On Monday evening I presented my thoughts on the “Future of Mobile Apps & Peripherals” at our monthly Night with a Futurist event. My talk was followed by a fascinating panel discussion with three of the industry’s brightest minds – Michael Sitarzewski, Lisa Calkins, and Gary Moskoff with Karl Dakin moderating the discussion.

Several people left this event saying their heads were ready to explode with all the fascinating new ground we covered, and I credit these four with helping us push the envelope on this topic.

At one point the conversation turned to social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, and Buzz that encourage users to log in and share their location. This feature is packaged as a fun way to find friends and stay social. But there is a downside.

Michael Sitarzewski was quick to point out a new site called ‘Please Rob Me‘ that aims to make online tell-alls aware of the potential downside to public location-sharing.

‘Please Rob Me’ aggregates and streams location check-ins into a list of “all those empty homes out there,” and describes the recently-shared locations as “new opportunities.”

While this seems comical on one level, the dangers are quite obvious, and even more apparent is our poor understanding of the demands being placed on us individually, and the skills we will need to function in this unchartered new territory.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of the eight critical skills that we will need in the future that are not being taught in school today.

New Planet Scenario

I often think about what it would be like to colonize a new planet and start a new civilization from scratch. Starting with a clean slate, and knowing what things work well and not-so-well on earth, how could we construct a significantly better society?

As with every society, it begins with creating a series of new systems, and these systems are all formed around rules.

Rules create order. They create the inter-relational fabric of society around which all of our actions are woven.

Much like colonizing a new planet, we are just now coming to grips with the need for rules and order in the emerging digital information age.

Eight Critical Skills for the Future

Equally as important as the social systems, we currently have very few rules for how to live our lives in a fully immersive world where explosive amounts of information are flowing to us and around us on a second by second basis.

Since each of us interacts with this information differently, it is up to us to master the “new rules of engagement.”

With that in mind, here are eight skills I see as being critically important in our future:

1.) Communication Management – How much is too much?

According to Nielsen, teenagers in the U.S. sent and received an average of 3,276 texts per month in the last quarter of 2010.

A Pew Research Center study from 2010 reported that more than four out of five teens with cellphones sleep with the phone on or near the bed, sometimes falling asleep with it in their hands in the middle of a conversation. Pew’s Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist, said “many expressed reluctance to ever turn their phones off.’’

Its getting to the point where hospitals are starting to see young patients who come in exhausted from being “on call’’ or semi-alert all night as they wait for their phones to vibrate or ring with a text.

Communication is an essential ingredient in all of our lives, but too much or too little can have devastating effects.

With new communication channels springing to life in games, social media, and smartphone apps on a regular basis, people suffer great anxiety over not keeping up with their friends and family. And when they turn things off, they suffer even greater anxiety over feeling left out.

Effective ways of managing our communications is a critical skill currently not being taught in school.

2.) Reputation Management – Our reputations are no longer something that builds up around us that we have little or no control over. With highly personal online content being generated about us from many different sources, it is now up to us to exercise control over what people are saying, the images of us that appear online, videos we’re in, bylines of our work, and virtually every other indicator of who we are and what we stand for.

About 57 percent of adult internet users in the United States said they have entered their name into a search engine to assess their digital reputation, according to a new Pew Research Center study “Reputation Management and Social Media.”

That’s a significant increase since 2006, when only 47 percent of adult internet users said they had looked their name up on a search engine. The findings show “reputation management has now become a defining feature of online life,” the study concludes.

The study also found that young adults are more apt to “restrict what they share” and manage their online reputations more closely than older internet users. This is “contrary to the popular perception that younger users embrace a laissez-faire attitude about their online reputations.

Clearly this is another critical skill that schools have yet to come to grips with.

3.) Privacy Management – Privacy and transparency live on opposite ends of the same social spectrum.

