Forays into the Future of Work

January 6, 2012 0 Comments

Originally published at on January 6, 2012

Over on the NewProsperity blog in December, I had the privilege of posting a piece by fellow Bostonian Nathan Rothstein on what he hopes for the future of education. Nathan reflects on the importance of financial literacy, civics education, and service for recent grads. Too many young people come out of high school and college knowing next to nothing about finance or how elections work, he says, and too many could care less about politics. This at a time when the promises of an expensive college education no longer hold true, and when the world needs young people more than ever.

With so many of our major cultural institutions changing at what feels like the speed of light, Nathan thinks our educational institutions could change quicker. I couldn’t agree more, but of course change takes time. We have to talk about things first and gather collective support around new possibilities. We have to admit when things aren’t working and take some risks.

While many of my friends and colleagues are spending time in organizations/startups working toward creating new futures in education (The ArtScience PrizeBoxxoutEnterprisesUniversity of Venus)—or challenging/re-imagining the entire concept of education (Kaos PilotsSwaraj University), I find myself wondering about the future of work. My colleague Erica Dhawan and I are thinking a lot about the attitude and skills Gen Y-ers and millennials (especially young women) need to create meaningful, rewarding careers in a changing world of work and money, as people seek to live as much as in the real world as they do behind their computer screens, and as social responsibility becomes more of a given rather than a side consideration.

As part-time entrepreneurs and Gen Y-ers ourselves, with different backgrounds, Erica and I find ourselves hearing the same things. Young people seek careers that will give them a good income, personal fulfillment, plenty of learning opportunities, flexibility, and joy. Companies and organizations want new hires who will help them move forward, who can work within the current company culture, and by being active, engaged, socially-conscious citizens, also serve to meaningfully transform it. Companies want what they’ve always wanted: people who will help them remain relevant. It’s about keeping an eye on all the ways the world is changing and in the meantime, offering products and services of real value to people.

So how do we stay relevant? We might arrive at the answer faster by first considering the question, what skills and qualities will serve us in the future? Whether we’re young people in the business of crafting our careers or companies in the business of bringing on new creative talent, those skills and qualities are the same. The world needs connectors. By this I mean systems thinkers, synthesizers of ideas, translators of ideas, free agents comfortable working across sectors and across different parts of the organization, and workers who are also willing to serve as fearless, thoughtful hosts of conversations that matter within our companies, communities, and organizations. It’s not enough anymore to be a hard worker who stays on task; the world needs smart workers who are paying attention to the world around them, letting it inform the way they work and lead.

In my next blog, I’ll go into more detail about what I mean by each of these roles and will invite your thoughts as well. What skills and qualities do you think the world needs now?


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