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

 

 

 

 

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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

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

Designing For Disequilibrium

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“In today’s world, change is inevitable.  And if you’re only striving for equilibrium – which is all but impossible – you will merely continue doing the same thing, year after year as the world moves on.”  -Chris Cancialosi via Forbes

Too often, we see variance and disequilibrium as a problem to be eradicated in our organizations, rather than an opportunity for change that comes through the experimental and discovery learning that leads to new knowledge.  Rather, leaders often spend their time striving for the safety of organizational equilibrium, stability and sustainability, especially in the face of a world in the throes of accelerated and volatile shifts, growing complexity, and very often, the chaos of constant change.  And yet, according to Porter-O’Grady and Malloch in Quantum Leadership, “In systems language, stability is another word for death.  Absolute stability is the absence of life.  The leader always walks a tightrope between stability and chaos, tending to favor the latter.”

However, only striving for organizational equilibrium, in a subtle way, emphasizes a sense of individual and organizational complacency that often leads to behaviors and mindsets that mire the organization in status quo ways of being and doing.  Instead of gaining more agile and adaptable ways of responding, the organization that focuses only on stability and equilibrium, instead tends to recoil from the constancy and volatility of change, forcing itself towards a much more insulated and polarized stance towards the change forces that we are all facing in today’s world.

Focusing only on sustaining forces keeps our individuals and organizations from engaging in and equipping themselves with those processes and learnings that lead to greater agility and adaptability.  As Gary Hamel shares in The Future of Management, “In the 21st century, regularity doesn’t produce superior performance.”  Which we may want to add, we exist, especially organizationally, in a world that is expecting its individuals to equip themselves with greater creative and innovative thinking in order to engage the critical and complex problem-solving skills that allow for the solving of problems and challenges that we have never experienced previously, in new, novel, and often unpredictable ways.

When we design and prepare our organizations with the understanding that perpetual volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (vuca) is becoming the new normal, we don’t try to exist under the “false” interpretation that we will eventually be moving back towards what we previously understood to be “normal.”  Rather than fighting for regularity, predictability and stability, the organization takes on a mindset that drives the mindset and accompanying behaviors towards seeing greater agility and adaptability as the new “normal” for moving forward.  There is no longer any false pretense of working towards an environment and world that no longer exists and, for the most part, is not coming back in the near future.

In many ways, the less disequilibrium individuals and organizations learn to deal with, the less effective they become over time, especially in world that is changing at an accelerated and often exponential rate.  When individuals and organizations continuously avoid the disequilibrium and instability brought on by the uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity of today’s world, they become much more rigid and inflexible towards change, often acting irrationally towards change, choosing for and becoming more receptive to keeping the status quo in place, even when it is not in their best interest, even in the face of oncoming disruption and irrelevance.

As Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky share in Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, “People who practice what we call adaptive leadership do not make this mistake.  Instead of hunkering down, they seize the opportunity of moments like the current one to hit the organization’s reset button.  They use the turbulence of the present to build on and bring closure to the past.  In the process, they change key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization, and redefine the work that people do.”

For which Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky add, “Keeping an organization in a productive zone of disequilibrium is a delicate task; in the practice of leadership, you must keep your hand on the thermostat.  If the heat is consistently too low, people won’t feel the need to ask uncomfortable questions or make difficult decisions.  If it’s consistently too high, the organization risks a meltdown: People are likely to panic and hunker down.”

In leadership, as in life, individuals and organizations must ride that tension between the necessity for both equilibrium and disequilibrium.  Move too far too one side and we find ourselves sliding into comfort and complacency, move too far to the other side and we find ourselves and our organizations saddled to unbridled chaos.  In many ways, equilibrium and disequilibrium exist in much the same manner as pioneers and settlers. As both are necessary and needed.  Without pioneers, we fail to discover new lands, without settlers, we fail to settle and move into those lands.

As Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky share, “The art of leadership in today’s world involves orchestrating the inevitable conflict, chaos, and confusion of change so that the disturbance is productive rather than destructive.”

