

And it is up to us to make sure that our children and students are not left staring at a bleak horizon, but are so well-equipped that they will need sunglasses from the glare beaming off the brightness of the future.

In some ways, we have to begin to “robot-proof” our future generations from the outcomes of this digital and technological disruption.  The interesting thing about what is often considered “robot-proofing” are actually just extremely important skills and skillsets that we would want our children and students to carry into the future anyways.

Skills such as adaptability, agility, learnability, cognitive flexibility and elasticity, complex problem solving, critical thinking, leadership and decision making skills, creative and innovative thinking, adaptive thinking, sense making, computational thinking and technological skills, growth mindset, interpersonal communication skills, emotional intelligence, diversity and cultural intelligence, and social and emotional skills and skillsets.

More than ever, educators and education must have a deeper awareness and better understanding of the societal shifts that are occurring, as preparing students for an automated future has become a very different proposition.

We need to feel a sense of urgency and agency in determining how we prepare our students for the future, acknowledging that both of the camps that McAfee and Brynjolfsson spoke of previously are a possibility.  But in the end, we have to begin to acknowledge that no matter what future we find ourselves facing, different skills and skillsets will be needed for our children and students to negotiate the future in a much more positive manner.

For these reasons, as well as the societal shifts and changes we are currently and will be witnessing in the future, we are going to have to determine not only how we become much better at building up the foundational skills, but then determining the variety of other skills that must be integrated within and built upon those foundational skills.  It is in this AND mindset that we determine how we work towards a more equitable future for all students.  Which means providing individual access points and supports for all students in their growth and mastery of both the foundational, as well as the future skills that will be needed for positive access, options and ability to traverse a world that has become much more digital, automated, and artificially infused.  Skills that are much harder to automate and will be much more in-demand, no matter what camp the future fall into.

“There is an understandable temptation to focus exclusively on smaller, possibly more feasible, policies that might nibble at the margins of our problems, while leaving any discussion of the larger challenges for some indeterminate point in the future. This is dangerous because we are now so far along on the arc of information technology’s progress. We are getting onto the steep part of the exponential curve. Things will move faster, and the future may arrive long before we are ready.”  -Martin Ford Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

What Is Our Future Narrative?

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“We cannot teach our kids to compete with machines who are smarter – we have to teach our kids something unique.  In this way, thirty years later, kids will have a chance.  Everything we teach should be different from machines.  If we do not change the way we teach, thirty years from now we will be in trouble.”  -Jack Ma founder of Alibaba

In many ways, the goalposts have shifted…

What has served us well in the past, is far from being enough to serve us well in the future.  Lack of awareness, and/or inability to see this shift, often keeps us focused on chasing that which has, or will quickly become obsolete.

While basic literacy and numeracy skills remain imperative and foundational to future success, they are moving farther and farther away from serving as the essential skills needed for success in the knowledge economy, of what many refer to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

And for that reason, we have to deepen our understanding of what changes…and what remains the same.

As author Yuval Noah Harari warns, “Artificial Intelligence will trigger the rise of the useless class.”  For which he adds, “Most of what people learn in school in in college will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40 or 50.  If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster.”

Which is becoming the new normal, especially as companies are finding themselves disrupted quicker and more often.  Requiring the kickstarting of new careers and making ongoing upskilling and reskilling basic professional requirements for remaining employed in the 21st century.  As an example, in response to the current digital disruption occurring, a variety of statistics reveal that 52% of Fortune 500 companies have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or have ceased to exist, since the year 2000.  It is these kinds of disruptions, which then also have both societal and systems affects.  The declining lifespans of our organizations have and will continue to have systems affects on the world of world.  As shared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The average worker currently holds ten different jobs before the age of forty, and that today’s youngest workers will hold 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime.”  Which then requires ongoing adaptability, agility, and learnability of those entering the workforce to just remain relevant to the ever-shifting and changing world of work.

The dynamics of the digital disruption, have had and will continue to have far-reaching systems impact on our society, from government, to business, and education.  We are going to need to build the awareness and insight that allows us to become much more proactive, than our current reactive in our stance to these changes.  As Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for Accenture shares, “In our business, we talk about emerging technologies and how they impact society.  We’ve never seen a technology move as fast as Artificial Intelligence has to impact society and technology.  This is by far the fastest moving technology that we’ve ever tracked in terms of its impact and we’re just getting started.”

