BY: KEVIN MORENCY
Everything about work is changing.
I have two young daughters. I don’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up. It makes no sense to. The jobs that exist today will be gone, and new ones will take their place. My daughters are facing enormous employment uncertainty, and if I’m being honest, so am I.
You can no longer study a particular field, obtain a degree, and expect that specialized knowledge to be valid throughout the course of a 40-year career. We have to adapt, learn new skills, or be left behind.
Technology is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Driverless trucks threaten to replace human labour. Artificial Intelligence is changing what it means to be a radiologist evaluating medical images, or a recruiter screening resumes. Ubiquitous access to high speed internet means that more projects are completed by remote teams, spanning multiple cultures and geographies.
These factors (and many more) are transforming the way we look at our careers. More disruptions are on the way; we just don’t know what they’ll be. Trying to predict the future of work is like trying to drive a car while looking out the back window. And this car is moving quickly.
The soft skill revolution
If you cannot ask yourself what you want to be, you can at least ask yourself how you want to be.
The World Economic Forum recently published their Future of Jobs report, in which they listed the top 10 skills needed in 2020. They are all behavioural skills:
Complex Problem Solving
Coordinating with Others
Judgement and Decision Making
LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report noted that leadership, communication, and collaboration are more important than role-specific skills. Four thousand professionals were surveyed; all groups ranked role-specific skills as the least important aspect of workplace training programs.
We are entering an era where technical knowledge — while still necessary — is no longer sufficient. In order to navigate this world, we need creators, empathizers, meaning makers, and team players. Soft skills are the skills of the future. Robots don’t have soft skills.
Developing your soft skills
If soft skills are so important, how can we become better at them?
Like any other skill, it takes practice. Reading books on leadership, emotional intelligence, and coordination will only take you so far. You wouldn’t read a book on basketball then march onto the court to face the Golden State Warriors. You need to practice these skills in a low-stakes environment so that they become instinctual, ingrained, and readily accessible when the stakes get raised.
One thing you can try is applied improvisation — harnessing the tools of improv theatre and applying them to real life. Improv classes are designed to train our ability to listen, connect, and collaborate effectively; practicing improv exercises with a team is a great way to establish productive communication patterns.
The Brookfield Institute calls creativity a “mandatory skill for the future” and notes that creativity could soon be the most in-demand skill sought by employers across all industries. Practicing improv helps individuals and teams access their creativity by allowing them to temporarily shut off the inhibition circuits in the brain.
Improv training also fosters acceptance — of other humans, of diverse ideas, of what is going on in the world, right here, right now. When the ground shifts beneath our feet, new realities emerge, and old methods no longer work, practiced improvisers can see the opportunity to move forward. They are the type of people who not only adapt to change, but thrive on it.
That’s how I want to be when I grow up.
How Colleges and Universities are evolving
Colleges and universities are responsible for preparing people to thrive in the workplaces of the future; this includes developing the behavioural skills recommended by the World Economic Forum. MBA programs are stressing the importance of soft skills for future leaders and many top business schools — including Duke, MIT, UCLA, McGill, UBC, and Western — have included improv classes as part of the curriculum.
At The University of Guelph, we’ve used improv to enrich the classroom experience in many departments. Professors want students to confidently present bold ideas, respect the diversity of new ideas, and collaborate productively. Kicking off a semester with an improv workshop can improve the quality of group projects.
How Workplaces are evolving
In order to survive the robot apocalypse, companies must celebrate the things that make us human. Speaking at the True North technology conference in June 2019, Thomas Friedman used a hurricane analogy to describe the importance of human connections in our volatile world.
Friedman is alluding to “psychological safety” — a shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Researchers at Cornell University have found that psychological safety encourages learning in the workplace. Google has declared it the number one key to a successful team. Practicing improv establishes psychological safety through a powerful shared experience of taking risks and reacting productively to failures.
More and more companies are practicing improv. At The Making-Box, we have had the pleasure of partnering with engineering firms, governments, healthcare professionals, tech start-ups, advertising agencies, and financial institutions to deliver workshops that accelerate trust, flexibility, and collaboration.
Because, whether we like it or not, the future of work will be improvised.