It is in engaging individuals and organizations around that conflict, chaos and confusion, rather than avoiding and recoiling from it, that our organizations not only gain the ability to adapt, but create the ongoing capacity to adapt in a much more adept and positive manner.  This does not mean that there will be periods of difficulty and discomfort, but rather, individuals and organizations learn to see these as opportunities for growth and change that moves the organization forward in a much more effective and relevant manner.

As Chris Cancialosi shares in Forbes, “People who are able to view disequilibrium as an opportunity (rather than a threat) will be best suited to lead in today’s business environment because an organization that leans toward chaos is primed to find creative solutions to setbacks.” 

Today’s world is requiring of individuals and organizations new levels of learnability, agility and adaptability.  Insulating the organization in regularity, stability, and equilibrium does little to create the processes that will drive individuals and the organizations to greater levels of learnability, agility and adaptability.  When leaders fail to engage the tension brought on by disequilibrium, they end up creating future situations where individuals and the organization become both unwilling and unable to change, when change is necessary and needed.  It allows the organization to become ingrained in legacy practices and inflexible to change, in a world that is constantly changing.

As Heifitz and Linsky put forth, “In a chaotic period, when deconstruction is occurring at the same rate as construction or even faster, the dust of change makes it difficult for leaders to even see the goal.  Instead, they must read the signposts of change, explain to others what they mean, and engage these others in activities that will move the organization in the direction indicated by the signposts.” 

It is not enough for today’s leaders to ride the tension between equilibrium and disequilibrium.  Rather, those tensions must be used in a way that pushes both individuals and the organization towards the necessary urgency, understandings, and behaviors that lead to positive change that moves the organization more effectively and relevantly into the future.  Which requires a deeper level of awareness, agility, adaptability, and learnability, at all levels of the organization.

“The leader lives in the space between action and potential, anticipating the next step and translating the process for others.” -via Quantum Leadership 

 

 

New Awareness For A New Age

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“We are at the threshold of a radical systemic change that requires human beings to adapt continuously.”  

For which Schwab adds…

“There is one certainty: new technologies will dramatically change the nature of work across all industries and occupations.” -Klaus Schwab via The Fourth Industrial Revolution

In a world caught in the throes of dealing with deep, exponential change from what is often being referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution; today’s individuals and organizations are going to need to be much more vigilant in building their awareness of these dramatic and often radical shifts across society and their coming effect on the future.  As we move deeper into the Exponential Age and further into the Knowledge Economy, we can begin to see these dramatic and radical shifts emerging and feel the impact they are having on us and the world around us.

And while it may remain, at this point, just a flicker on the educational radar, we know that something is different, we can feel the changes, even those we can’t see or are even aware of.

Especially in regards to the world of work, which is undergoing a plethora of changes and disruptions brought forth on the shoulders of an accelerated and often turbulent rate and speed of change, along with growing levels of globalization, the scaling of automation, and an evolving and expanding infusion of artificial intelligence across society.

In many ways, individual and organizational learnability, adaptability and agility, have become the new norms of the day.

However, as Srini Pillay, assistant professor, Harvard Medical School shares in the McKinseyQuarterly, “If you say to people, “You need to adapt,” but you don’t help them learn how to build a change-oriented mind-set, it doesn’t really help. In fact, it hurts productivity.”

Engaging that learnability, adaptability and agility often begins with creating the awareness that allows to set the stage for engaging that “change-oriented mind-set.”  

As educators, we have to begin to equip ourselves with a greater awareness of the changes in the world of work and skillset shifts that are occurring alongside and parallel pacing those changes, if we are to begin to better support and guide our students as they manage the growing complexities of college, career and work.

As Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, at Harvard Business School puts forth in McKinsey Quarterly’s Getting Ready for the Future of Work, “We must view it as a race to develop institutions to support lifelong learning.  We need to move fast because we’re playing catch-up, and this is a much harder game to play; suddenly the numbers of people who need to learn fast are too big.”

