Four Essential Skills For Thriving in The 21st Century
After I graduated from business school in April 2009, our education system was outdated and not equipped to help people develop the essential skills for thriving in the 21st century.
- Many of my peers waited for the economy to recover,
- The jobs that disappeared never came back.
Economies no longer recover from recessions, they evolve to adapt for the future. Unless you develop these essential skills for thriving in the 21st century, you will be at a disadvantage or, worse, get displaced.
Why We Have to Start with Education Reform
To develop the essential skills for thriving in the 21st century, we have to start with education reform.
“If our parents had one job, but we will have five and the next generation or the generation growing up, listening to this right now, we’ll have five at the same time. The schooling system we’ve grown up with is absolutely incapable, literally a hundred percent incapable. They cannot evolve fast enough to address this need,” said Chase Jarvis in our interview on the Unmistakable Creative
Our modern education system was designed to support the industrial revolution. Standardization made sense when the purpose of education was to produce obedient factory workers. But it doesn’t if education aims to breed creative, critical thinkers.
For young people to develop the essential skills for thriving in the 21st century, education Dan Pink says education needs to be self-directed, multidisciplinary, and creative.
1. Self Directed
In the movie Accepted, Justin Long gets rejected by every college. Out of desperation, he asks a friend to build a fake website, and he prints an acceptance letter to share with his parents for a fictitious college.
- His friend accidentally makes the website functional.
- A few weeks later, hundreds of people who’ve paid tuition show up at The South Harmon Institute of Technology.
- Because the college doesn’t have a course catalog, he asks students about their interests and appropriates the bulk of their tuition to whatever they want to learn.
Even though the resulting curriculum isn’t exactly practical, this movie exemplifies what a self-directed education could be. All it would take is one university to start with a pilot program.
College course catalogs are like fast food menus that force students to choose from the options in front of them but blind them to the possibilities that surround them.
Education is a one-sized fit solution and a means to an end that kills the joy of learning.
In a self-directed education system, students would choose what to learn based on Innate curiosity instead of potential career paths.
- Curiosity increases motivation
- Intrinsic Motivation increases the love of learning
As Stanford Professor Tina Seelig said, “passion follows engagement.” By following their curiosity, students will have more options for potential careers. They’re more likely to end up in jobs they love.
“You’re incentivized to become a narrow and narrow specialist. And so, as a consequence, the undergraduate education that’s offered is very rarely cross-disciplinary. Yet, when these young men and women go out into the world, all the problems and issues they confront are inherently multi-disciplinary,” says Dan Pink.
Early specialization forces young people to make decisions about their entire life when they’ve only lived a fraction.
- First, most of us hardly know ourselves, let alone what we want to do with our lives when we’re 18. This is why we should stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up
- Second, narrowing specialization is an obstacle to developing multidisciplinary skills.
- Third, according to author David Epstein, peak formers have longer sampling periods. They explore a wider range of interests and expand their personal range of possibility.
In the short run, people who specialize early outperform them. But in the long run, those who explore a wide range of interests develop the ability to solve multidisciplinary problems and leave their peers in the dust.
Steve Jobs famously said you can only connect the dots looking backward. But you have to collect dots before you can connect them. A multidisciplinary education system gives people the opportunity to gather more dots.
Playing the tuba for nine years had a more profound impact on my career than an economics degree from Berkeley and an MBA from Pepperdine. It taught me the importance of discipline, commitment, and practice, all of which have been instrumental in what I’ve accomplished as a writer, podcast host, and entrepreneur.
I have always been a big believer in the importance of art education in a very hard-headed way. I think that high schools should teach both data science and statistics and require some form of arts. Not art history or art appreciation, but actual either the performing arts or the visual arts, or something that involves expression.
Creative self-expression teaches people to generate ideas, solve problems without answers, think critically, collaborate and develop their intuition. The skills people develop from creative self-expression translate to nearly every other area of their lives.
Our current education system prepares people for a future that doesn’t exist. Unless we redesign the system, young people will leave school without the essential skills to thrive in the 21st century.
