“Not Growing? Awesome. You’re Dead.” – Ophelia’s Webb
Many of us have heard this before, or perhaps another variation of it. In life, failure to grow may merely cause stagnation. In business, it’s terminal. Though necessary, taking actionable steps to personal growth and development in business can be challenging. With so many things to learn, where do I focus?
In the Future Work Skills 2020 report, the Institute for the Future identified 10 skills that will be vital for success in the workforce for the next decade. They are:
- Social intelligence.
- Novel and adaptive thinking.
- Cross-cultural competency.
- Computational thinking.
- New-media literacy.
- Design mind-set.
- Cognitive load management.
- Virtual collaboration.
For each of us, taking an honest inventory on how we measure up to these skill sets is the first step to our growth. Using the report, I can evaluate what I consider to be my strengths, and where I’ve demonstrated success in those areas. Next, I can use the list to do what few enjoy, but what’s critically essential—look honestly at my opportunities for growth.
Novel & Adaptive Thinking
I like to begin with my strengths (as most of us do). It sets the right tone, and invites us to reflect on what makes us special. One of my fondest recollections is in the area of “novel & adaptive thinking.” A new business development manager for an aerospace company, I remember being floored to learn we’d committed to deliver on several software applications that we had no resources to complete. The contracts were done, and money had been exchanged, so there was no going back. Yet we had too little to work with, and were deficient in our expertise to deliver.
At the same time, we had a tenuous relationship with one of our strategic partners in Quebec, Canada. I was sent up there to sort things out—maybe because my name is entirely French, or more likely because no one else wanted to go. But a funny thing happened on that trip. Visiting this company, I quickly realized they were overloaded with talented aerospace engineers. Refrigerators full of soda and tables of snacks fueled seven floors of developers to create unbelievable software applications.
Facing the company’s CEO in our first meeting, I took a novel and adaptive approach to resolving our corporate differences. Instead of demanding payment for unpaid invoices, or citing examples of unfulfilled agreements, I announced a new challenge. “I want to take 10% of your best engineers, lease the unused eighth floor of this building, and create a partnership where together, we develop the world’s best airline entertainment applications,” I said to the CEO. The room was momentarily quiet; he then stood and announced, “I am pinching myself right now, to see if I’m dreaming…”
Months later, we built the eighth floor into a development house. Sometimes how you think things will go isn’t the best solution in business. Novel and adaptive thinking provides us the vantage point to see what other solutions are available, and the opportunity to seize them.
Continuing this exercise, let’s look at another skill. I’m not a poker player. Not that I’m disinterested in the game, I’m just not the best at all the non-verbal cues that go along with becoming a really good player—the stuff the Future Work Skills report identifies as “social intelligence.” To clarify, not being a master of social intelligence doesn’t mean one’s inept. There are just varying degrees of intuitively knowing and interpreting tones, gestures, and words. Some people are born with this; a poker player ex-girlfriend of mine was a master at it. Then there are mere mortals, like myself, who are constantly cultivating the ability.
Today, I’m proudly able to declare that I’ve evolved myself to become someone capable of “getting into the world of others” in both personal and business relations. In business, this looks like driving conversations, solutions, and experiences to the desires and needs of others. Working with some of my engineering counterparts I often take a more direct, no-frills approach in expressing my needs, and preceding each exchange with a compliment on the work they’ve done prior. At the same time, working with customers and clients requires a very different approach that begins with me reminding myself “it’s not about me.”
Am I good enough at reading non-verbal cues that I’m ready to beat out my avid gambling Italian step-brother in a round of poker? Likely not. But I’m progressing.
In the end, it’s important to remember one critical thing: life is the process of growth, not perfection. The Future Work Skills set isn’t about mastery of each of the elements, as much as it’s about being knowledgeable of what’s key, and being balanced in our approach to growing in each of these areas. Developing on these 10 skills translates to good business sense, and longevity, and it’s a valuable resource for each of us to take action.
This afternoon I’m taking on learning more about social reputation management from the director of social media at Mutual of Omaha. What are you taking on?