Over our longer careers, we will experience increased disruption to skill sets, so learning will need to become a lifelong endeavour. Future Talent Group CEO, Jim Carrick-Birtwell, outlines why building ‘transformational assets’ will be key to a productive and happy life.
Many of the ancient philosophers turned their attention to serious enquiry about what constitutes ‘happiness’ and, as we re-orientate ourselves for a post-pandemic world, it feels like a very contemporary concern.
Aristotle described eudaimonia as the goal of human thought and action. Eudaimonia is often translated to mean happiness, but some scholars contend that "human flourishing" may be a more accurate translation.
The need to flourish - at work and in life
I like the latter interpretation and can relate to it. When I started out in my working life, flushed with the confidence provided by a range of experiences at university - including directing and producing plays - I was determined to remain true to my instincts and pursue activities and work that would allow me to flourish.
In the 1990s, I had precious little to guide me towards what might turn out to be a productive and happy career, let alone life; but I’ve been purposefully and actively engaged in reflecting on what ‘flourishing’ and ‘thriving’ look like for most of my career, and it has formed the core theme of our events and content at Changeboard and the Future Talent Group over the past 15 years.
I’ve subsequently reflected that Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s The 100-Year Life is a modern manifesto articulating the argument and narrative for “human flourishing” set against the backdrop of us all living longer lives.
In fact, Gratton and Scott’s thesis for a productive and happy longer life could have been written as a brief for the Future Talent Learning leadership training programme, as it connects so closely with my own thinking around the future of work.
Developing intangible assets
The fourth chapter of this inspiring book is my favourite. Titled ‘Intangibles’ – it focuses on the intangible assets such as a supportive family, great friends, strong skills and knowledge, and good physical and mental health, which most people would say constitute a good life.
They state unequivocally that these intangible assets are as important as financial assets when it comes to building a happy and productive long life, and that these intangibles are indeed the foundation for success.
We’ve used this focus on skills as priceless assets as a cornerstone for the development of Future Talent Learning’s Transformational Leadership Programme.
Skills are priceless assets and the foundation of success
If you haven't had time to read The 100-Year Life, here are six key takeaways from the intangible assets chapter that are worth highlighting:
Productive assets help an individual become productive and successful at work and should therefore boost their income
Valuable skills and knowledge are built as a result of allocating significant periods of time to education, engaging in specific types of work and learning on the job, or spending time with coaches, mentors or peers. This is crucial in view of the extraordinary speed at which both the market for jobs and the acquisition of skills is developing.
McKinsey research reinforces this from an employer’s perspective: some 87% of firms say they have skills gaps now or will do in the next few years. Respondents also said that skills building – rather than skills hiring – will help them close skills gaps.
The ‘what, when and how’ of acquiring stocks of skills and knowledge will change substantially
The 'three-stage' life (education, work, retirement) has been replaced by a more fluid, multi-stage life. Substantial knowledge and skills acquisition (i.e. education) will no longer take place in one go, early in life. Given the degree of change and technological advancement, acquiring new skills will become a lifelong endeavour.
Employers are recognising that development is extremely high on the list of employee demands. An employee development proposition (EDP) is now the central theme of successful employers’ employee value proposition (EVP).
Education and learning & development can support future-proofing careers (and prevent obsolescence) by:
- In supporting the development of ideas and creativity: there is a premium on education that supports being innovative and creative. In historical terms, if the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century was about physical capital and the 20th century about the advantage of education and human capital, the 21st century will be about adding value by coming up with ideas and innovations
- In enabling human skills and empathy: this is directly linked to being creative and innovative and speaks to the growing importance of human skills and judgement
- In developing portable core general skills such as mental flexibility and agility: as technology advances, any specialisation runs a high risk of obsolescence. As a result, formal education will increasingly create opportunities to build foundational abilities – such as agility – that span different disciplines.
This essentially future-proofs individuals with transferable skills, mindsets and capabilities that will allow them to move across jobs and sectors.
This thinking underlies our Transformational Leadership Programme, which covers leadership, management and decision making, but revolves around 'human skills'.
There will be a shift in how we learn, with a particular emphasis on experiential learning
What will matter is not what we know (which is made universally accessible via the web and online learning), but rather what we have experienced as a result of applying this knowledge. This is ‘tacit knowledge’ and is increasingly valuable. It is built through practice, repetition and observation, and is the basis of wisdom, insight and intuition. This well describes the real-world savvy, that employers value most.
Essentially, this is vocational, or work-based learning: applying the theory that you have learned in practice; the modern application of apprenticeships.
Our Transformational Leadership Programme, funded under the apprenticeship levy, is underpinned by this emphasis on experiential learning, demonstrated by our principles of learning:
- We learn through conversation with others: Learning is better when it’s social vs solitary
- We learn by doing – not just thinking
- We learn by meaningful repetition / practice: Once isn’t enough to prompt behaviour change
- We learn by having fun: Facilitated by immersion, gamification, tech-rich simulation, and virtual experiences
- We learn by helping others learn / teaching others (the power of coaching)
‘Transformational assets’ help us see change as an opportunity rather than a threat, and help us navigate through transitions
Gratton and Scott categorise ‘intangible assets’ in three ways: productive assets (skills and reputation), vitality assets (health and friendships) and transformational assets (self-knowledge, diverse networks and openness to experience).
Transformational assets are those that help increase the success of transitions and reduce the uncertainty and costs of change. Continued technological innovations and sectoral shifts will undoubtedly bring flux, so being able to refresh and re-skill at more points will become crucial for all individuals and workers.
Our research and myriad conversations with employers over the past decade, have bolstered the argument that today’s leaders need more than technical skills to rise to the challenge of organisational transformation.
They also need the ability to work in more Agile ways, the ‘soft’ skills to Collaborate effectively and the mindset to see organisational Transformation as an opportunity and not a threat. That’s why our Transformational Leadership Programme has our ACT model for leadership behaviour right at its core.
The programme uses fully immersive online learning techniques to give participants the skills and confidence they need to thrive and flourish in the modern workplace. For example, the agility to work in leaner, smarter ways; the means to collaborate and draw value from multiple perspectives, and the capacity to lead transformational change, while also keeping legacy operations on track.
Self-knowledge is a key transformational asset
Self-knowledge is critical to being able to adapt: successful transformation only happens when people have some understanding of themselves, both as they are now, and how they might be in the future.
In traditional working roles, the sense of self was in part conferred by one’s status and role. Today, identities are more ambiguous and multi-faceted (the prevalence of reverse mentoring is a good example), and identity is crafted rather than assumed or inherited. Self-knowledge plays a crucial role in this.
We understand and learn about ourselves when we are prepared to receive feedback, to seek out and hear what others think, and then reflect on this. Such reflection is important. We are all able to add information to the way we think about ourselves and our world.
What differentiates those who are actively building transformational assets is that they are not simply increasing their knowledge, they are actively changing themselves and the way they see the world. Their understanding of themselves is becoming broader, more complex; they are better able to deal with multiple demands and uncertainty.
Self-knowledge is so central to building a sophisticated set of soft skills and behaviours that it is the first module in our Transformational Leadership Programme - the foundation upon which our learners will develop, grow and thrive.
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