Power Skills for the Future of Work

Power skills for the future of work
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Today I spent the morning on a video call with my website design team in New Delhi. Then I had my daily stand-up with my operations manager in Amsterdam to design work processes and problem-solve for the week ahead. Later I had Slack conversations with my virtual assistants spread out across Bangladesh and my animator in Cape Town. I was also in touch throughout the day with various partners and clients working on myriad different projects and facing an ever-growing stack of decisions. This is the future of work.

Reflecting on this it strikes me, the demands on me as an individual are vastly different from those when I first started working at the beginning of the century. In the 20 years that passed in accelerated motion, I’ve had to gain indispensable skills. This post is about those power skills, and how to think about fostering them in yourself and your team. 

The power skills needed for the future of work in 2020

Power skills will help you not fall on your face
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Power skills will help you to not fall on your face

The Institute for the Future put out a research report in 2011 analyzing key drivers that reshaped the landscape of work and identified key work skills needed by 2020. Looking back on those reveals how relevant they still are for the workforce in 2020, despite rapid change taking place during this generation. 

For example, Africa, with it’s mushrooming population and decreasing cost of data, has seen a significant transition from the use of computers to the adoption of mobile technology. The United Kingdom’s Digital Skills Committee estimates the UK needs over 750,000 people with digital skills to close a growing skills gap many are fearful of. The World Economic Forum estimates less than one percent of African children leave school with basic coding skills.

This unprecedented change leads to the question, how do we prepare ourselves for the future of work?

Many organizations still measure success by the ability of a worker to memorize knowledge, not create it. Instead, companies should be looking for innovative and creative employees, and it is those with an advanced level of digital skills that will be able to add value in the workplace in 2020.

Before we can answer the question of how we should prepare for the future, it helps to better understand the drivers of this change.

Six drivers shaping the power skills for the future of work

Six drivers of change in an uncertain world
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Six drivers of change in an uncertain world

We’ll frame our approach using the following six factors influencing the power skills we need for the future of work:

  1. Extreme Longevity – The global lifespan is increasing, and by 2025, the US will see a 70% increase in the number of people over the age of 60. This increase in lifespan will change the way we learn and the nature of careers. 
  2. The Rise of Smart Machines – Automation in the workplace is replacing repetitive tasks, changing the needs placed on human labor. Smart tech will make people more productive by extending their capabilities.
  3. Computational World – Massive improvements in sensors and processing power have transformed the world into a programmable platform anyone can manipulate, which is unleashing a firehose of information. 
  4. New Media Ecology – The rise of new tools in Media requires advanced literacy beyond the traditional text. Visual media communication (think: the Instagram photos of yours communicating how epic your road trip is) has developed a whole new language, demanding people to learn and adapt to be able to communicate effectively.
  5. Superstructured Organizations – Social tech is driving new forms of production and value creation, which is making it possible for corporations to work at extreme scales.
  6. Globally Connected World – In many ways the world is getting smaller. It’s possible now to staff remote teams with employees from every corner of the planet. 

These drivers of change are increasing the importance of digital skills. And in a virtuous cycle, digital skills are fostering job creation across the globe.  

Which power skills for the future of work should you prioritize in 2020?

Digital skills to prioritize in 2020
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Prioritize programming

We’ll look at ten skills and what these mean for learning and development. Click any heading to jump straight to the section. 

  1. Sense-Making
  2. Social Intelligence
  3. The T-shaped Professional
  4. Virtual Collaboration
  5. Computational Thinking
  6. New-Media Literacy
  7. Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  8. Cross-Cultural Competency
  9. Design Mindset
  10. Cognitive Load Management


think before you speak read before you think
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Read before you think

Key Driver(s): The Rise of Smart Machines.

Sense-making is the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of information we receive. 

Sense-making requires personal responsibility to learn by choice and turn the knowledge acquired into know-how. Having gained knowledge, learning how to implement it and thinking through actions is vital. This is creative thinking.  Many employees grind to a halt at the knowledge level because they are not taught how to think creatively. We must teach people to think outside the box from an early age so they don’t find themselves waiting around for decisions to be made once they enter the workforce.