For those who have left school, the same principles apply. The Internet is a fountain of knowledge that gives us an education that kicks the crap out of the one we got in school. But we must develop a thirst for knowledge.
Back in 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a nonprofit educational coalition that included everyone from executives at Apple, Cisco, and Microsoft to experts from the National Education Association and the US Department of Education was charged with determining which skills our children need to thrive in the twenty-first century. The old answer, of course, was the three Rs-reading, writing, and arithmetic. The new answer? The four Cs: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and cooperation. — #Steven Kotler , The Art of Impossible
Skill 1: Creativity
Curiosity is the spark that ignites the flames of passion and reignites creativity within us. But when organizations restrict employees to job descriptions only, they kill risk tolerance, diminish curiosity, and extinguish creativity.
Creativity is not a trait. It’s a vital skill. But nobody learns how to be creative by reading books, taking online courses, or going to art school. They learn to be creative through creative self-expression, creating more than consuming.
- First, people need permission to fail because without fear of repercussion. When fear of failure becomes fear of trying, it kills creativity.
- Organizations and individuals have to cultivate patience in the face of ambiguity and realize Creative ideas that fail are detours, not dead ends.
Creative self-expression cultivates the ability to solve multidisciplinary problems Our world rewards creators more than consumers. And the only way for organizations to develop creative thinkers is by giving them permission and encouragement to create.
Why It’s So Hard for People to be Creative at Work
Even though companies claim that creativity is an essential skill, employees struggle to be creative because most companies don’t create the right environment for creativity to flourish. Instead, they create environments that reward compliance and obedience.
One of the problems is that schools and our educational system, and even our way of raising children replaces curiosity with compliance. And once you replace curiosity with compliance, you get an obedient factory worker, but you no longer get a creative thinker. And you need creativity, you need the ability to feed your own brain to learn whatever you want. -Naval Ravikant, How To Get Rich Without Getting Lucky
Systems are designed to produce the results they do. A system that rewards conformity and compliance will produce obedient factory workers but fail to produce creative thinkers.
Organizational innovation increases in proportion to individual creativity
Without encouragement, permission, space, and time to follow their curiosity and express their creativity, employees will struggle to be creative at work regardless of outcomes. A lack of autonomy, purpose, and opportunity for mastery stifles individual creativity, decreases motivation, and hinders organizational innovation.
Encourage Employees to Challenge The Status Quo
Todd Henry once said creativity is a pathological inability to accept the status quo . Organizations need to encourage people to challenge the status quo and authority without fear of repercussion. When fear of failure becomes fear of trying, people stop expressing their creativity and taking risks.
Don’t Discourage Side Hustles and Overlook People Without The Right Qualifications
When I had my last interview for a “real job” at an ad agency, my body of work got me an interview but prevented me from getting the job. They failed to see that building a body of work was giving me transferrable skills that wouldn’t distract me from my job. Those skills would make me better at my job.
- When people start side hustles, they learn how to make ideas happen, which is one of the most valuable skills someone can develop.
- Making ideas happen teaches people how to organize, execute, and collaborate, while also teaching them to be self-reliant and self-directed.
- When managers see employee side-hustles as threats, they do their employees and their organizations a disservice.
Discouraging employee side hustles has a massive opportunity cost. When a young Stanford graduate who was working at Google didn’t have a computer science degree, the company refused to promote him. This turned out to be a billion-dollar mistake because that employee was Kevin Systrom, the founder of Instagram.
Encourage Individual Creative Self Expression
There’s more to every human being than they could ever express through something as limiting as a job description or title. Looking good on paper is useless in the innovation era If organizations want their employees to become creative thinkers and problems solvers, they need to give their employees the opportunity.
No organization can expect its employees to be creative without the conditions for developing creative thinkers.
Skill 2: Critical Thinking
Information overload is making us stupid, unproductive, and poor. Mistaking information for knowledge prevents critical thinking and Rote memorization creates an illusion of knowledge.
Become an Engaged Participant in the Creation of Knowledge
When people take a course, read a book, or listen to a podcast, but do nothing with what they learn they gain information. But they don’t generate knowledge.
