When recently asked about the "jobs of the future," inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil mused that while we can see patterns and predict trends, the jobs of tomorrow have yet to be invented. He goes on to argue that jobs today include significant ongoing learning because people must learn the new skills needed for new jobs. Kurzweil envisions a future where change continues to accelerate, but where people have better tools and abilities to adapt to the change. Creativity and learning are the dividend of this reality, not the old chestnut that everyone will have more leisure time because robots will do all of our work.
This got me thinking about how we do work, manage, and lead others. OK, everything gets me thinking about management and leadership, but Kurzweil's comments focused me a little more on how we can get ahead of the curve. We all know that change is inevitable, but what is our horizon? What do we care about because it affects us and what is the problem for the next guy or the next next guy? This is not to say we have no interest or care about the next generations and what they will face (our national lack of focus on spending or the environment to the contrary), just that it's not relevant to "my" job or learning needs.
Why do I need to learn about remote collaboration, data mining, 3D printing, or crowd sourcing? I'm on the back nine of my career and these are skills for the younger folk, right? Nope. Sorry. Not this time bub. The sad (or exciting) truth is that while 100 years ago, what you learned at the beginning of your career was pretty close to what you knew at the end of it (you just got more skilled and perceptive), that is not the case today. The world is not only changing, it's accelerating. We must continually reinvent ourselves and learn new things and new ways of doing things. Ten years ago, the Internet was a career path. Today, it's becoming a tool much like the telephone or the ink pen.
So what is a mid-career professional to do? Learn... and learn some more. We need to change the perception that professional development is just a pathway to advance your career; it's become critical just to stay current. This is not an argument that older workers are not valuable. The same reasons they were valuable in the past continue to hold true: maturity, institutional knowledge, and experience. But they also need the have the skills to understand current and future issues, processes, and challenges. As managers, we need to lead by example and embrace lifelong learning for our employees as well as ourselves. The workplace is dynamic and we need to evolve or face the fate of the dinosaurs and start primping for our prime spot in the museum of business history. I don't expect I would look so good in a diorama, so I'm going to keep trying to learn. How about you?