Pew also studied online privacy study and found that social networkers ages 18 to 29 were the most likely to limit their profile privacy settings. The percentage who did so was 71 percent, compared with just 55 percent of the 50-64-year-old bracket. Altogether, about two-thirds of all social networkers who were surveyed said they’ve tightened security settings.

People derive significant benefits from sharing their personal details as they take advantage of relevant and useful services online. However, once collected, businesses often exploit and monetize personal information, leaving people exposed and placing their information in predatory danger.

Yes, protecting and enforcing privacy is an added burden for business, but a lack of privacy creates risk for users and reduces trust. Trust plays a key role in innovation.

The free flow of personal information that respects privacy can fuel and cultivate innovation. Optimizing the risks and rewards across the stakeholders may lead to new forms of innovation and the release of new economic value. The big challenge ahead will be to establish legal frameworks that foster innovation and facilitate information sharing across jurisdictions in global business environments.

Understanding both sides of this equation will be a critical skill for future generations.

4.) Information Management – In 2008, Roger Bohn and James Short, two researchers at the University of California in San Diego did a study to determine the amount of information people have entering their brains on a daily basis.

In rough terms, 41% come from watching television, 27% – computers, 18% – radio, 9% – print media, 6% – telephone conversations, 4% – recorded music, and smaller amounts from movies, games, and other information sources.

As it turns out, the average American spends 11.8 hours every day consuming information. Many other countries are posting similar numbers. People today are being exposed to far more information than ever in the past.

How can we manage all this information better? How can we be smarter about the information we consume and the sources we’re getting it from?

Our ability to effectively manage our personal information inputs and outputs will greatly determine our ability to compete in the global talent marketplaces of the future.

5.) Opportunity Management – The average person that turns 30 years old in the U.S. today has worked 11 different jobs. I’m predicting that in just 10 years, the average person who turns 30 will have worked 200-300 different projects. Short work project will replace long-term employment for many.

Business is becoming very fluid in how it operates, and the driving force behind this liquefaction is a digital network that connects buyers with sellers faster and more efficiently than ever in the past.

Opportunities are springing to life all around us. Having an ability to find, select, and capitalize on opportunities will be a critical ingredient in how successful people run their lives in the future.

6.) Technology Management – New tools are entering our lives on a minute by minute basis. What should we be paying attention to, and what can we dismiss?

Our choice of technology defines who we are and our ability to function in an increasingly technology-dependant world.

The tech-selection process has been largely relegated to tech insiders and key influencers with product manufacturers often playing a key role.

However, technology management goes far beyond hardware and software purchases. Both tend to evolve over time and the functionality is shifting on a daily basis with new apps giving us tools we never dreamed possible before.

Our relationship with our personal technology will continue to be an ongoing challenge and improving skills in this area will be highly advantageous.

7.) Relationship Management – In a world immersed in social technology, we know lots of people, but what kind of relationship do we have with them? How do we qualify the value of those relationships?

As the size of a person’s social network increases, it becomes more difficult for someone to have meaningful conversations with each person in their network. Different rules apply to those we have strong ties with versus those who we maintain only a weak relationship with.

The way relationships are managed in the digital age is changing, especially when it comes to marriage.

Contrary to the way traditionalist would have it, for most college-educated couples, living together is like a warm-up run before the marital marathon. They work out a few of the kinks and do a bit of house-training and eventually get married and have kids. Those without a college degree tend to do it the other way around — move in together, have kids and then aim for the altar.

Our understanding of the shifting nature of relationships will be one of our most critical skills to manage in the future.

8.) Legacy Management – How will future generation remember you? How will they perceive your successes and failures, your accomplishments and misguided efforts, and your generosity and perseverance?

While many still view inheritance as the primary way to leave a legacy, people now have the ability to manage the information trail they leave behind. In fact, they can very easily communicate with their own descendants who have not even been born yet.

The body of work we leave behind will become increasingly easy to preserve. So if we chose to let future generations know who we are and why we set out to achieve the things we did, we can do that today with photos, videos, and online documents.

