Every day we read headlines about the pending new industrial revolution. Robots will replace most blue collar workers, and soon AI threatens many stable white collar jobs in fields such as accounting, law, or even teaching. While this revolution still has of yet to come to pass, and while AI still requires further development before it is ready to replace human knowledge workers, it is becoming evident that the workforce is at least changing, and thus we must also adapt, to thrive in the coming economic environment. In a world where information is available at the touch of a smartphone button, specific knowledge or skills are becoming less relevant, and instead we all need a range of traits, or behaviors that will allow us to work with new technologies and each other while the world changes around us. Soft skills are becoming more important than ever. But drilling down, specific soft skills will be much more valuable than others in an increasingly digitized and technologized economy. In this post, I’ll discuss 4 important soft skills that will help people to survive, and even thrive in the new (and future economy) no matter what other specific knowledge is required. They are: adaptability, networking, resilience, and lifelong learning. I’ll address each of these in turn, along with some advice on how one might build these skills.
Adaptability (or the ability to change to fit your situation): Adaptability is related to and encompasses the three other skills on my list. It means that when technologies, situations, and workplaces change, you can change too. Adaptable people aren’t afraid of change, because they possess an internal strength that allows them to assess a new situation and pivot to thrive in it. Many successful entrepreneurs (for example, Steve Jobs) are adaptable or had to learn to become adaptable after failing in an early venture. This means that adaptability can be developed by putting yourself in situations where you have to learn from your mistakes and change your approach. Adaptability can also be developed through exposure to many new situations. Travelling alone, or living in another country is one way to do this. Learning a new language can help too. At school, adaptability can be developed when students take electives from programs outside of their own, or when students enroll specifically in interdisciplinary programs that require them to take courses outside of their comfort areas.
Networking (or the ability to make connections with others): Not just for extroverts anymore, networking is actually essential for thriving in the new information economy. This is because with information so readily available, and with technology replacing workers in many industries, who you are as a person becomes even more relevant than it has ever been before. Successful networking allows you to develop as a creative thinker because it exposes you to different people who may possess different ranges of ideas. Successful networking also encourages others to think about you when the right opportunity comes up. To be successful at networking, you need to know yourself. Conduct an inventory of your strengths and be prepared to speak about them. Networking skills can be developed through interactions with new people. Enrolling in a class or cohort based education can help to grow your network. Participation in professional development, or taking the lead on an external-facing project at work or school also helps you to develop connections with others.
Resilience (or the ability to remain confident in the face of adversity): In a hyper-competitive world, many people have trouble staying resilient in the face of failure. This is likely due to the fact that failure feels like a major problem or setback in a world where only the best parts of our lives are posted publicly to social media. Failure is actually critical for developing resilience though. Rather than being afraid to fail, if we want to develop resilience we need to embrace failure. To not do so, means to be blown about by the winds of change as our workplaces and lives move at a breakneck pace. Resilience, on the other hand, means knowing that whatever life throws at you, you can figure it out. And thus resilience is closely related to our adaptability. How is resilience developed? Resilience is developed by taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them. This can be developed in a classroom setting, but only by people who recognize that there is more to learning than the grade you receive. Resilience is developed when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone, trying new things particularly when we’re worried we won’t be successful.
Lifelong Learning (or the ability to grow throughout your life and career): Like resilience, lifelong learning is key for fostering adaptability. Lifelong learning means that no matter how things change, you can develop the knowledge and skills to adapt because you are always open to learning new things. Lifelong learning also means having the learning skills and self knowledge to know HOW best to pick up new knowledge when you need it. Lifelong learners fare well in changing environments, because they are able to grow in the direction of the trends they see. To develop a skill in lifelong learning, you want to consider returning to school as an adult or mature learner. Taking a course, certificate or professional development opportunities will teach you about how you learn best. Additionally, taking opportunities to read non-fiction, enroll in a free online course, or taking a continuing education course through your local university can help you develop these skills as well.
No matter how the technology changes, if you are open to learning, resilient in the face of adversity and strong at making connections with others, you will possess the adaptability to survive. If you continue to develop these skills you may even find yourself thriving as the world changes around you. That’s why it’s most important to develop these traits, in addition to pursuing the specific knowledge base that you need for your chosen career path.