The art of creative thinking

One of the most significant problems organizations are facing is a lack of original thinking.  I’ve noticed a trend of well-educated employees who simply follow procedures without thinking about how they should be applied. Many of these people will earn top managerial positions, perpetuating the lack of original thinking in those that work for them.  

Creativity must accompany the knowledge that shapes experience into meaningful actions; managers and directors should be at the forefront to ensure this is fulfilled in every position.  This continuous process doesn’t stop because the world we are in is continually changing.

Why is creative thinking important?

Creative thinking is an art. It can be learned, but it requires patience and trial and error. Creative thinking: 

  • Assists in developing new ideas – instead of a company following the same old patterns and expecting different results, employees thinking creatively can create new value in areas such as innovation and marketing.
  • Pushes creative business ideas into reality – developing new ideas is not enough; execution is what counts.  Creative minds should be able to do both.
  • Creates diversity within an organization – diverse people bring different ideas together to work towards the future of the organization. When in a workgroup, employees get to listen to different approaches and thus build their opinions and their thinking.

Developing creative thinking skills

Application is the key to how well you can think creatively.

So how do you develop this skill?

  1. Take risks – good things don’t come to those who wait, they come to those who take chances and grab opportunities. Become a risk taker and learn to exercise your creative thinking muscles in both success and failure.
  2. Ask the right questions – listen more than you talk. Learn to ask the right questions to encourage others to open up to you. Ask yourself challenging questions as part of organized reflection, and then work to find solutions.
  3. Make a list of your ideas and select from them –  we all have opinions but we don’t often care to think through each of them to get to the very best one.  Challenging yourself to write down a list of ideas and critiquing each of them will help you creatively select the best.

We are entering an era where smart machines and systems in a globally connected world will reshape the workplace. The demand for skills that machines are not good at (read: sense-making) will increase. Higher-level thinking skills like this cannot be codified. 

Social Intelligence

Intelligence in social settings is a 2020 skills
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Social intelligence is not just for millennials

Key Driver(s): The Rise of Smart Machines; Globally Connected World.

Dr. Daniel Goleman in his book “Social Intelligence” defined it as the ability to build relationships and navigate social environments.

So, why it is important from a business leader’s perspective to foster social intelligence in your team?

To answer this, let us navigate back to IFTF’s report and look at two factors that highlight the importance of social intelligence in the future workforce.

Firstly, in a globally connected world, new competitors are rising from rapidly developing economies like China and India. Having a foreign presence in these areas is no longer enough. The key is to employ locals with social intelligence to be able to integrate local business processes in a global business framework.

Secondly, as smart machines are replacing humans in some fields of business, the role of employees will need to change from being ‘replaceable’ by machines to performing a support role machines cannot provide. Social intelligence is a primary differentiator between man and machine.

Dr. Ronald Riggio is a globally-recognized authority on social intelligence. He lists six key components that can help individuals understand social intelligence. These are:

  1. Social Expressiveness Skills – the ability to “work the room”, this includes exceptional conversational skills and elevated levels of verbal fluency.
  2. Social Awareness Skills – the ability to “play the game”, this includes knowledge about social scripts, rules, roles, and norms.
  3. Effective Listening Skills – the ability to listen and understand others effectively.
  4. Emotional Intelligence Skills – the ability to “read the person or the situation”, this is primarily about having an understanding of what makes others tick.
  5. Social Self-Efficacy Skills – the ability to play different roles depending on the situation, this skill includes effective role-playing and feeling socially self-confident.
  6. Impression Management Skills – the ability to manage the impression you make on others, this involves creating a balance between controlling others and being authentic.

A key point underpinning all of these skills is having an awareness of the emotions of those around you. This is why diversity and inclusion training is a vital component of any corporate training program. 

The T-shaped Professional

Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha
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Warren Buffett is a T-shaped kinda guy

Key Driver(s): Extreme Longevity; Computational World.