As for these changes and shifts and the effect they are having on our individuals, organizations, institutions, and society as a whole, it is in seeing that our students will need much more college, career and work support and guidance as the reach of automation and artificial intelligence stretches outwardly and gains new and often unknown ground.

As Andrew Ng, Founder and Lead of Google Brain (Deep Learning) project, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, Co-Founder of Coursera shared in AI is the New Electricity, “Whatever industry you work in, AI will probably transform it.  I think today we see a surprisingly clear path for AI to transform all of these industries.  So I actually hope that whatever industry you are in, you’ll figure out how to leverage AI, because I think it will create new winners and losers in almost every category.”  For which he adds, “If any of you have friends or children or whatever studying in a med school, AI is getting much better at reading radiology images frankly.  So if any of your friends are going through medical school and graduation with a degree in Radiology, I think they’ll have a perfectly fine five-year career as a Radiologist.”

As Bob Kegan, William and Miriam Meehan Research Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development, Harvard Graduate School of Education shares in the McKinsey Quarterly article Getting Ready for the Future, “The number of employees who are operating in more nonstandard, complex jobs is going to increase, while less complex work is going to be increasingly automated. The time it takes for people’s skills to become irrelevant will shrink. It used to be, “I got my skills in my 20s; I can hang on until 60.”  It’s not going to be like that anymore.  We’re going to live in an era of people finding their skills irrelevant at age 45, 40, 35.  And there are going to be a great many people who are out of work”  

For which adds, “What are we going to do about that?”

As leaders, especially in considering this very non-obvious future, we must begin to determine what changes…and what stays the same.  Then, determine how to create the systems, structures, processes, and behaviors needed to move us more relevantly and successfully towards that future vision and the outcomes we’ve determined, if we are to better support our students, parents, educators, leaders, stakeholders, and communities in moving forward through the uncertainty and ambiguity of an unknown future.

In response to these societal shifts, our students will need new and different supports and resources to guide them into the future.  However, without greater awareness of these changes and shifts and understanding the huge impacts that they are having on college, career and work, we will struggle to provide the guidance that students are needing as they begin to consider how to traverse this very non-obvious and uncertain future they are facing.  It is also in understanding that this guidance and support is not just a good to know, but imperative in response to the following research and data provided from McKinsey’s Education to Employment-Designing A System That Works report:

  • Worldwide, young people are three times more likely than their parents to be out of work.
  • Seventy-five million youth are unemployed (including estimates of underemployed youth would potentially triple this number).
  • Half of youth are not sure that their postsecondary education has improved their chances of finding a job.
  • Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies.
  • Fewer than half of youth and employers, believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions.
  • Education providers, however, are much more optimistic: 72 percent of them believe new graduates are ready to work.

Which is why awareness is paramount and vital to supporting our students in navigating this very non-obvious future, especially regards to college, career and work.

Students shared in the same Education to Employment report, “Only about forty-percent say they would make the same educational decision if they could choose again what to study and where, and they rate themselves low on both general and job-specific preparation.”  For which they add that, “Some forty-percent of youth also report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors.  Without this understanding, many students choose courses half-blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.” 

In closing, the report shared that, “Youth across surveyed countries said they were not well-informed about the availability of jobs or the level of wages associated with their course of study.”

While we will never have access to the tea leaves that provide us the insight of how to proceed in predicting and fool-proofing how we can better prepare our students for the future, it does not relieve us of building the awareness that allows us to better determine how to guide and support our students in determining their way forward into the future.  While we may not able to support in the necessary jobs creation that may be needed, we can begin to consider how content AND skills development can coexist in ways that better prepare our students for the changing world of work.  As well as creating our own individual and organizational capacity to provide guidance and support students as they consider their way forward in an unknown, ambiguous and very non-obvious future.

“Two related global crisis: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of people with critical job skills. Leaders everywhere are aware of possible consequences, in the form of social and economic distress, when too many young people believe that their future is compromised.”  McKinsey&Company Education to Employment: Designing A System That Works