And it is not just Artificial Intelligence’s impact on the world of work, as Tristan Harris, Co-Founder and Executive Director for the Center for Humane Technology adds, “By allowing algorithms to control a great deal of what we see and do online, such designers have allowed technology to become a kind of ‘digital Frankenstein,’ steering billions of people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.”

As we design our way forward, and as artificial intelligence and automation become much more prevalent and ingrained in our everyday professional and personal lives, we have to become more aware of how these systems will have great affect on our children and their future.  It will necessitate equipping our children and students with the necessary and needed skillsets that allow them access and entry into more equitable, ethical, and human-centered future.

Not only must we provide our students with the foundational educational skills of the past, we must also engage them with skills and skillsets that will best serve them effectively in the future, which would include the ability to:

  • Efficiently network, utilize a variety of platforms for knowledge building, creating ongoing pipelines of learning and idea flows
  • Display cultural, social, and emotional intelligence
  • Engage innovative, creative, critical, and complex thinking and problem-solving
  • To connect ideas and information quickly
  • Show greater initiative and proactiveness
  • Model and growth and exponential mindset
  • Utilize strategic decision-making
  • Strong use of communication skills, both written and oral (Purple People)
  • Collaborative skills and ability to work well with others in team environments, both internal and external of the organization
  • Technology skills, deeper understanding of its uses and how to move from consumption to creation (computer science)

In many ways, we have to be able to prepare our children and students with a greater sense of learnability, agility, and adaptability for their future, in response to the profound shifts we are witnessing, and in response to the current and future digital disruption that is coming, spurred on by heightened levels of automation and an increasing power of artificial intelligence.

It is difficult to ignore the dystopian, jobless future narrative that seems to be endlessly forecasted for the future.  We hear the stories of the coming of automation, augmentation, and the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence.  However, we must never forget that we are the current creators and authors of this narrative, a narrative that our children and students will continue to write.  A narrative that is both ours and theirs to manufacture.  We must never forget that we have the ability to design our future, and it is up to us to design that future in a way that is to be more equitable, ethical and human-centered.

“Part of why predicting the ending to our AI [artificial intelligence] story is so difficult is because this isn’t just a story about machines.  It’s also a story about human beings, people with free wills that allow them to make their own choices and to shape their own destinies.  Our AI future will be created by us, and it will reflect the choices we make and the actions we take.”  -Kai-Fu Lee via AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order


Mental Moonshots, Cognitive Pioneers And Future Scenarios

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“The directions of transformation are clear: the future lies in micro contributions by large networks of people creating value on a scale previously unthinkable, bringing sociality and social connectivity back into our economic transactions, in the process of redefining notions of rewards, incentives, growth, and currencies.”  -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

The problem is that, in many ways, the directions of transformation are not clear.  We are still struggling to determine, in the midst of the chaos and confusion brought on by the current pace and expanse of change, to see the future that is emerging.  It is no longer as clear as it was before.  We are struggling to connect the systems of our past, with those of the present.  When, all the while, we know that we are inevitably going to need to begin creating new systems for the future.  In many ways, our inability to disrupt current mental models of those systems, locks us into incremental approaches to change, making it more and more difficult to engage the necessary cognitive shifts that will allow for the transformation needed to move forward into the future in a more fluid, dynamic and divergent manner.

In many ways, we are going to have to create new visions, new narratives, even new scenarios that allow us to transform our own thinking in ways that help us approach, even embrace the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the future.

One of the ways to approach this cognitive shift, is through what Adam Kahane refers to as Transformative Scenario Planning, in which he puts forth in the Stanford Social Innovation Review as being a process to transform a complex or problematic situation by first transforming themselves, which occurs in four ways:

  • First, they transform their understandings.
  • Second, they transform their relationships.
  • Third, they transform their intentions.
  • Fourth, the transformations of their understandings, relationships, and intentions enable them to transform their actions and thereby transform their situation.