Future generations may even have the ability to preserve the essence of their personality and make interactive avatars that can speak directly to the questions and issues future generations will ask.

As all of us age, the notion of leaving a legacy becomes critically important, and furthering our skills in this area will serve us well.

Some Final Thoughts

In addition to what I view as the eight “new” skills are two traditional skills that need to be radically updated to mesh with the needs of today’s world.

  1. Time Management
  2. Money Management

Time management classes of the past are a poor fit for the incessant pace and demand of living digital, and money management takes on an entirely new dimension with the any-time any-place tools at our disposal.

This was not intended to be an all-inclusive list of skills for tomorrow. There will be many more that will be needed.

My goal was to draw attention to eight of the most critical ones that currently seem to be overlooked today.

But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Let me know what I’m missing and where I may be off base. The ideas of the many are almost always greater than the ideas of the few.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


20 Responses to “Eight Critical Skills for the Future”

Comments List

  1. <a href='http://www.mycahs.colostate.edu/Rich.Feller/' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Rich Feller</a>

    Tom...wonderful article and work...continued thanks rich
  2. <a href='http://www.garywoodill.com/2011/04/eight-critical-skills-for-the-future-2/' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Eight Critical Skills for the Future | Gary Woodill</a>

    [...] to know to thrive in the future? Thomas Frey, Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, has listed eight critical skills for the future that he believes should be part of the education of young people. Adults could benefit from these [...]
  3. <a href='http://digitalmarketingengineer.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Scott</a>

    Thanks Tom, great article. It is interesting to see the companies build up and grow around these areas.
    • admin

      I want to thank Kevin Cullis for making this correction: "Thomas, it's not time management, we all have the same amount, it's PRIORITY and VALUE management, but begins with realizing time is slipping by. A Fortune 500 CEO's time is worth more than a VAs or a dog sitter."
  4. <a href='http://Market-Engineering.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Gary Lundquist</a>

    IN the early 90's, I wrote The Way of Change. Even before the web, it was easy to see an hyperbolic curve of accelerating change in many aspects of everyone's lives. My copywritten mantras were: >> Change happens. Everywhere. All of the time. >> The only way to manage change is with change. >> As civilizations advance, change accelerates. >> To stay in control of our lives and priorities, we must continue to change. Human ability to manage change fades with age. Unless we focus on continuous learning, we fall behind. And there is a limit somewhere. Soon, only the young and the aggressive learners will be able to manage. >> Except, that is, for the new tools. Fail to learn how to use, e.g., social networks, and we fall behind the hyperbolic curve and, in effect, flatline. Do that, and our careers end. Our relevance declines to nothing. Our capacity to manage change shrivels. >> Scary? Absolutely. >> Solution? Learn something or create something for hours every day. Not just watching what others create, but your own work. Not just listening in on conversations, but creating and managing conversations. >>>> End of Rant. Best of luck!! Gary
  5. <a href='http://www.dustoffyourdreams.net' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Bill Miller</a>

    I'm reminded of a line from "Illusions" by Richard Bach: "Belief is clinging to a rock in the middle of a fast moving stream. Faith, is letting go." Observation: Given the mass and speed of the digital stream, letting go is a five ticket ride.
  6. <a href='http://compoundsimplicity.com/2011/04/15/an-internet-literacy/' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>An Internet Literacy | Compound Simplicity</a>

    [...] this post about eight critical skills for the future is also right on the money. The skills listed are sort of higher level thinking, but important [...]
  7. <a href='http://none' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Mary Orchard</a>

    To maximize one's impact on the society, one should first learn to manage relationships. By focusing on relationships a person will develop character. The next most important focus should be on discovering one's talents and aptitudes. Without knowing one's own talents and aptitudes, a person has no screening mechanism to manage communication, reputation, privacy, information and opportunity. Technology makes it way too easy to receive and send the wrong messages, to develop the wrong reputation, to send private information to the wrong parties, to learn things that are of minimal importance and to seize the wrong opportunities. A person finds his RIGHT direction in life by developing character and by focusing on what fits his personal hard-wiring. That is why adults should manage technology for kids. Childhood and adolescence are times to start developing character and finding one's personal direction. This focus does not end with adolescence, but it should start there.
  8. <a href='http://Www.berkshireideas.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Kris Ronald Anderson</a>

