When my father was born in 1941, only three telephone calls could be made simultaneously in Jaen. Today, we can make millions of calls at the same time.
Gone are the days when change was linear and predictable. We are now fully immersed in what we call VUCA environments, where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are our daily travel companions, requiring us to be flexible as we surf the waves of our personal and professional lives.
Also gone, maybe even more so, are the tools we once learned in order to maneuver the world of adults. The demands of these new environments require new lessons. But, more importantly, they oblige us to unlearn what we have already learned.
We are now aware that the secret does not lie in managing change well, but rather in asking ourselves in the midst of change, if we are improving or not.
For this very reason, the idea of learning how to manage time has also fallen by the wayside. In these new environments we are beginning to understand that the key is not in managing time well, but rather in improving the management of our attention during the time that we have. Today’s technological stimuli are infinitely greater than those of just a couple of decades ago, and therefore distractions are one of the biggest enemies to our being more productive. The constant bombardment of emails, WhatsApps, and other applications are more frequent by the day. And we are increasingly unable to resist responding to them immediately. There are now applications that keep us informed about how we are using our everyday technology, and it’s worrisome to observe how we, all too often, mismanage it.
The World Economic Forum produces a study that tries to anticipate the skills that will be necessary to develop for a future that changes so quickly that what happens tomorrow is almost yesterday.
The WEF, also known as the Davos Forum, has produced the following output from their research, a list of what will be the 10 most in-demand skills in 2020.
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
We cannot view this list of skills as generic concepts applied to any environment. The value of these skills is enriched when they emerge in a specific workplace, and from there they can be understood.
Nor should we fall prey to the error of the pendulum: trying to master these skills while moving away from knowledge. The two are closely interrelated. It is impossible to make good decisions without in-depth, up-to-date knowledge.
It is interesting to note that cognitive flexibility makes its appearance for the first time on the WEF list. This is defined as the capacity to learn and unlearn, in order to be able to flexibly adapt to the needs and demands of one’s environment.
This environment was defined by the deceased Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, father of the concept of liquid modernity and society. He made many valuable contributions to this new paradigm, where our life’s greatest concern is “how to prevent things from remaining fixed, from being so solid that they can’t change in the future. We are used to fast time, sure that things will not last long, that new opportunities will arise, depreciating the existing ones. And this happens in every aspect of our lives. With material objects and with human relationships. And with the very relationship we have with ourselves, how we evaluate ourselves, what image we have of our person, what ambition we allow to guide us. Everything changes from one moment to the next, we are aware that we are alterable, and so we are afraid to fix anything permanently.”
And in this liquid reality, the eternal dilemma between freedom and security becomes increasingly more evident. Enjoying more security reduces freedoms and vice versa. While a commitment to security has been the more established option, today we are confronting the need to manage uncertainty – for good and for bad – without the necessary tools. The price of freedom is high, and not everyone can – or wants to – pay it.
In these liquid environments where artificial intelligence is already making more accurate decisions than many of the best specialists in their fields, it is possible that human beings need to understand that our value is shifting toward being able to ask new questions and create new intellectual scenarios. The more widespread artificial intelligence becomes, the more important it is that we humanize what we do. If there are going to be fewer human interactions, we need these relationships to be increasingly more valuable.
An uncertain future full of opportunities and risks.