For which Kahane adds, “The key difference between adaptive and transformative scenario planning is, then, one of purpose.  Adaptive scenario planning uses stories about possible futures to study what could happen, whereas transformative scenario planning assumes that studying the future is insufficient, and so it also uses stories about possible futures to influence what could happen.”

Or as Marina Gorbis shares in The Nature of the Future, “Scenarios let us construct plausible, internally consistent vision that help us frame the range of possibilities and the kinds of issues we are likely to confront along the way.”  For which she continues, “Scenarios are useful tools for uncovering underlying trends and forcing us to ask important questions as we speed toward the future.”

In a world that is becoming, both personally and organizationally much less certain and known, engaging strategies that allow us to discover new foresights to determine our way forward, to develop advanced visions and future narratives, and structure our systems in ways that allow us to personally and organizationally adapt, will provide some semblance of equilibrium to the current and future disequilibrium we currently are and will be facing in the future.

Finding strategies to face our current disequilibriums more effectively will eventually lead us into new equilibriums, even though we will still need to overcome periods of both moderate and accelerated disruption.  Especially as growing levels of upheaval and obsolescence continue to invade upon many of our stalwart institutions and societal pillars that have currently been able to withstand the test of time.  Institutions and pillars that are no longer just bending, but very often breaking under the weight of change as the digital disruptions and shifts continue to bear down upon them.

As Marina Gorbis puts forth in The Nature of the Future, “That is why, when developing scenarios, it is helpful to focus on larger transformations that underlie them and that are irrefutable, the ones we truly believe will inevitably come about.  These larger transformations point to a direction rather than pinpoint a final destination.  How they manifest and in what time frame, however, are where the uncertainties lie.  The more we can foresee the directions and shapes of such transformations, the better we can prepare for the future.”

Too often, the comfort and safety of the known past keeps us mentally entrenched, stuck, embedded in the present, restraining us from becoming more open in confronting the uncertainty of an unknown future.  In many ways, we find ourselves recoiling back to that past.  We find ourselves trying to think of how we can bring back those jobs that no longer exist, rather than finding ways to better prepare for a world of work that is drastically changing and bringing forth new types and ways of working.  Or we get caught up in continuing to amplify skills (both in education and the workforce) that are no longer or soon to be irrelevant, rather than focusing on the awareness and learning necessary to learn new skills and new skillsets.

In many ways, the prospect of an uncertain and unwritten future has us mentally recoiling back to false narratives of the past.

Constructing future narratives, engaging in transformative scenarios of the future, allows us the space and opportunity to make the cognitive adjustments necessary to see through the complexity, confusion and chaos of our current circumstances in ways that allow us to personally and organizationally prepare for the future in a more dynamic and positive manner.  Reframing our mental models provides us the cognitive space to begin to move from ideas of incremental change to visions of transformational shifts.

Which will be vital, in a time when we will need leaders, at all levels of our organizations and institutions, who can effectively learn to connect the disconnected, especially as many of the systems that have stood mightily for so long become more and more frayed and disjointed.

We need leaders who can find the coherence in the midst of incoherence.  

In this precarious place we find ourselves in, learning is no longer an event, as much as it is an everyday necessity.  We now, more than ever, need those at every level of the organization who can create more diverse and expansive networks and idea flows, who can connect disparate dots in more creative and innovative ways, who can think in systems, who can engage divergently and convergently, who can reflect upon and even disrupt their own mental models…

In order that they can engage more mental moonshots and better serve our organizations and institutions as cognitive pioneers, creating the narratives and scenarios that lead us into a much more positive and inclusive future.

“We will no longer need to worry so much about the digital divide as about a cognitive divide.  Those who are self-driven or whose social networks drive them to acquire more and more knowledge and to consume more and more rich content will be able to increase their cognitive capital, while those who do not possess such drive or whose social settings do not encourage such accumulation of knowledge will be left farther and farther behind.  We urgently need to rethink our educational priorities and the kinds of skills we will need in the world of abundant content and rich ecologies of knowledge and information.”-Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World




Reinvention, Transformation, Change, And Open Systems

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“Reinvention is not changing what is, but creating what isn’t.  A butterfly is not more caterpillar or a better or improved caterpillar; a butterfly is a different creature.  Incremental change isn’t enough for many companies today.  They don’t need to change what is; they need to create what isn’t.”  -Athos, Goss, Pascale The Reinvention Roller Coaster: Risking the Present for a Powerful Future via HBR

For which Athos, Goss and Pascale add, “When a company reinvents itself, it must alter the underlying assumptions and invisible premises on which its decisions and actions are based.  To reinvent itself, an organization must first uncover its hidden context.  Only when an organization is threatened, losing momentum, or eager to break new ground will it conform its past and begin to understand why it must break with its outmoded present.  And only then will a company’s employees come to believe in a powerful new future, a future that may seem beyond the organization’s reach.”

