Engaging The Entrepreneurial Mindset: The Extra “E” In STEAM

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“Not everyone can be or even wants to be an entrepreneur, but everyone should want to be entrepreneurial.”  -via Inc.

This idea of being entrepreneurial is not a new concept, rather, it is one we have been discussing for years.  However, it is a concept that is beginning to be discussed in educational arenas more often, as of late.  So, before moving forward, let’s spend a minute in grounding ourselves in clarifying the difference and understanding of being an entrepreneur, as opposed to being entrepreneurial.  Especially as this differentiation can be supportive in determining why it may be important for students and for their future when we also consider the differences between “following your passion” and “turning your passion into your profession.”  So, let us dig in and dive a bit deeper…

According to Enterprising Oxford, being entrepreneurial is “not just about starting a business, or spinning out a company from research.  It’s a mindset, or a way of thinking.”  Whereas, Google shares that an entrepreneur is, “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”  And, for educational purposes, we may want to focus a bit more on the entrepreneurial than the entrepreneur side of things.

Which is a difference that we have to become much more cognizant of, as well, especially as the world of work continues to shift and change, often in some very exponential ways.  As McKinsey&Co shares in their paper Education to Employment, “Leaders everywhere are aware of the possible consequences, in the form of social and economic distress, when too many young people believe that their future is compromised.”  Which, for many students and young people, a future compromised is exactly how they feel.  A future that is becoming much less obvious, and much more ambiguous and uncertain.  For which McKinsey&Co add, “The journey from education to employment is a complicated one, and it is natural that there will be different routes.  But too many young people are getting lost along the way.”

In a time of deep digital disruptions, automation, and an infusion of artificial intelligence  with growing capabilities that are putting their stamp on both our personal and professional spaces, especially in the world of work, just telling people to “follow their passion” can be a recipe for disaster towards their future success.  As example, no one wants to engage in an extra twelve years of education and the possible educational loans that accompany that education, in order to become, let’s say a radiologist…to then realize that there is a very good possibility that there will be only a limited future in that profession due to its high probability for automation.  The goal of a postsecondary education for most students is to provide opportunity for a more stable opportunity towards a professional pathway, not as a gamble that can possibly leave them underemployed or unemployed, while saddled with educational loan debt.  Or, as McKinsey&Co put forth, “Only half of youth surveyed believe that their postsecondary education had improved their changes of securing employment.”  Which often means that today’s students have to have a much deeper understanding of the education to employment pipeline, of the system.  They need to have a much greater awareness of the path and the outcomes it is leading them towards, than just moving forward on the mantra of “follow your passion” as a pathway to their future.

As Entrepreneur shares, “It’s not enough to just have a good idea and get a little traction.  Real change requires a more ambitious canvas.”

While, having two sons that are in the midst of considering and determining their pathway, I am finding the importance in instilling skillsets and a mindset that is much more entrepreneurial towards their future.  Which allows them to “follow their passion” while engaging in the skills, skillsets, and mindset that allows them to better determine how “following your passion” can actually lead to better outcomes and a better future for them.  By honing an entrepreneurial mindset, they are engaging in the thinking and skillsets that will help them allow that passion to fuel their determination towards seeing how their passions have both niche and wider opportunities for their future.  Or, if that passion may need and or require a bit of reframing, a change in perspective, or a different lens in order that it is actually leading them down a more successful path for their future.

Which, is actually taking an entrepreneurial mindset towards the mantra of “follow your passion.”

