Tag: future

Skills of the present

The meaning of the phrase skills of the future is variable. Like so many other terms in our profession, its definition depends on who you ask.

According to my own heuristic, a “skill of the future” is a capability for which demand will grow disproportionately over the next 5 years. (While the future extends beyond this timeframe, I typically see any crystal balling for it too fantastical to be useful.)

And to be scalable from an organisational development perspective, the skill needs to be transferable across roles and leadership levels, so that it’s applicable to the context in which each individual works.

Arrows in a quiver

The why for investing in skills of the future should be self-evident post Covid. Organisations that neglected basic capabilities such as web conferencing, let alone more complex ones such as remote leadership, found themselves scrambling in the wake of the pandemic.

In contrast, organisations that had already invested in such skills and were using them day to day, experienced a relatively straight-forward transition into lockdown. Moreover they found themselves with a competitive edge, after years of reaping the benefits of the skills on their own merits.

Herein lies the main point of this post: skills of the future aren’t so much about preparing for tomorrow as they are about maximising today. Waiting for the moment when an imagined skill will meet an imagined need misses that point.

Let me return to the pre-Covid environment to elaborate. An organisation that trained its people face-to-face in the classroom may very well have recognised the future need for virtual training. But since the future hadn’t arrived yet, they had no reason to challenge the status quo. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

In contrast, another organisation that also trained its people in the classroom started to diversify its approach by offering some of its training virtually. This new delivery option supported a remote working strategy, which improved employee engagement and scaled up their talent pool from local to national. The company’s smooth transition into lockdown was simply the latest win.

This mindset also applies to those uber sexy skills that seem so out of reach. For example, if data science is an aspiration, start by collecting whatever numbers you can get your hands on and analyse them however basically to inform your decision making now; and if artificial intelligence is intimidating, start by creating something simple like a branched online form to help your colleagues self-service their needs now. Your sophistication in these areas will improve over time while you ground yourself in the fundamental concepts and crystallise new opportunities to pursue.

Which leads me to the supplementary point of this post: skills of the future are a source of power. If you’re the one backing up your proposals with quantitative evidence, they’re more likely to be approved; and if you’re the one meeting the real needs of your end users, you’re more likely to receive positive appraisals from them.

And if Jim (my colleague in Double defence) didn’t like the idea of click-next online courses, he could have used his development skills to build them differently. Furthermore, he could have proved a blended solution by which the e-learning was complemented by a flipped class that drew upon his facilitation prowess.

But he did neither, and so for him the future arrived too soon.

You however have the opportunity to future proof your own career, by making the skills of the future your skills of the present.

Double defence

In a past life I worked with a fellow named Jim who was very good at what he did.

As what I would term a “trainer”, he was well versed in face-to-face delivery and widely respected in the business as a subject matter expert. He had also racked up quite a tenure at the company, so he was considered something of a stalwart.

In my own role, though, I could see what Jim couldn’t: the incoming wave of e-learning. Sooner rather than later, it was clear to me that not all our training was to be delivered to everyone in the same room at the same time. On the contrary, management’s salivation over the potential efficiency gains of online courses meant that f2f was in danger of extinction. Rightly or wrongly, this was the business reality.

We had a healthy cross-skilling culture in our team, so I actively sought opportunities to share my e-learning know-how with my colleagues. Some of them leapt at the chance to add another arrow to their quiver; but Jim wanted none of it.

I couldn’t work out whether his reluctance was due to laziness, fear, or something else. The typical excuse for this kind of thing is lack of time, however I’d wager that if I were to offer him $1000 for turning up to one of my sessions, he’d be there with bells on. In any case he never lifted a finger, despite the investment in his own career that would surely amount to many thousands of dollars.

Anyway, like clockwork, the dreaded spectre of redundancies swept through our division; and as predicted, Jim was let go.

He was shocked and bitter.

Vintage robot

I hark back to this time whenever I hear the phrase skills of the future.

Just as back then when the internet disrupted Jim’s work, so too are the likes of artificial intelligence disrupting our work today. Digitisation of the workplace is an unstoppable force, so an ability to work with emerging technology remains a skill of the future.

