In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari speaks extensively about what allowed humans to dominate other species. I derived from his discussions three things: Human’s ability to collaborate on a larger scale than any other animal. Our swift adaption to new climates and threats allowed us to ‘transcend the genome’. And lastly our willingness to focus on something beyond our urgent needs, to work for and towards something greater, something intangible — a dream or vision. These are our three essential skills for the future.
Focus, adaption, and collaboration are skills that I have continually encountered in my life and readings, and I truly believe by cultivating them we can best prepare ourselves for the future. In this article, I will discuss why I think these skills are essential for the future, and how we can grow and practice them in our lives.
Technology and society are advancing at a rapidly accelerating pace. The way we live and work is constantly being reinvented by unprecedented breakthroughs, and these are only increasing in magnitude and frequency. Therefore, possibly the most important thing we can do to thrive in this modern existence is to learn to adapt.
To be successful we must not only deal with new conditions, but harness them for own ends. We need only think back to our recent history to find evidence of these breakthroughs that have shaped our lives. First the internet, then social media, and more recently the prominence of remote work and studying. Adapting to change is tough, but through cultivating our skill of adaption we can ensure a more prosperous future.
This is a hard skill to build, but there are things you can do. My first recommendation is that you change your mindset on education. It does not stop after university. To work side by side with this modern technology, we need to practice lifelong learning and build a daily habit of it. There are many online courses one can do. I recommend doing a bit every day, and build a habit of it. Get involved in emerging technology. You can check out this website to get an idea of some of the online courses available to you.
Another thing you can do is to read things that give you perspective – history, philosophy, biographies, memoirs etc. I found for example that reading Man’s Search For Meaning really put my struggles into perspective. This actually helped me overcome some of them, and separate the important from the ephemeral.
One of the foremost problems we face in this modern era is an oversaturation of information. The media bombards us daily with loads of irrelevant information. Additionally, as technology progresses, we have an increasing number of responsibilities — we must answer emails, communicate with our teams, conduct meetings, clean our house and desktops, etc. Focus is being able to sort the urgent from the important, keeping in mind what truly matters, and not being bogged down in our day-to-day tasks. Focus is a skill we should all hone — finding what actually matters and doing it.
To improve our focus we can incorporate a variety of systems into our workflow that let us focus on important things. The first thing you should have is a trusted task/project manager that will allow you to stay on track with personal tasks, things that are important to you, and not just urgent because of your work. I recommend checking out Deep Work or GTD for comprehensive guidance on the topic.
The root of human power lies in our ability to collaborate. Through collaboration on a large scale, we exponentially increase our effectiveness. Collaboration allows us to specialize and focus on our strengths, and undertake projects on an unprecedented scale. However, the key to our collaboration might surprise you. It is the fact that humans, unlike any other species, are capable of believing and discussing the imaginary, the intangible. Corporations, nations, clubs, money — these are all collective stories we tell that unite us. They have no inherent value, rather we grant them value by believing in them. The key to collaboration is therefore convincing others to believe your story.
Collaboration is becoming increasingly important in our modern world as workers become hyper-specialized. This requires us to become increasingly skilled at what we do to compete. Specializing, however, comes at a price — we cannot be good at everything. Therefore we need collaboration, to work effectively with other people who can cover our weaknesses and contribute to a balanced workforce. The better the collaboration, the more you can focus on other things, and be the best version of yourself.
Collaboration is a very wide skill. Luckily it can be broken down into many smaller sub-skills. These include negotiation, leadership, empathy, public speaking et cetera. I suggest you focus on honing these skills through targeted learning. You can train them with the help of the multitude of courses or books available on these topics.
In his book “Life 3.0” Max Tegmark outlines the three most important criteria when judging how secure a job is from expanding technology, specifically AI. The extract reads as follows:
Does it require interacting with people and using social intelligence? Does it involve creativity and coming up with clever solutions? Does it require working in an unpredictable environment?
These three skills that I have discussed will allow us to do just this, giving us the chance to become workers of the future, as safe as we can be from the looming threat of irrelevance. The ability to adapt to an unpredictable environment, to identify and focus on what is important and lastly to collaborate with other people in order to come up with creative solutions and get things done. These are truly the skills of the future.