This article was published on November 28, 2019

To succeed professionally, you must nurture the right skills

“An average skill, particularly in technology has got a half life of three to five years. You hire for propensity to learn.” — Ginni Rometty

To succeed professionally, you must nurture the right skills
Robert Overweg
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Robert Overweg

Robert Overweg is an artist, lecturer, explorer of digital worlds, and creative director at Triple, a 160 people tech company. He guides som Robert Overweg is an artist, lecturer, explorer of digital worlds, and creative director at Triple, a 160 people tech company. He guides some of the most leading international companies in making the digital transformation. Lectures have been given at companies and conferences like SXSW, MIT and Next Conference. You can check out his work, lectures and research here. Or follow him on twitter here.

The ability to constantly change and adapt will become increasingly important. For students, for people within corporates, and even for people working in tech. It’s not enough anymore to just learn a tech skill.

We will have to also develop open and curious mindsets. Focus on transferable skills which will be relevant for the entirety of people’s lives. And preferably do all of this in a fun and playful way. So that we will all be able to enjoy the journey that is life at its best. 

Learn to look at skills in a flexible way

From my 10 years of experience with innovation, I’ve seen a number of times people stop evolving. It’s often due to people having developed fixed mindsets, they stopped learning, and stopped thinking in possibilities. They closed down, so to say. Fun was nowhere to be found anymore. When people think that their capabilities are fixed, this is a mindset one can change. Through the right types of inspiration, thinking models, and with the right methodology.

An experiment at Google showed people can become 70 percent more likely than their peers to evolve into new and better positions. This can be achieved if people are taught to be the architects of their own lives, by looking at what transferable skills they have, and by looking at their potential. How we train such an adaptable mindset is the key factor for its success. 

We learn best through fun and play

The best way to help people obtain an adaptable mindset is to make learning fun and playful, and find out what a person’s true passion and goals are. Learning new things will be fun, as it aligns with their goals. But despite this being relatively obvious, in most learning, the elements of fun and goal alignment are often missing.

Plato said: “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

If we make the process of learning fun and playful and align with the goals of the individual. We can make it easier for people to continuously learn and adapt. 

Do we really need to constantly learn new skills?

Although it sometimes feels and looks like it everything’s going through constant change, it really isn’t. For example, some skills that have been around since around 420 B.C. are still relevant. I’m talking here about transferable skills like critical thinking, empathy, creativity, and complex problem solving. And these are actually defined by the World Economic Forum as top skills to focus on to withstand disruption.

So it’s not necessarily about always acquiring new skills, but to nurture the ones that matter.

Why are these skills so important?

These are the skills that are effective in all facets of life. No matter what job people end up in, or company they want to found, these skills will help them achieve their goals and they’ll always have them to fall back on.

Critical thinking helps, for example, people to assess what technologies to invest in, find out what to learn next, how to interpret their doctor’s advice, or whether to invest in a certain stock. It’s the #2 skill as defined by the World Economic Forum, but how do you actually nurture this skill? My advice would be to read up on Socrates and make the thinking more current day by listening to Nassim Taleb

We can also use art to prepare our brains to be OK with the new and disruptive technologies. You see, art can present us difficult to rationalize thoughts. Often we find the same type of difficult to rationalize thoughts when we deal with disruptions. By exposing ourselves regularly to art, we can train being OK with these feelings and thoughts.

Hannah Arendt once so beautifully said: we can use art to help us to no longer produce fixed opinions, but the new, in a sense — so that the not yet thought of can take shape. Something which is a very useful skill to have in our constantly changing world. Where we are required to come up with new solutions quite often. 

People can better prepare themselves for whatever the world throws their way, by having transferable skills to fall back upon. These skills don’t necessarily have to come from art or philosophy, they can even come from gaming. 

By looking at gaming and esports people can learn how these companies are able to constantly evolve, it’s breathtaking. Embrace it, play with it, and learn. Just find out what type of transferable skills resonate with which person.

The recipe for constant adaptation and evolving

It’s not just about learning technical skills anymore. It’s about finding out what people love, what truly drives them. Learning about this constantly, in a fun and playful way. Supplementing flexible skills with transferable skills. Skills which will be relevant for the entirety of life. The knowledge is all readily available we just need to make the connections. All with the goal to make people happier, more resilient, and more creative.

If you want to find out how I made all of the above come together for the University of Applied Sciences please have a look at the free class here

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