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


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

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

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

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world often makes us more hesitant, more unsure to choose direction as many of our strategies and actions seem to be outdated upon implementation.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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