With that in mind, let’s look at some ways that we can engage a more entrepreneurial mindset for our students that can positively support them for their future:

  • Create Your Space“following your passion” is also in being able to see how that “passion” has a future and then determining how to define that niche and begin to create the future for yourself.  We live in a time where and entrepreneurial mindset provides the impetus to create your space that brings others to your passion, allowing you to see a space for that passion, and how that passion can be turned into a profession that can flourish in the future.
  • Challenge Conventional Wisdom – part of joining together creative and innovative thinking with problem-solving is the willingness and ability to challenge the conventional and or status quo was of thinking and doing.  To do this requires today’s youth to spend much more time determining and then asking both deeper and better questions, which has not always been the focus of a traditional education, which is often answer-focused.  It is in those questions, in seeking out problems that need solving, that students can reframe from focusing on obstacles and become more focused on seeing possibilities.
  • Step Into Uncertainty – when we begin to focus on questions more than answers, we finding ourselves slipping into unknown territory, one that is filled with more uncertainty than certainty, which can be uncomfortable.  Persisting in these spaces is quite difficult and requires high levels of persistence and resilience to push through our constant want for stability and safety.  Building up this tolerance for ambiguity is vital in a world that is becoming more complex and volatile under the accelerating pace and rate of change.
  • Amplify The Message – today’s students need to know how to communicate effectively, both written and orally.  And they need to be able to communicate in this manner in a variety of arenas.  Being able to communicate in this manner, is often referred to or known as being “purple people,” as they are able to communicate in a tech space (red) just as effectively as they are able to communicate in a leadership space (blue).
  • Engage Strategically – whether getting down to the root cause, being able focus down to the core of a problem, or determining how to engage in calculated risk, it needs to be engaged in a strategic manner.  Using data, incorporating evidence, determining best practices, or even engaging in experimental and discovery learning, doing so in a strategic manner is paramount to making stronger choices that lead to better outcomes.  It is not enough to just see the problem, if you are unable to strategically approach the problem in a way that leads to better solutions and improved outcomes.
  • Pivot As A Strategy And Process – too often we try to follow the “garden” path and find ourselves caught up in an endless loop of sameness, entrenched in the known.  And then wonder why we never gain new ground or achieve greater success.  Instead, determine when a pivot is necessary and needed, in order that it moves you to new places, new destinations, new outcomes.  We cannot believe that following the well-worn “garden” path will take us any other place than what we already know.  Those unwilling to pivot, often remain on the “garden” path and continuously wonder why it is not taking them “anywhere” different.  Individual agility and adaptability is often in knowing when that pivot is necessary and needed.
  • Everyday Better – understanding that learning has become an everyday way of existing, moves the idea of learning from an event to an integrated way of existing.  It is in understanding that there isn’t really failure, but learning, more learning, new learning, that leads to new starting points, helps us see the journey as just a part of living, growing and evolving.  Knowing that learning is now a necessity for a world that is constantly changing and evolving, allows students to view learning as a process, rather than an event or an end point.
  • See The System – today’s students, especially in a world that has become more connected, more networked, and much more collaborative, need to see not only from a systems view and how all of those systems connect and interact, but how to work more effectively within those systems.  Especially in a time when those systems and platforms provide much more opportunity for their entrepreneurial mindset to be engaged to the benefit of seeing how “following their passion” can lead to better outcomes for their future.
  • Curiosity, Confidence, And Courage – building up a sense of curiosity, confidence, and courage will allow the above skillsets to be engaged with not only more positivity and willingness, but in a more meaningful manner.  When students run into obstacles, instead of giving up or losing hope, curiosity, confidence, and courage provides them the push forward to find the possibilities that often lay just outside and beyond those obstacles.

While not everyone will end up being an entrepreneur in the future, being entrepreneurial can provide students the skillsets and mindset that can provide the learning that will allow greater access to a world of work that is changing and shifting in some very exponential ways.  It is not just in “following your passion” but in determining ways to make “following your passion” actually work towards a profession that can lead students towards a more positive and meaningful future.  And as Reid Hoffman shares, “Society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially.”

