To prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in its The Future of Jobs report, The World Economic Forum laid out the skills that will be most desired by employers in 2020. Master just a few of them, and you’re almost guaranteed to survive and thrive through the AI apocalypse.
The thing is, though, over a third of the skills are not yet even on the radars of employers, never mind on their job descriptions. And so, as there’s also little support being offered by governments and universities, if you’re to cultivate them and be ready for the unprecedented global disruption that’s on our doorsteps, there’s no other way than to take the task of learning them upon yourself.
If not just to keep off your ass and stay in a job, it’s worth it because, as explained by Nick van Dam, global chief learning officer at McKinsey & Co., it is “the best time for people who have the right skills and right education because there are tremendous opportunities”.
So, we know what skills to learn. All we need to know now is what they are and what we can do to start cultivating them.
It’s in our nature to think critically, literally — it developed early as a way to analyse what’s going on around us and help avoid potentially life-threatening situations.
Today, however, as we live in complete comfort and security and work jobs that are repetitive and dull — jobs which are easily automated — we don’t need to be constantly on guard and questioning. Other than choosing what socks to wear in the morning and being nighttime couch critics, our capacity for critical thinking rarely gets exercised.
The result is we fall into our default state of being driven by our emotions and taking things at face value. For instance, when two things happen around the same time, and there’s a lack of other evidence on the surface, we tend to believe that one caused the other — confusing correlation with causation. This is especially true when the occurrence supports our emotional state, for example when your football team loses and you think it’s because you’re not wearing your lucky socks.
To prevent this kind of biased and shortsighted thinking, we need to learn how to think critically. As stated by Author of The Critical Advantage William T. Gormley, critical thinking is dependent on three abilities: the capacity to spot weaknesses in other peoples arguments, a passion for good evidence and data, and the capacity to reflect on your own values and beliefs.
Gormely places particular emphasis on the final element as when we don’t stop to reflect, we tend to do the lazy and dangerous thing of just going with the crowd or, even more disastrously, just make stuff up.
Making stuff up looks like drawing a line between two points that may be completely unrelated, just to close the gap. We do this a lot of the time because we don’t know how to, don’t want to, or don’t have the energy to explore something deeply. Such makeshift answers become our assumptions, and once they’re established, they’re incredibly difficult to break and even notice if you can’t think critically.
Schools today are still very much orientated toward the idea that storing and recalling information is the best measure of intelligence. Yet, ever since the 80s and American developmental psychologist Howard Gardener documented another eight types, it’s been widely understood there are many other ways you can be intelligent — the majority of which (arguably) could never be mastered by computers.
Many of Gardener’s categories can be summed up by the modern term emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a faculty with five facets: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. In other words, your awareness of how your emotions influence your perceptions, how your perceptions shape how you experience and act in the world, and finally, how to manage and talk about such experiences and those of others.
There’s no lack of ways you can hear about other people’s lives and immerse yourself in different perspectives. The problem is that, in our individualistic culture of social media and the American Dream, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get out of your own head enough and truly know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
This is the difference between empathy and compassion. Whereas empathy is “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference”, compassion goes one step further to where there’s not ‘two’ separate beings having ‘two’ separate experiences, but one. Thus, by cultivating compassion, you feel other people’s suffering as your own, and as such are able to act from a place of complete coherence and common interest.
Einstein famously said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” But whereas it may be true it’s more important, it’s typically a lot less profitable.
So, like our capacity for asking questions and being curious, our capacity for being creative is bred out of us as we grow older and become ‘better’ prepared for the working world. We learn to think like everyone else, learn the same skills as everyone else, learn to act like everyone else — in a word, we learn to be machines.
But as Einstein went on to say, “knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” And so, as we predictably reach the limits of knowledge and hand tasks like processing, storage, and computation over to computers and AI, we need to once again harness our imaginations and think in new ways to foster diversity, innovation, and growth.
This presents another problem as, for our imaginations to be able to roam free, they first need to be clear of distractions, preoccupations, notifications, information, stimulation — essentially anything that overloads our brains and clouds our thinking (i.e. modern life).
If you somehow manage to escape all this, then your mind will be in a more receptive state to roam openly and creatively. And then you can worry about cultivating the other major component of creativity that is necessary for bringing and developing ideas out of the creative void: confidence.
With confidence, you can conjure up ideas, know which have potential, know which ones suck, and overall trust in the creative process. A big part of it as well is knowing that, as human beings, we’re all innately creative — we all bring something out of nothing every single day. A lot of the time the only difference between those that are creative and those that aren’t is enough confidence (or ignorance).