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Higher Education III

11 Critical Skills for the Future That Aren’t Taught in School


A few weeks ago a person who I hadn’t met before asked me what my superpower was. As an icebreaker at a networking event, this is a great question to get to know someone. However, since I had never been asked this question before, I must admit, I was caught a bit flatfooted.

Your superpower is the thing you do best, the role that you were put on this Earth to fill. If you don’t have one, it’s something you should focus your attention on. Tapping into it will not only help you personally, but also everyone around you.

No, we aren’t exactly born with superpowers we build them over time. Every company has people who are proficient in what they do, and their proficiency comes from the time, talent, and effort they’ve dedicated to it.

If you’re like most people, your job description has evolved over the past five years. For many, their role today didn’t even exist a short time ago. The workplace of tomorrow will indeed look quite different.

At the same time, our evolving workplace is creating a skills divide. Some jobs require software skills tied to cybersecurity. Others require pattern-matching skills tied to system-related problem solving skills. And still others demand great people skills coupled with a deep understanding of HR law.

We have a large number of jobs that require relatively high-level skills, and many of those jobs will become obsolete in the future as individual tasks are being automated out of existence.

At the same time, every new tool will require a full compliment of updated skills, training, support, sales, and more.

Emerging high tech jobs continue to challenge the status quo because of the steeper-than-normal learning curve. While most employees haven’t been paying attention to the evolving workplace, the half-life of their skills is growing shorter, causing the overall value of their superpower to diminish over time.

With that in mind, here are a few hard-to-teach skills and superpowers that will keep you employable for many decades to come.


1. Gig Management – Managing the “Business of You”

We’re moving quickly into a freelance economy and ironically no traditional schools have felt it to be a skillset important enough to add to their curriculum.

Rather than serving at the mercy of a single company that rarely has your best interest in mind, freelancers have the ability to migrate towards better opportunities, renegotiate salaries, and form both competing and complementary work relationships with businesses and organizations around the world.

That said, it’s not easy to become a highly sought-after freelancer as it requires talent in many areas. Networking, tracking down potential gigs, writing proposals, forming contracts, managing the accounting, sales, scheduling, and project management are all part of the rigorous lifestyle that comes with the territory. But, in the end, skilled freelancers have the ability to control their own destiny, something most workers can only dream of.

Note: Over the coming years there will be a number of reports that say the gig economy is not happening, but those will be very misleading. Freelancers that earn enough money will naturally incorporate for tax purposes, masking the true nature of their operation. Any W2 freelancer, when surveyed, will come across as a traditional worker, even though their behind-the-scenes operation says something totally different.

Gig management will be a career-defining talent and massively important skill for the future.


2. Distraction Management

We live in the most distracted society in all history. In a recent Pew study, 45% of the teens surveyed said they use the Internet “almost constantly.” Another 44% said they go online several times every day.

70% of today’s workers keep their smartphone “within eye contact” at work, and over 50% of people check their phone if they wake up during the night.

The average smartphone user checks their phone over 220 times a day. During peak times this jumps up to once every six or seven seconds. Total addicts will actually jack-in over 900 times in a day and several reports have revealed incidents where young drama-junkies have been hospitalized from exhaustion because “fear of missing out” caused them to stop sleeping altogether.

Since office workers typically take around 25 minutes to recover from interruptions before returning to their original task, it becomes a far greater challenge for people to make meaningful accomplishments.

Further complicating the situation, a 2015 study showed that distractions have a way of causing even more distractions. Workers who get interrupted by text messages are significantly more likely to ‘self-interrupt’ – allowing their attention to ricochet from thought to thought while losing their ability to fully concentrate on any one thing.

One recent study showed 53% of people would rather give up their sense of smell than their smartphone. One in three would give up sex before their phone.

But let’s not forget TV time. During peak hours, over 70% of the bandwidth for the Internet is dedicated to video streaming with Netflix and YouTube sucking up over 62% of the entire bandwidth in North America.

The average American spends over 5.5 hours a day consuming some form of video content.

So after all of that, how much time do you really have left for your job, your family and friends, and actually experiencing the world around you? Sadly, it’s only going to get worse.

For these reasons, distraction management will be one of the most critical skills for successful people to master in the future.


3. Relationship Management

Our work, social, and family life is all formed around relationships.

The only way the human race will survive is by people forming relationships and having children. Yet there are powerfully few schools that do a good job teaching this subject even though there’s been over a million books written on the topic.

Social media relationships, something that never even existed 20 years ago, now consumes the vast majority of our relationship-building time. And our expectations from a “good” relationship has vastly changed over the past two decades.

Digital connection services have done more than just change how we find the perfect romance, they’ve changed how we network, form business deals, and make a sale. Keep in mind, it wasn’t all that long ago when most relationships began with a smile and a handshake, rather than a click or a swipe.

In the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar claimed that the number of people you can manage strong relationships with was around 150. This became known as the Dunbar Number. However, social media has somewhat blurred his entire theory.

In spite of our ability to loosely connect with thousands, even millions online, new research from Dunbar concludes we’re only able to maintain a small number, at most five, close friendships at one time.

People who understand the constantly morphing values and techniques for building and managing relationships will be a hot commodity in the future.


4. Relevancy Management

How relevant are you today? What are the talent and skills that will make and keep you relevant in your profession, company, work team, and among your peers?

Relevancy goes far deeper than your work history and current credentials. Relevancy is all about your willingness to change and adapt. People who are resilient, flexible, and resourceful are much more valuable than even the best technicians today.