In 1963, Warren Buffet, one of the most well-known investors on the planet, scrutinized the business model of American Express. With millions of cardholders, the company had a strong position in the US market. However, the Salad Oil Scandal of ‘63 changed everything. The stock plummeted almost 50 percent as the company was one of a few that lost over $150 million ($1.45 billion today) combined. Many shied away from American Express, but Buffet had other ideas. 

He looked at the company through a different lens. He visited a number of banks, supermarkets, drug stores, and travel agencies. He found all the customers had been using American Express cards. The scandal had obliterated the stock price, but it had had no effect in the mind of consumers. Buffet understood American Express had become one of the most trusted financial service providers in the world. While people became more anxious about the stock price, he became more optimistic about the future of the franchise. He invested almost a quarter of his total assets. It didn’t take long for the value of American Express to increase reaping a massive profit for Buffet and his company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffet didn’t study the typical analyst reports to make his investment decision. Instead, he extended the scope of his study to a broader range of information sources. He escaped narrowness and achieved huge success. This is an example of Transdisciplinarity.

Transdisciplinarity is a way of engaging non-specialist perspectives to escape the narrowness of any one discipline and open up a wider array of challenges and resources. It is focused on researching a specific problem by crossing the boundaries of two or more disciplines, just like Buffet did in analyzing the ailing stock price and customers’ continued reliance on American Express cards. 

People who possess the skill of Transdisciplinarity are known as T-shaped professionals. In addition to deep knowledge in at least one discipline, they have the ability to communicate effectively while crossing multiple others. If you want to become successful in 2020 and beyond, transform yourself and your team into T-shaped professionals.

How can you transform your team into T-shaped professionals?

To become a T-shaped individual, you have to assess your own skills and knowledge. A great way of doing it is making a list of your skills and rating them on a scale of 0 – 5. You have to be very honest with your rating to help you to get a clear idea of your strengths and weaknesses.

Then apply this checklist to your list. 

  1. Improvement – in rating your skills, you will have identified areas that can be improved, for example, programming. Create a new list of skills you want to improve and start working on them in a highly organized way by taking online courses, reading books, or joining cohorts.
  2. Determine your comfort zones – if you are happy with the level of skill of a specific area, let’s say copywriting, and there is no obvious benefit to improving, that’s great. Time is valuable, and you have other skills to improve!
  3. New skills – think of skills that complement those you already have. Maybe there are skills that will help you gain a promotion or find a new job.
  4. Dive deeper into a specific area – you have to determine it honestly, as it will be your specialization and act as a stem for your T-shaped skillsets, taking you on a path that will require time and effort.

By nurturing curiosity and prioritizing lifelong learning, you can transform yourself into a highly successful T-shaped professional.

Virtual Collaboration

The future of collaboration is virtual
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The future of virtual collaboration?

Key Driver(s): Superstructured Organizations; Globally Connected World.

According to CareersWiki, between 2015 and 2020, there was a 44% growth in the number of remote work opportunities. This means 4.7 million employees (3.4% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time. The same research finds 99% of workers want remote work to be a part of their careers – so this trend will only increase. Clearly, being able to collaborate effectively in virtual environments will continue to be a skill worth developing. 

IFTF defines virtual collaboration as the ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate value in the virtual work environment.

Virtual teams have their fair share of challenges to overcome to be productive. These include:

  • Communication – body language and facial expressions are hard to read or missing, while communication through tone of voice on phone calls or in emails can easily be misinterpreted. 
  • Shared values – teams with shared values and deeper bonds tend to perform better than others. This might be a challenge for virtual teams, who find it difficult to connect with each other in a meaningful way.
  • Distractions – in addition to the internet and mobile phone distractions present in any workplace, remote work carries with it a plethora of additional distractions, like those with whiskers and ears. 

Erin Meyer, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, believes to overcome these issues, we must think differently. Traditional methods to lead, build trust, make decisions, and communicate might not be effective in a virtual team environment. 

Yale’s School of Management responded by creating a course called “Global Virtual Teams”. In it, they teach skills that help managers manage virtual teams more efficiently and effectively. These skills include: 

  • Building a collective identity – building trust and avoiding the “us-vs-them” mentality.
  • Accepting vulnerabilities – accepting risks that may come with trusting virtual team members.
  • Avoiding a focus on common knowledge – avoiding talking about what is common, and rather exploring the unique value each team member can bring to the team.
  • Not making assumptions – not falling prey to cultural stereotypes, assessing individuals based on their individual worth. 
  • Evaluating communication methods – sorting out the communication problems and creating a method that is best suited to the current situation.