“All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship.”  -Reid Hoffman


Facing The Future: Deeper Learning

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“If you don’t reinvent yourself, change your organization structure; if you don’t talk about speed of innovation – you’re going to get disrupted.  And it’ll be a brutal disruption, where the majority of companies will not exist in a meaningful way ten to fifteen years from now.”  -John Chambers, Executive Chairman of CISCO

We live in a world that has always had to deal with change, a world that is constantly evolving.  Yet, it is in recent times, that these cycles of change have begun to accelerate at an astonishing rate, pushing us into new and often unknown environments that are becoming much more turbulent, much more volatile, and much more uncertain towards this new pace of change.  And it is not just the speed of change that is evolving, but the level of connection through our many networks and platforms that is allowing change to  infiltrate, disperse and diffuse at such a heightened and rapid rate across our individual, organizational, and societal ecosystems.

Unfortunately, especially in the face of today’s modern pace of change, that we find our organizations struggling, as they are still learning how to engage effectively to these connections, platforms and networks; learning how to create the environments and spaces where the novel and new have opportunity to percolate, incubate, and exist.  Which means that many of our organizations are not only struggling to parallel pace the new speed of change, but find themselves spinning into irrelevance as they struggle to unentrench themselves from the command and control, hierarchical structures and systems that have mired them in continual sameness, often inhibiting their ability to stretch beyond their current level of the known.

Rather, it is those organizations that have created environments and spaces where the novel and new, where creative and innovative thinking and doing can actually infuse from the edges into the core of the organization, that are actually able to create some semblance of relevance through the creation and support of networks that enhance organizational idea flows and provide the platform to diffuse those new ideas and new knowledge across the organizational learning ecosystem.

These organizations are moving from static and solid structures towards more fluid and integrated systems.  Organizations that are able to take advantage of experimentation and discovery learning in response to what is captured from their internal and external networks, creating the learning and knowledge that expands their organizational boundaries farther and farther into the unknown, in more confident, effective and relevant manner.

It is in this work, that our individuals and organizations learn to become much more agile and adaptable towards change.  It is in their ability and willingness to engage in “deeper learning” that our individuals and organizations will learn to access the knowledge and learning that will enable them to better approach and solve the problems we are facing in not only more effective, novel and new ways…but to move to a place where we are connecting the disparate and disconnected dots that will be needed as we move farther away from those technical problems and more towards the adaptive challenges that truly shaping our modern times.

While continuously curating new knowledge and skills and working towards the idea of lifelong learning is now a necessity and requirement for today’s individuals and organizations, it is also not enough.  It is imperative that we are developing that knowledge, learning and skills in a way that it is also transferable.  Where we are consistently building up our fluency towards that knowledge, learning and skills in ways that it becomes automatic and easily transfers towards helping us solve the problems and challenges we are facing.  We engage in deeper learning in an effort to create more fluidity to applying our knowledge and skills, building more comfort and automaticity to transferring that knowledge to new situations, which will become more and more imperative to our work as individuals and organizations as the complexity and chaos of a world in the throes of constant, relentless and accelerated change pressing down upon us.  As the National Research Council’s Education for Life and Work puts forth, “Part of deeper learning is that the knowledge of the learner is organized and stored in a way that is easily retrievable and useful.  It is efficiently coded and stored.  And it is not just stored, but it is accessible and useful towards solving new and or unknown problems.”

For which Mehta and Fine add from In Search of Deeper Learning, “The generation of students coming of age today will be asked to navigate, survive, and, if they can, help to heal the world they have inherited.  Schools will need to do their part to develop skilled, creative, educated, informed, and empathetic citizens and leaders – the kind of people that our economy, society, and democracy demand.”

If we are going to become much more effective in not only dealing with the accelerated and turbulent pace of change and this definitive shift from technical problems to adaptive challenges, we are going to need to push into deeper learning, not only for the future of our students, but for the future of our individuals, leaders, and organizations.  Especially as we work to build up the knowledge, the capacity, and the competencies that will allow our individuals and organizations to move more effectively into this very uncertain and non-obvious future we are all facing.

“The new social contract is different: Only people who have the knowledge and skills to negotiate constant change and reinvent themselves for new situations will succeed.  Competency in twenty-first century skills gives people the ability to keep learning and adjusting to change.”  -Ken Kay, Chief Executive Officer EdLeader21


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