Working with is a critical distinction. While technology will inevitably take jobs, just as it has done in the past, in many cases it will complement them. So the trick here, if there is one, is to use technology as a tool to enhance what you do.

For example, the deployment of machine learning in medical imaging is unlikely to replace doctors; rather, it’s a tool the doctor can use to improve the efficacy of diagnosis. Similarly, robo-advice is unlikely to replace financial planners; rather, it frees up the planner to focus on complex portfolios and provide other value added services.

In other words, the future of work isn’t so much about competing against the robots as it is about leveraging your human talents to do what the robots can’t. The software can crunch the numbers in a heartbeat… it’s up to you to interpret what they mean (critical thinking) and use them to inform a course of action (decision making).

Moreover it’s not just about interacting with technology; it’s also about interacting with people. I’m referring to “soft skills” such as communicating your findings to your target audience (storytelling), hitting your mark (empathy) and motivating them to change (influencing).

And of course it’s about your own innate ability to handle change (eg adaptivity, resilience and active learning).

Robots - You - Humans

Of course, even if Jim did upskill himself in online course development, the company may very well have ended up outsourcing that work to an offshore provider. So the question isn’t merely whether the work you do can be automated, but also if it can be done by someone else at a fraction of the cost.

Hence ongoing employability demands lifelong learning to continue to do what other people can’t.

Skills of the future aren’t just your defence against the robots. They’re also your defence against other humans.

The next normal

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new normal for L&D professionals as millions of people were sent home to work remotely.

While many of us had been offering online courses and other alternatives to in-person training for years, suddenly nothing could be run in a traditional classroom setting; and so as a collective we’ve been forced to shift learning and development online.

Tweet by ryantracey: Suddenly management is interested in digital self-directed learning

Despite my tongue-in-cheek tweet however, digital self-directed learning hasn’t become the norm. On the contrary, the conventional response to the changing circumstances appears to have been to convert classroom sessions into webinars. I’m not anti-webinar per se, but I must admit to being a tad disappointed by our propensity to blindly perpetuate old approaches on another medium.

Just like in-person training, webinars have their place, but I dared to dream that our mass isolation might stoke more creative solutions beyond the same man in a different hat.

Or maybe I’m being too quick to judge. It’s only been a few months since lockdown, and everyone’s been scrambling to keep business continuity ticking over. Maybe the “new normal” is merely short term; perhaps over time our solutions will diversify.

Looking further ahead, I’m wondering what will happen as governments ease restrictions and we return to the office. Will we revert to our previous ways, or is the genie out of the bottle?

Of course no one can know for sure, so I did the next best thing: inspired by the jelly-beans-in-the-jar experiment, I decided to defer to the wisdom of the crowd. Specifically, I invited a shortlist of L&D practitioners around the world to answer the following question:

How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact learning and development in the long term?

Here are their responses…

A hand on a computer mouse, with a face mask in the background.

Taruna Goel (Canada)

“The one thing I am curious about is the impact of quarantine, social distancing and remote work on memory, cognition, learning and behaviour. As much as technology is helping us in the short-term, we are already seeing the impact of too many synchronous video calls in the form of ‘Zoom fatigue’.

L&D will need to critically explore the challenges of remote working and remote learning. Workplace learning and development will need to be guided by evidence-based research practices that consider factors including online distraction, laptop fatigue, work productivity along with employee mental health, emotional well-being and stress levels in a post-pandemic, technology-driven world.

If working collaboratively, from a distance, is the new normal in the long term, it will need the acquisition of new skills, attitudes and mindsets for optimum work performance. L&D will need to take the lead and enable the development of these skills, attitudes and mindsets. L&D will need to create the channels of learning, growth, communication and sharing and help employees learn new ways of working efficiently and effectively.

This does not mean more elearning, virtual webinars and online video meetings. Instead, I hope to see L&D step in as the curator of learning and connector of shared experiences, enabling employees to be more autonomous and self-directed in their continuous learning journeys.”

Mike Taylor (United States)

“After going through the experience of this pandemic, I think one of the silver linings for L&D will be that we will have tried a lot of new ways of thinking. We haven’t really had a choice have we?