While it is inevitable, we continue, both as individuals and organizations, to continuously push-back and resist change; even when we understand that change is an ongoing necessity if we are going to effectively adapt and sustain any form of continued relevance in moving forward into the future.  However, even so, there remains a variety of reasons to why we continue to resist change, from: an unwillingness to part ways with or release strategies that have led to previous success, a lack of trust and/or relationship, lack of understanding or clarity in the communication of the change, a possible loss of individual or organizational status or hierarchy, a lack of capacity to effectively implement the change, or a fear of the unknown, uncertainty, or failure that can accompany a change.

All of which must be understood, if any change initiative is to take hold.

And while change is a natural, but not necessarily comfortable process, individual or organizational transformation or reinvention is not.  It requires a different mindset, a completely different level of capacity, and a very different way of considering the future, which will require new behaviors that necessitate new ways of thinking, doing, acting and being.

From the past to the present, education has had to go through reinvention and a variety of transformations, but for the most part, has relied over the last one hundred years or so on small adjustments and incremental changes to the system, even as the world and society around us has been under siege with a plethora of exponential shifts and transformations, of which would include societal pillars such as the world of work.  A pillar undergoing a deep reinvention of what that means and what it looks like be career ready in a world undergoing constant change and ongoing transformation and reinvention.

In many ways, both individuals and organizations are having to continuously look at the heavy lift of engaging in ongoing cycles of transformation and reinvention.  As is shared in the ebook The Changing Face of Modern Leadership, “The shelf-life of our ideas, skills, frameworks, and systems now deteriorate at a much more advanced rate.  Under this new societal ecosystem, change and innovation has become the new fast and furious of our modern world.”

As this pace of change accelerates, the complexity and chaos individuals, organizations, institutions and systems must deal with increases substantially, as each of these must learn to adapt to the shifting demands of increasingly more dynamic and often less stable environments.  As Porter O’ Grady and Malloc share in Quantum Leadership, “In a complex system, no one element remains inert as other elements adapt to internal and external forces or lead the process of adapting to these forces.”  For which they add, “The object is to discern the effects of these forces and to judge which actions will maintain the system’s integrity, adaptability, and viability.”

For these reasons, today’s educational organizations, institutions, and systems can no longer act as “closed” systems, mired in predictable, efficient, and ordered ways of acting, reacting and operating.  Educational organizations, institutions and systems can longer relevantly serve future generations effectively if they find themselves isolated and siloed off from the necessary awareness and deep understandings of how these often exponential societal shifts will have great effect and affect on the future of the students we are serving and the world they will eventually walk out into.

Rather, education and our educational organizations, institutions and systems must learn to move towards operating with more of an “open” system mindset.  We can no longer serve students effectively for the future without removing the boundaries between the world of education and the world of work.  There must be an opening of these boundaries, as well as a greater levels of collaboration and ongoing idea flows that allow these internal and external entities to interact in ways that build up awareness, share new learnings and knowledge, and create greater levels of capacity.  And while the research on these interactions have not shown these collaborations to be as effective as one would have hoped, the necessity of an open system that allows these interactions in order that both entities (world of education and the world of work) can adapt together, simultaneously, will be important in facing this very non-obvious future in a much more effective manner for our students, as well as for the world of education and the world of work.