    I enjoyed your thoughts and am glad you included #5; Opportunity Management. I believe that in the future traditional employment will die out completely and we will all become Contract Workers. Employers will employ us as needed but will not run the company with a constant stable of employees. This will dictate the need for the revamping of many of the current social systems we have in place now. Healthcare, which is largely employer provided, will need to be procured privately or, perhaps, publicly. Social Security, Workers Comp. And even the taxation structure will need to change. I can foresee the rebirth of Workers Guilds - a metamorphosing of the current Union system perhaps. these guilds will once again become the new sociopolitical power centers as did the masons during the enlightenment era. This theory contradicts many futurists of the past who predicted we would all become indentured servants to mega-corporate/political superstates as is the current (but failing) model of the greatest manufacturing wave the world has witnessed yet in China. It is with this in mind that I try to generate a sense of self-reliance in my young children and help them to understand that their future is going to be very different.
    • admin

      Kris, Thanks for your comments. This aligns very closely with my own thinking. Your Workers Guilds are very similar to my Business Colonies. You can see the article I wrote on this topic here - http://www.futuristspeaker.com/2010/11/business-colonies-a-study-of-structure-organization-and-the-evolution-of-work/ Many thanks, Tom
  9. <a href='http://www.customeradvisorygroup.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Gary Dickhart</a>

    I think we are avoiding one skill in the list that is essential....Risk Management. Everyone thinks their texts, emails, and technology providers are managing risks for them....bad assumption. In the rush to answer texts and seek new relationships, people will have to develop more of a "technology smarts" which includes looking at the possible bad that can happen!
    • admin

      Gary, Good point. As we increase our dependency on technology, we increase the number of potential breaking points in our lives. So yes, risk management will be a critical skill. Tom
  10. Karina Vissonova

    Thank you for the article. First @ Kris: I also think that essentially the skill based project team model will replace the current employment model. This is already the case I observe internationally, here, in Europe. Tom, I would like to refer to your earlier article about the skills/ professions the society does not prepare for in the education today. Specifically, there you propose ethicist/ ethics management - a professional in decision making process in technology and all product development. This article, I believe, must also include such a skill.
    • admin

      Karina, Yes, I believe ethics will be considered a valuable skill, but at the same time, ethics is a fuzzy concept. Who's ethics? Does this involve a moral compass? Many new areas of technology are pushing the boundaries of "right and wrong." In many ways ethics is like common sense. To many of us it doesn't seem all that common. Tom
  11. <a href='http://www.thefutureofwork.net' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Jim Ware</a>

    I too found Tom's article insightful and helpful. However, I would add one more critical skill (which be Time Management in other words), and that's Self-Discipline. Clearly, we live in a world where we are fire-hosed with information and choices. Self Discipline is my way of reminding us that we can't do it all, and it's going to take incredible purpose, focus, and control to make a difference in the middle of all this blooming, buzzing confusion. And so I add a question: Even with this narrowing down to "eight critical skills" I still feel overwhelmed! How can each of us learn to choose the few things to do that matter personally, and that will make a difference to the world at large?
  12. Linda M Glenn

    An essential aspect of ethics is critical thinking -- I would say that Karina has a good point & that it needs to be expanded. Critical thinking (another essential skill), plus a weighing of the potential burdens and benefits ( or harms and good outcomes) will usually lead to an ethically sound decision.
  13. <a href='http://www.canimpact.wordpress.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Debbie Meltzer</a>

    Predicative thinking and honing it into a skill? As the future becomes more volatile, a skills set from scenario planning to environmental scanning and back casting could separate the bold and successful from the rest. Thank you for the points you raised

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