One of the biggest changes should be a shift from the traditional focus on static stocks of knowledge (a course mindset) to consideration for information flows. Courses are time-consuming, expensive and most of them start to become out-dated as soon as they are created.

With the speed of today’s world and the shrinking shelf life of knowledge, we should be enabling our organizations to continually refresh their knowledge by participating in relevant flows of new knowledge. To quote Mark Britz, ‘The expectation has to change to where many people create and consume, learning together continuously.’

That means doing more curating from experts. It means helping the experts learn efficient ways to work out loud and share what they know. It means helping everyone ‘learn how to learn’ and take ownership of their own personal knowledge management process.

Think of knowledge like a virus. Unlike Corona, we actually want that to spread quickly. We should be scaling up channels to help people have conversations about what they’re learning. How can we use technology to put people into the same digital spaces to help learning ‘go viral’?

Instead of simply replicating classroom experiences in an online environment, this is an opportunity shift our thinking to consider a broad spectrum of alternatives. There will never be a better opportunity for tapping social tools like Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Jive, etc to unlock the knowledge trapped in the LMS and other stores of information all through your organization. That is just one of many possibilities. Look outside your organization to see what others are doing. The important thing is to try new things… experiment with new, better ideas. Call it a ‘pilot’ – isn’t everything right now a pilot anyway? Ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Just do it.

In our new world the skill of learning is becoming more important than ever before. As Jack Welch once said, ‘An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.'”

Mayra Aixa Villar (Argentina)

“I’m a very optimistic and positive person but I am afraid that COVID-19 will stay with us for a long time, unfortunately. And this will greatly affect in-person education and training.

The challenge for L&D professionals is to start thinking about more creative ways of helping organizations and institutions make digital learning not only more engaging but also more accessible to all as we adjust to this new normal.

I know that we always talk about creating more engaging online experience, but this time it will be more than a wish. Think about all the classes that used to be face to face and were designed that way for a specific reason. Classes where students need hands-on practice or classes where close interaction with a mentor or a tutor was absolutely necessary for the learners to successfully complete a task. Organizations and institutions now need quick and creative solutions to be able to deliver online education and effectively compensate for the lack of interactions between instructors and students.

Also, we need to start thinking beyond traditional learning environments and start considering the conditions and characteristics of learners in different countries. Uploading a document to a platform or delivering a webinar is not a solution. L&D professionals need to consider – more than ever before – the restrictions some learners may face. There are people who don’t have access to the Internet, who don’t own a computer, who don’t feel comfortable using technology. Still, we need to be able to offer educational resources to these children, teenagers, and adults who won’t be able to attend in-person classes.

I think that L&D professionals will have to lead the way in terms of reshaping delivery methods to make education more effective, engaging, and accessible to all.”

Ger Driesen (The Netherlands)

“I think in the long run, not so much. The COVID-19 crisis will be ‘just a spike’ in history. It will have a big impact as a ‘generation marker’ in the minds of those who do have the ‘heavy’ experience now. It will be a big ‘do you remember 2020’ event that we will talk about for many years to come. But on a real practical side it will have minor impact on L&D.

First, there will be a ‘push’ to everything ‘online learning’ like we see now. During this stage of panic we will accept online solutions that are good enough for now but not for the longer run. Those L&D professionals (including providers) who were ‘prepared’ (already did their thinking and experimenting with all things online) will benefit from the current situation.

Partly L&D stuff that moved online, for topics and situations that make sense, will stay online. Companies and learners who were hesitant will now have the experience that it can work ‘just fine’, sometimes even better, and realise it’s more practical and efficient to do some learning online and want to keep doing it that way.

But there will also be a ‘bounce back’. People were, are and will be ‘social animals’ and will always appreciate and value real-life face-to-face events related to other topics of learning. My prediction (which I’ve shared for about 2 years) that ‘vintage classroom training’ will be ‘hot’ in the near future might get an impulse soon.

To recap: it will help us for a more clear distinction and deliberate choice on what kind of L&D stuff we need/want to do online and which part face-to-face, and find better, well considered ‘blends’ over time.

