Adaptability: The Skill That Will Never Be Digitized or Outsourced
Adaptability is going to be one of the most critical skills we can have in the future.
Edie Weiner is president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., a leading futurist consulting group. Formed in 1977, WEB has served over 400 clients (corporate, academic, government) in identifying opportunities in the areas of marketing, product development, strategic planning, investments, human resources and public affairs. Clients have ranged from the U.S. Congress to many of the Fortune 500. She is acknowledged as one of the most influential practitioners of social, technological, political and economic intelligence-gathering.
At 29, Ms. Weiner was the youngest outside woman ever elected to a corporate board. She has been a guest lecturer at Wharton, Harvard, The U.S. Army War College, and a number of other universities. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The Harvard Business Review, The Futurist, and The Wall Street Journal. She has co-authored four books with her partner Arnold Brown: Supermanaging (McGraw-Hill 1984), Office Biology (MasterMedia 1993), Insider’s Guide to the Future (Bottom Line, 1997), and FutureThink (Prentice Hall, 2006). She has keynoted over 300 conferences.
Throughout the 1990s, she founded and chaired the Esteem Teams, an innovative program in which dozens of inner city, at risk girls were mentored by executive women.
She serves on numerous Boards and Advisory Boards, including the US Comptroller General’s Advisory Board, Women’s Leadership Exchange, and The SyFy Channel. In the past, she has been on the Board or Advisory Board of the José Limón Dance Foundation (Chair), UNUM Corporation, First Unum Corp., CompUSA, the Fashion Group International, ThinkQuest New York City (Chair), Boardroom Inc., Independent Agents & Brokers of New York, and the Women’s Forum. Ms. Weiner is a member of the Women’s Forum, a co-founder of the Belizean Grove, the first recipient of the Fashion Group International’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award (1998), NOW New York’s 2011 Woman of Power and Influence Award, and The World Future Society’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.
I honestly believe that there will be some kinds of skills that will always be required and they don’t necessarily need higher educational degrees. Those are the ones that must be delivered personally. You can’t outsource the plumbing in your house. You can’t outsource the fact that your electricity isn’t working. So we’re always going to need trades people close to home and we should never denigrate their value, because without them we are really stuck, and we know that because it’s so hard to get a really good one now.
So the future is not all about college education, higher education, things that can be outsourced, even at the more advanced levels. You could spend so many years developing the skills to become a radiologist, but if that can be digitized and it can be shipped anywhere in the world, then you are at risk in terms of what you thought was a great set of skills and competencies.
So in the end, if we were to come down to the few things that you would need, regardless of what the future is going to deliver, in order to be successful the most important one I would say is the ability to communicate. I don’t care if you intend to make pottery or run for the president of a country, if you can’t communicate—and it might not be in the same media that we use today—you cannot sell yourself. And if you cannot sell yourself, you will never be able to succeed and be the tops in your profession.
Beyond that, I think that adaptability will become a personal trait that will become so important for people, because you’re not going to be able to predict what’s going to happen next year. Nor will you have one job or one career your whole life, you’ll have many. Your social life will be in turmoil from time to time. Your geography will be unknowable. So to a certain extent, the ability to develop social schizophrenia, not clinical, because clinical schizophrenia is when your mind creates alternative worlds and as a result you can’t get on with real life. But social schizophrenia is the ability to constantly imagine yourself being something different, being somewhere different, earning something different, living somehow different.
Because if you can imagine it, if you can dream it, if you constantly play that game, whether it’s in virtual worlds or in your own brain, then when it happens to you, as it inevitably will, you will be much more capable of weathering it, surviving it, and going on. So I do think adaptability is going to be one of the most critical skills we can have in the future.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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