Computational Thinking

Thinking like robots
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Thinking like robots

Key Driver(s): Computational World; New Media Ecology.

Cоmрutеrѕ саn bе uѕеd to solve рrоblеmѕ. Bеfоrе a рrоblеm саn be tасklеd though, thе рrоblеm іtѕеlf аnd thе ways іn whісh іt could be ѕоlvеd nееd to bе undеrѕtооd.

Cоmрutаtіоnаl thіnkіng allows uѕ tо dо this – tо tаkе a соmрlеx situation, understand whаt the рrоblеm іѕ аnd dеvеlор роѕѕіblе ѕоlutіоnѕ. Wе can thеn рrеѕеnt these ѕоlutіоnѕ іn a way thаt a computer, a humаn, оr both, саn undеrѕtаnd.

Jeannette Wing defines computational thinking as “a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior by drawing on the concepts of computer science.”

The four соrnеrѕtоnеѕ оf соmрutаtіоnаl thіnkіng

Thеrе аrе fоur kеу components tо computational thіnkіng:

  • Dесоmроѕіtіоn – brеаkіng down a соmрlеx problem оr system іntо ѕmаllеr, mоrе manageable parts (similar to segmenting).
  • Pаttеrn rесоgnіtіоn – looking fоr ѕіmіlаrіtіеѕ аmоng аnd within рrоblеmѕ.
  • Abѕtrасtіоn – focusing оn the іmроrtаnt іnfоrmаtіоn оnlу, іgnоrіng іrrеlеvаnt dеtаіl.
  • Algоrіthmѕ – dеvеlоріng a ѕtер-bу-ѕtер ѕоlutіоn tо thе problem, оr the rules to fоllоw tо ѕоlvе thе problem.

Whу іѕ computational thinking іmроrtаnt іn the workplace?

Computational thinking runѕ through еvеrу аѕресt аnd function оf a modern business. It has bесоmе more crucial now that decision making is largely dаtа-drіvеn.

Cоmрutаtіоnаl thinking саn bе applied tо almost аnу function оf a buѕіnеѕѕ. Planning аnd forecasting аrе bаѕеd оn раttеrnѕ of gеnеrаlіzаtіоn or аbѕtrасtіоn. Dеѕіgnіng thе uѕеr jоurnеу fоr a е-соmmеrсе site involves bеіng аblе tо break a рrоblеm dоwn іntо its component parts, uѕіng dесоmроѕіtіоn tесhniquеѕ, аnd соnѕtruсtіng a ѕequеnсе оf ѕtерѕ tо ѕоlvе thе issue uѕіng algorithmic thinking.

Employees whо develop proficiency іn соmрutаtіоnаl thinking аlѕо develop:

  • Cоnfіdеnсе іn dealing wіth соmрlеxіtу.
  • Pеrѕіѕtеnсе іn wоrkіng with dіffісult рrоblеmѕ.
  • Tolerance fоr аmbіguіtу.
  • The аbіlіtу to dеаl with open-ended рrоblеmѕ.
  • The ability to соmmunісаtе and wоrk wіth оthеrѕ to асhіеvе a соmmоn gоаl оr solution.

The Musk, Jobs, and Einstein approach to developing computational thinking

Thinking like Elon Musk
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Here’s thinking like you, kid

Aѕ your tеаmѕ prepare to capture, соntrоl, mаnаgе and vіѕuаlіzе thе big dаtа that mаttеrѕ mоѕt tо уоur organization, it is helpful to go back to the four components of computational thinking and follow these steps:

  1. Break down a problem into its smaller parts as Elon Musk does, “I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths … and then reason up from there.”
  2. Look for patterns within and similarities with other problems. Steve Jobs put this well when he said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
  3. Focus on the essential information only. Einstein once said, “I soon learned to scent out what was able to lead to fundamentals and to turn aside from everything else…that clutter(s) up the mind.”
  4. Finally, use a step-by-step approach to problem-solving, drawing on simple rules to help define your solution

A word of caution though

Models are only as good as the data feeding them—even the best models are approximations of reality and not reality itself. In addition, workers must remain able to act in the absence of data and not become paralyzed when lacking an algorithm for every system to guide decision making.

