What Do You Need to Survive the 21st Century Workplace?

This topic was inspired by an online video chat by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, hosted on the Harvard Business Review’s Facebook page. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but he raised some interesting points.

Aráoz shared a combination of traits that he thought would would be useful for staying employed in the future. These included:

  • Curiosity
  • Insight
  • Engagement
  • Determination
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Strong delivery
  • An ability to sell your skills
  • Being proactive

Curiosity is a good one because it’s a spur to keep learning about whatever you’re working on or whatever’s happening in the industry where you work. Insight can include seeing your work in a unique way and sharing what you know with others. Engagement of course means that you’re interacting often with your leaders, peers, subordinates, or customers regarding the work you’re doing. Determination comes up whenever you need to get your current work done or have to find the next role–you need persistence to find the next job. Emotional  intelligence is a combination of understanding your own emotions (and keeping them reined in when appropriate) as well as others’ and how to handle them effectively. I touched on this topic recently. I didn’t catch the speaker’s definition of “strong delivery,” but this could be taken two ways: delivering your work in a high-quality manner or presenting yourself and your ideas in a powerful, convincing way. The latter definition can help you sell your skill set, which will of course be unique to you. Being proactive means doing work you know needs to be done before it’s asked for–if you sense that your role/employment is about to end, it also means taking steps to identify the next opportunity.

Aráoz also mentioned the idea of “winning hearts and minds,” which he described (I think–I was listening, not taking notes) as a combination of many of these skill sets. You need to be able to get others interested in what you do and what you have to offer.

My $.02


“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”
–William Gibson, The Economist, December 4, 2003

Notice that he didn’t mention any specific knowledge, technical skills, or tools? The primary survival skills he mentioned were attitudinal. I’m pretty certain that’s deliberate. I read somewhere that anyone earning a technology-related degree will find his or her knowledge out of date within three years of graduating. So if there were something I would add to the list above, it would be a willingness to learn and a belief that you can learn.

Another good survival trait to have is an expectation that the future will be much different from even today’s uncertain present, and that the rate of change is likely to increase as well. Reading science fiction can help put you into that mindset. One of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, made this point at a science fiction convention as long ago as 1941. As long as you’re able to adapt to ongoing transformations in science, technology, work/home life, culture, entertainment, and even spirituality, you’re less likely to experience what futurist Alvin Toffler described in 1970 as “Future Shock.”

Mind you, there are folks out there (I happen to be one of them) with a more conservative disposition who would prefer that some aspects of life remain constant. For me, that means maintaining good relationships with the friends and family members in my life. A new gadget might enable you to send (or ignore) some sort of electronic greeting, but that shouldn’t prevent you from making the personal effort to maintain relationships using your own voice, presence, and diligence. And yes, manners, courtesy, and kindness still matter and still keep the machinery of society running smoothly.

Good luck to you as you face the future. As always, there are interesting times ahead.

The times they are a-changin’.
–Bob Dylan

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in personal, philosophy, science fiction, Technology, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

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