There is one more thing and in fact hope I’d like to add. For many people, life slowed down during the crisis. Slowing down is great for learning. I hope that slowing down once in a while will become more appreciated and also will become a regular building block of L&D solutions. Stay healthy, stay safe, keep learning!”

Belen Casado (Spain)

“That’s a tricky question, as we can never tell how the future will be. But I think that professionals will try to stick to working from home and attending courses through tools such as Zoom.

What I’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is that people value being able to interact with others. So students value interacting both with their teachers and their peers. This does NOT happen in the usual click-and-read course – that’s why it always had a high rate of abandonment.

Students also value – a lot – seeing their teachers alive, even if the quality of the image is not so good or the background is their own house. We’ve spent a lot of money in the past creating professional videos that weren’t that appealing as they were made by actors who just read the content.

It’s not only that click-and-read courses are boring – or frustrating if they’re locked – it’s that students need to see ‘people’ who are ‘alive’ and feel human, who motivate them to attend the course. In a way, seeing their teachers makes them feel ‘seen’.

So if we want to succeed in the new e-learning world, I think we need to add more live interaction, especially with students being in the centre of such communication, i.e. delivering assignments in video or in the form of webinars. That way, they’ll be really seen.”

Gautam Ghosh (India)

“There are two aspects: in the larger business context, as most companies struggle for survival, many of the traditional long-term learning interventions will be put on hold – especially those that are in-person and cost a lot of money. These would move to more online delivery of content, however in the short term that might lead to a bad learner experience – especially if the facilitator is new to online facilitation, and trying to replicate the offline model online.

Secondly, in the long term I am hopeful that the L&D function would morph into a much more integrated part of an employee’s and the business’ growth journey. Many employees are upskilling and crafting their career journeys with their own hands and L&D needs to have a deeper conversation on how to build this community of learners within and without the organizational boundaries.”

Ryan Tracey (Australia)

And so back to me.

I agree with my learned colleagues that the short-term response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a knee-jerk reaction. But that’s understandable. Done is better than perfect, so it’s perfectly logical for us to use the tools at our disposal (such as a webinar platform) to meet our urgent training needs.

I also agree with my colleagues’ consensus that the sophistication of our service offering will evolve. To remain effective, our solutions need to become more accessible, blended, curated, social, interactive, reflective and self navigated.

And I feel it’s important to recognise that the challenges of remote learning won’t dissipate when we return to the office. Having caught the working-from-home bug myself, I’m keen to split my week going forward – and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. That means while we’ll rightly put in-person classes back on the agenda, we’ll still need to serve our target audiences from afar.

Thus, among the human tragedy a glimmer of goodness may result from this crisis: a provocation to change learning and development for the better.

The next normal.

Back to the future

I’m both a science nerd and a history buff, so naturally I’m fascinated by the history of science.

When I visited Bern several years ago, the Museum für Kommunikation was at the top of my “to do” list. This captivating institution is dedicated to the history of technology-mediated communication, from the cuneiform tablets of the Sumerians, through the gamut of the postal service, telephony, telegraphy, radio, television, computers and the Internet. Upon my return from Switzerland I eagerly blogged my highlights from the museum.

More recently, I’ve just come back from a trip to the UK, where of course I continued my exploration of geeky curiosities. I was delighted to have discovered three excellent museums, from which I will now share some of my highlights.

My first discovery was the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, which houses “an unrivalled collection of early scientific instruments”. Indeed this institution houses a wide diversity of vintage apparatus – from microscopes to telescopes, abacuses to astrolabes.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer age of some the artefacts, such as the spring-operated prosthetic hand (Figure 1) which is thought to be from the 1500’s!

Artificial hand

Figure 1. Artificial Hand, 16th Century?

My second discovery I wish to share with you, which I’m ashamed to admit wasn’t originally on my “to do” list, was the Science Museum in London. Tight for time, I had bigger fish to fry, but my good friend in Kensington urged me to visit this place a mere tube stop away. And boy I’m glad I did.

If the Museum für Kommunikation and the Museum of the History of Science are impressively stocked, the Science Museum is the mother lode. I could have spent days poring over its expansive collection, and I intend to return to do so.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer fame of some the artefacts. For example…

Faraday's magnet and coil

Figure 2. Faraday’s Magnet and Coil, 1831 – that’s Michael Faraday. You know, the godfather of electromagnetism.

Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector

Figure 3. Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector, 1896 – the type of camera which recorded that ground-breaking footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat.

An Enigma machine

Figure 4. Enigma Machine, 1934 – a suitable corollary to Faraday’s magnet and coil, this ingenious electromagnetic device needs no introduction for anyone who’s watched The Imitation Game or The Bletchley Circle.

Watson and Crick's 3D model of DNA

Figure 5. Watson and Crick’s 3D Model of DNA, 1953 – the glorious double helix.

Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

Figure 6. Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, 1985-2002 – in the 1980’s, the museum began building Chuck’s 138-year-old design for a mechanical calculating machine, finally completing it in 2002.

My third and final discovery I wish to share with you was the Wellcome Collection, yet another destination which was inexplicably omitted from my “to do” list. The only reason I visited it was because my wonderful wife pointed it out as we were walking past.

This institution founded by pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome specialises in human health. Hence I think the strength of this collection is focus, particularly the “Medicine Man” exhibition including the following array of medieval surgical equipment (Figure 7).

An array of medieval surgical equipment

Figure 7. Centuries-old surgical tools.

There’s just so much good stuff in these museums, highlighting more would make this blog post a mile long and might breach some sort of copyright regulation. For more of their artefacts, including several that are relevant to financial services, follow me on Twitter where I’ll post them over the course of the next week or so.

Unlike the “vintage future” whereby people of the past predicted a largely fanciful civilisation, each of the objects I have highlighted here offered a glimpse of our real future. In their respective moments in time, they weren’t theoretical constructs or figments of imagination; rather, they were manifestations of advances in technology upon which further advancements were rendered possible.

Which begs the question: What will be our next advances in technology, given the manifestations we see in this moment in time?

While we await our brave new world, I hope you have the opportunity to visit the museums I have mentioned and embrace your journey back to the future.

The future of entertainment

In the space of a couple of weeks, I have previewed the future of entertainment twice.

Promo for VR Noir

The first instance was at AFTRS in Sydney, where I attended a presentation of VR Noir: A Day Before The Night.

Billed as an “interactive crime thriller”, this immersive virtual reality experience might best be described as a combination of a film and a game. Set in the style of the gumshoe genre we know so well, you play the part of a private detective who must decide whether or not to take on a client’s case. Your actions drive the story forward, and your decisions along the way impact the final outcome.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and commend AFTRS on the quality of their work, I was also fascinated by the unique technical challenges they encountered. One of the most pressing ones was point of view: in a 360° environment, there is simultaneously no POV and all POVs. (Maybe their next VR film will be about Schrödinger’s cat?)

Another challenge was the stitching: the actors had to remain within the narrow confines of the frame, lest be sliced in two.

However the medium also afforded opportunities. One of them was the audio: by plotting the source of a sound at particular coordinates, its realism increased by orders of magnitude as I moved my head, or stepped closer or further away, while the stereophonics adjusted accordingly.

If and when multiple users can interact in the same VR film at the same time – that is to say, when the experience becomes social – the opportunities to replicate real-life situations will increase exponentially.

Indeed, my second preview of the future of entertainment was social.

The virtual reality experience offered by Zero Latency in Melbourne might best be described as laser tag on steroids. Armed with a headset, earphones, mic, and a plastic gun, your mission is to seek and destroy the hordes of zombies that have taken over the city.

Up to 6 players can traverse the 400m2 physical floor space as a platoon. Of course, the virtual world is much larger than that – as the website states, “We reuse the space with some nifty tricks we have developed.”

Saying that Zero Latency is loads of fun feels like I’m committing an injustice. Suffice to say the shoot’em-up genre has been elevated to a whole new level. I think my adrenalin is still pumping!

VR headset

Beyond the novelty factor, I was deeply engaged by both the interactive film and the ambulatory game. Having now experienced both, I am left in no doubt that virtual reality is the future of entertainment.

And if that’s true, then it’s also the future of lots of other things, such as learning.