To become critical thinkers, people need to play an active role in the construction of knowledge in school and at work. When they observe, reflect, write, reconstruct information from memory, and ask critical questions, information begins to evolve into knowledge.
Encourage Skepticism and the Willingness to Challenge Authority
To develop critical thinkers, schools and organizations need to give students and employees permission and encouragement to challenge authority, never follow anyone’s advice to the letter, be skeptical, and express bold and compelling points of view.
Critical thinking is less about finding the solution to a problem and more about finding the right problems to solve. Individuals and organizations need to be skeptical and open-minded simultaneously to develop their critical thinking abilities.
Question Your Beliefs
Prescriptive advice is a framework, not a formula and Almost nothing is universally true , As AJ Jacobs said in his book, The Puzzler “I have one core belief: don’t be an asshole; be kind to others. That one’s written in pen. The rest of my beliefs are all in pencil. They are hypotheses waiting for updating on new evidence, ready for the eraser.”
If you want to improve your critical thinking skills write your Beliefs in pencil so You Can Erase and revise.
Skill 3: Collaboration
The paradox of social media is that it has made us more connected and less collaborative. In a world that’s becoming increasingly individualistic, people have become self-obsessed with no idea what it’s doing to them.
Every piece of art, company, product, movement, and community is the result of collaborative efforts. As Scott Belsky said in his book Making Ideas Happen, no creative endeavor can survive on the energy of one person” and there is no such thing as solo entrepreneurship.
- No artist in the creator economy could survive without the efforts of the people who work at the companies that make the products that make their work possible. There are always people behind the scenes who make the accomplishments of the person in the spotlight possible.
- No company could survive without the efforts of its employees. And none of those employees can survive without the efforts of their co-workers.
Benefits of Collaboration
Companies say collaboration is an essential skill for the future of work, it’s a foundational economic principle that made the industrial revolution possible. When people partner with people who have complementary skills, they accomplish more because division of labor increases individual dexterity.
After publishing The Small Army Strategy, my friend Mars Dorian offered to redesign the cover because he enjoyed the book. That was the beginning of a partnership that has lasted for almost a decade and we’ve never met in person. The visual voice of the Unmistakable Creative has been the result of our collaboration.
You’ll learn more from working on one project that requires you to collaborate with others than you will from reading one hundred books on leadership. Working on a project together is one of the best ways for people to find their creative soulmates speak.
In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith said self-interest is the engine of prosperity. But we live in an interdependent society in which the actions of the individual impact the collective.
Every one of us is motivated by self-interest to varying degrees. But relentless ambition and excessive self-interest prevent people from being effective collaborators. Effective collaboration requires mutual self-interest on the part of employees and organizations.
Skill 4: Cooperation
The evolution of our species, achievements of mankind, scientific breakthroughs, and all human progress have been the result of cooperation. Without cooperation, echo chambers lead to myopic points of view and confirmation bias impacts our decisions. As a result, we’re blind to the flaws in our thinking.
Thinking in groups gives us valuable feedback that we can’t get while thinking in isolation.
- First, It forces us to consider multiple points of view for decisions
- Second, triangulation, asking multiple for their perspective, raises the probability of making the right decision
- Third, working in groups helps us learn when to trust and when to ignore our intuition.
But we don’t just have to learn to cooperate with people. We have to learn to cooperate with intelligent machines. Every organization is an interdependent system that combines human labor and technology to produce value.
By dividing labor between humans and machines, people are able to automate repetitive tasks. Automation allows people to prioritize efforts with a disproportionate impact and focus on high-value tasks that can’t be done by machines.
The education system and most organizations are not designed to help us develop the four skills for thriving in the 21st century. But that doesn’t mean you should wait for an opportunity to develop these skills.
- Take it upon yourself to build or create something with the sole purpose of developing these essential skills.
- Start a blog, launch a podcast, or teach an online course.
- Focus on the process instead of the outcome.
If you do, you’ll develop an invaluable and transferable skill: the ability to make ideas happen. And in the process, you’ll also develop the essential skills for thriving in the 21st century.
To get a list of the best books about how to develop the essential skills for thriving in the 21st century, go here.