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.

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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