The Institute For The Future (IFTF) creates foresight to be turned into insight, so that this insight can lead to action.
Back in 2011 they released a report that positioned the skills of the future. In place of trying to figure out the jobs of the future, an exercise with a relatively low degree of accuracy, they looked at the key drivers or disruptive shifts that would reshape the workforce landscape and the likely skills that would be needed in the years ahead. I found this approach useful. It offered a flexibility and an accessibility, and also allowed for the critical ‘thinking stretch’ that had already started to characterise the work I was doing with individuals and teams. To get our heads around a future that is not as predictable as we would like it to be, future visioning is essential. It helps us in some measure to prepare.
Foresight can take many forms. One such form is a signal of innovation. These are local innovations or disruptions with the potential to grow and spread. They are typically on the margins, not yet obvious, and useful when trying to anticipate a highly uncertain future. Another form is creating alternative scenarios, which are sets of assumptions and descriptors that take us into possible futures, mapping a history of the future if you like. Scenarios create a ‘conceptual wind tunnel’ to interrogate strategies under a range of different conditions. They assist us to break habitual thinking, inspire innovation and build resilience. Most of all we have a way to access the future by mapping out what could happen and time to think about what we could pioneer and how we might do it. We cannot predict the future, but we can convene our creative intelligence to imagine and prepare for it. Scenario planning is a way for teams to explore and change their mental models of the environment and the world. Running faster with old habits may seem to display true grit and resilience. In fact what may be most helpful is to step back from the race and activate contrarian thinking — adversity within this lens is a driver of new possibility.
“By presenting other ways of seeing the world, decision scenarios give managers something very precious: the ability to re-perceive reality, leading to strategic insights beyond the mind’s reach.” — Joseph Jaworski
The IFTF brings people together to make the future through coherent views of transformative possibilities. We need this now more than ever.
Looking back at the 2011 report that shaped so much of my work and my thinking, I realise two things. One is that the report is title Future Work Skills 2020, and here we are already, in 2020. Two, I note just how much social intelligence (one of the key ten skills in the report) has risen to prominence over the vacillations in and out of lockdown. Social intelligence is that ability to connect with others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate action and desired interactions. Socially intelligent people can assess emotions and respond appropriately to them. This helps to build relationships of trust and is critically important for collaboration across diverse and new settings. We have developed these skills over millennia of living together in groups, and they continue to offer humans the comparative advantage over machines. Our survival could well depend on how well we do at preserving and refining them in the years to come.
In a new report from the IFTF: “Future Skills Enterprise: Getting fit for a new kind of workforce”, we are offered more mind-stretching material as we prepare for the future. This map is of a future where we need to build skills in 5 peak performance zones: Pop-Up Enterprise, Sensemaking, Resilience, Human-Machine Collaboration and Reputation Management.
“These are the zones that will make the difference between a strong workforce and one that is ill-prepared for the changes we all face.”
Although not yet widely distributed, the IFTF thinks they should be. They will be the starting point for a globally connected, technology enhanced workforce, ready for change at a moment’s notice.