  • What is that unique or special contribution that you bring to the table?
  • What is the thing that separates you from all others in the company?
  • What are you known for, and is that what people want?
  • Do you have a special talent for dealing with people?
  • Are you forward thinking with an overall sense of what the future holds?
  • Are you decisive, able to make the tough calls when others tend to hesitate?
  • Do you have the ability to make sense out of even the most complex situations?
  • When presented with new tools, systems, processes, or management, how quickly are you able to adapt?

Managing relevancy is unique talent with very few current guidelines, but those who instinctively have it will know how and when to adapt.


5. Managing Your Awareness

How do you stay up to date on the latest information? Who are the thought leaders in your area of expertise and how do you stay current on their work?

The Internet is a massively complex tool that can be channeled to improve your awareness of virtually any topic.

While the average American is consuming information 12 hours and 7 minutes every day, how much of what you consume is truly germane to your area of expertise?

We now have thousands of possible information channels for even the most micro-niche areas of interest and those who manage to carve out the right combination of newsfeeds will find themselves in driver seat of their own career path.


6. Managing Your Tribe (Fan Club Management)

Going beyond personal relationships is the tribes we associate with. I like to frame this thinking around the idea of fan clubs.

Everyone has people that care about them, their own personal fan club. Our ability to grow, study, and interact with these people is a powerful tool that can be leveraged in many ways.

Each new connection intensifies the network effect, adding to our overall value as an individual. Over time, the value of our personal network in tomorrow’s hyper-connected world will become far more quantifiable, and by extension, more valuable than any formulas we use to measure influence today.

It’s rare that people become famous without effort. It typically requires effort, usually sustained effort over a long period of time. Managing a personal fan club is all part of the work that prepares people to climb their own ladder of success, and our ability to master the tools for managing our own fan club will largely determine where we end up in life.


7. Managing our Digital Toolbox

It’s much more than just knowing the tools and how to use them, it’s about knowing which tool to use in which situation.

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

The very first Apple iPhone entered the world in 2007. Since then, new tools have been appearing on a daily basis. So what should we be paying attention to, and what can we dismiss?

With sensors becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday living we will soon be wearing smart shoes, sleeping on smart pillows, eating smart food, with smart spoons, while watching our children play with their smart toys.

Very soon we will be downloading apps for our drones, our smart houses, our pets, our cars, our clothes, and even our imaginary friends.

Our relationship with our personal technology will continue to be an ongoing challenge and improving skills in this area will give us a distinct advantage.


8. Personal Brand Management

A personal brand is really another way of describing your reputational portfolio.

Being successful means setting yourself apart, and you’ll need a personal brand that defines who you are and who you want to become. That involves building a reputation, trust, and a following. The impression you project about yourself is crucial for finding the best workplace culture fit and for inspiring confidence in your coworkers, clients, and managers.

Working with a team of mentors, advisors, or trusted friends, start by auditing your online footprint. This will include all images, posts, videos, connections and correspondence. Since a personal brand is all about what others think, it’s critical to assess how others are interpreting your brand.

Your goal is to ensure your image comes across as professional, polished, and appropriate, both now or in the future.

Mastering this skill is not a one-and-done activity. Your personal brand will need to be tweaked and managed on an ongoing basis.


9. Communication Management

In the book “The Female Brain,” author Louann Brizendine stated that women use 20,000 words per day while men only use 7,000. However, that wasn’t true. There was no study that actually showed those results.

Since then, one study showed that women speak 16,215 words per day on average and men 15,669 words per day. Statistically there’s no difference between genders, but people who speak more generally have an advantage over those with less practice.

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

With life happening at a far greater pace and new communication channels springing to life in games, social media, and smartphone apps, people often stress over not keeping up with their friends and family. And when they turn things off, they suffer even greater anxiety over feeling left out.

Finding effective ways of managing our communication channels is a critical skill to master in the future.


10. Privacy Management

What exactly does privacy mean?

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that forced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before congress, privacy has become a hot topic in the online world.

Privacy and transparency live on opposite ends of the information spectrum, but they’re both part of the huge ethical issue that falls under the banner of privacy.

Drone privacy is different than social media privacy, which is different than online retailer privacy, Internet of Things privacy, big data privacy, email privacy, and snooping-around-in-my-business privacy.

The landmark EU court decision granting the “right to be forgotten” has been replaced by a more manageable “right of erasure” in 2014. This ruling has been one of the foundational privacy rights granted by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In practice, the “right to be forgotten” was always more about the “right to be favorably remembered.” People don’t like being the subject of a smear campaign and naturally want some control over having it removed.

For this reason, GDPR is becoming an important part of managing our lives.

People can often 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 virtually every form of innovation.

Understanding both sides of this equation will be a critical skill for future generations. Your value as an employee will rise dramatically by having a nuanced understanding of GDPR and the overall ramifications of personal privacy.


11. Modern Time Management

The most precious commodity in everyone’s life is still time. You can ponder it, over-schedule it, spend it with others, account for every second of it, make others account for it, squander it, or simply act as if it doesn’t exist. But so far we’ve not found a way to stretch it, reverse it, or buy extra bags full of it when we run out.

Time management systems of the past will continue to morph, shift, and change to accommodate lifestyles and business demands of the future.

Every item on the list above boils down to creating efficiencies, and we can’t possibly create these efficiencies without finding better ways to manage our time.


Final Thoughts

Yes, the key word in this list is “management.” It will be up to us to manage every aspect of our increasingly complicated lives.

Is eleven the right number? This was not intended to be an all-inclusive list of skills for tomorrow. Over time, many more will be needed.

My goal was to draw attention to some of the most critical ones, the 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 “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future


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