“People have contexts just as organizations do.  Our individual context is our hidden strategy for dealing with life; it determines all the choices we make.  On the surface, our context is our formula for winning, the source of our success.  But on closer examination, this context is the box within which a person operates and determines what is possible and impossible for him or her as a leader and, by extension, for the organization.”  -Athos, Goss, Pascale The Reinvention Roller Coaster: Risking the Present for a Powerful Future via HBR

The Digital Disruption, The World Of Work, And Our Future Systems

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“The higher level of disconnection, alienation, more declines in social capital, more groups of people left behind, more geographic areas left behind, this is not the recipe for stable, prosperous, happy society.  My worry is not that the robots will take all the jobs, my worry is that more people will be left behind and feel left behind by what’s going on.”  –Andrew McAfee Associate Director of the Center for Digital Business at the MIT Sloan School of Management via HBO Vice Special The Future of Work

It is difficult to consider the future without acknowledging the heightened levels of uncertainty, complexity and chaos that we are and will be facing in our present, as well as that future.  The pace of change in today’s world often makes us more hesitant, more unsure to choose direction as many of our strategies and actions seem to be outdated upon implementation.  As Peter Thiel put forth in book Zero to One, “Big plans for the future have become archaic curiosities.”  Yet, it isn’t just our strategies and actions that seem to be falling behind, as our skillsets and capabilities now require constant attention and continuous updating and upskilling.

We live in a time when deep digital disruption is sweeping across our societal ecosystems, changing the conditions for relevance, requiring ongoing personal, organizational and systems-wide adaptation.

We are now having to weigh a widening variety of tensions in accordance with the accompanying volatility of these often disruptive changes…

  • Adaptability AND Sustainability
  • Agile AND Incremental
  • Learning AND Knowing
  • Risk AND Safety
  • Creativity AND Compliance
  • Innovation AND Implementation
  • Conflict AND Stability
  • Discovery AND Certainty
  • Experimentation AND Inaction
  • Complexity AND Simplicity

It is for these expanding tensions that we must begin to build not only our awareness, but a deeper understanding of how this digital disruption does not exist in a vacuum.  It will have ramifications across a myriad of our societal systems.  The digital disruption we are currently witnessing not only has and will continue to transform the world of work, its complex components and dynamic dexterity has the capacity to determine and render a wide variety of our strategies, skills, frameworks, institutions and systems irrelevant.

What we often fail to grasp, is that the future of work is inherently linked and tied systemically to the future of education, the future of our economy, the future of government, the future of our country, and even the future of our world.  These systems do not work independent of one another, rather they are interdependent and rely upon each other, as any system does to sustain itself and survive and thrive.  When the parts of the system fail to work interdependently, the whole is severely diminished and the system begins to break down, as each part has dynamic impact on the other parts and the whole.

We can no longer view these parts as existing siloed from the whole and believe that the system will not eventually break down.

For example, let’s look at how the future of work (as provided by HBO’s Vice Special – The Future of Work), in an isolated arena, can have great effect on our systems:

“Trucking in the United States is a $700 billion dollar a year industry with 1.8 million people, which has so far been immune to the changes of globalization and technology, but that is about to change with technology like this.”

For which is added by Tusimple’s Vice President Chuck Price…

“We understand this is a highly disruptive technology, on the order of 10 million people, and displacing rapidly that many people would have a dramatic societal impact.  We definitely don’t want to see that, we are not targeting that.  We are focused on relieving the shortage.  But what we are hoping is that there will be a natural evolution into the jobs of the future, just as there has been in every other technological change.” 

We cannot believe that this level of possible disruption will exist in a vacuum across our societal ecosystems.  It will have great effect on people, on our organizations, on our economy, and even education and our government.

Adjusting, remaining agile and adaptive to these disruptions, will require deep levels of change in our thinking, our mindsets, as well as our systems.  Machine learning, automation, artificial intelligence, and robots will not just have sweeping effects on the world of work institutionally and geographically, it will also have a deep effect on a variety of our societal E’s: education, economy and equality.

Inability to attend to this digital disruption will enhance the growing divides we are currently witnessing, both now and in the future.

“Leaders will have to grapple with these emerging realities and incorporate them into their own lives.  Most people find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what the new technologies will mean for life in the second and third decades of the twenty-first century, despite wanting to embrace them.  They need help in grasping how the technologies will affect them and what adjustments they must now make to thrive in the continually emerging digital reality.”  -via Brown 2009 Quantum Leadership