New-Media Literacy

Instagram Stories, Snapchat and Facebook Live
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In the future, we will communicate in 60-second videos

Key Driver(s): Extreme Longevity; New Media Ecology; Superstructured Organizations.

As a business leader, developing an effective business communication strategy is a top priority. Business communication has evolved from the traditional static presentation-based medium of PowerPoint to more dynamic and interactive mediums, like video. Effective communication training for your employees should now include developing a skill called new-media literacy. 

New-media literacy, according to IFTF, is the ability to critically assess and develop content using new forms of media to deliver the message to the target audience. Media such as videos, blogs, illustrations, and podcasts. 

What does this mean for business communication?

Knowledge workers need to become fluent in new media forms such as video, able to critically “read” and assess them in the same way they currently assess a paper or presentation. 

Creating content is perhaps where the biggest shift needs to take place. User-generated content is now the norm in media, and your team should be equipped with the right skills to apply this in the workplace.

Knowledge of graphics and designing layouts was once restricted to a small set of graphic designers and illustrators until tools like Canva brought this within reach of everyone. Similarly, user-friendly production editing tools will make video language—concepts such as frame, depth of field, etc—part of the common vernacular. 

For example, proper framing is one of the most simple hacks to instantly improve any learning video (or your holiday Instagram picture for that matter). It’s also an easy skill to teach thanks to its visual nature. Once you see it you get it. Just follow the rule of thirds

Novel and Adaptive Thinking

Thinking outside the box
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Thinking outside the box

Key Driver(s): The Rise of Smart Machines; Globally Connected World.

The only certainty is change. The Internet and social media have changed the way we connect and communicate. Machines are taking over jobs in the service industry, and global outsourcing is the new normal.  High and low skilled jobs are now flooding global markets. An essential ingredient both have in common is the need for workers to develop novel and adaptive thinking in order to survive in the fast-changing global world we live in.

Novel and adaptive thinking is characterized by solutions and responses beyond those which are rote or rule-based. The ability to think through problems, act swiftly, and negotiate fear of the unknown is the foundation of novel and adaptive thinking. 

How to develop novel and adaptive thinking

While novel and adaptive thinking may come easy to some, the skill can be developed by practicing the following steps:

  1. Realize you use adaptive thinking every day at work and at home. Consider adaptive thinking to be a common practice. Building any skill requires one to develop confidence and the more you practice the better you will get. Identifying adaptive thinking as something you are already doing solidifies a foundation of expertise.
  2. Allow yourself opportunities to practice adaptive thinking during non-critical moments. Great leaders train! Athletes stay in the gym when they are not in a game. Exceptional leaders should be no different. Find low hanging fruit to practice your skill. If you mess up it won’t matter, it’s just practice. Find different workplace scenarios such as your last team project and walk through what you might have done differently, how you could have executed better, what you would do if your project fell behind schedule. From serious to simple, practice, practice, practice.
  3. Control your impulse to act immediately when confronted with a problem. Always take time to think through situations before deciding on the next step. If a ball is flying at your face will you duck or will you catch? If you duck, is there anyone behind you? If you catch, will you extend your hands in time, or will the force be too great to stop? Take a moment and think about the scenario and the many implications that may follow.
  4. Be open to new ways of doing things. We are systematic beings. We create systems and structures to simplify life.  When those systems break down, we have to be open to trying new things. Adaptive thinking is about thinking outside of the box, not going by the letter. What would you do if there were no rules, no blueprint, how would you solve the problem? At times going back to the drawing board and unlearning the patterns and habits of old is crucial in becoming a better strategic thinker.
  5. Anticipate changes in your environment before they occur. Being proactive is better than being reactive. You’re prepared. Observe patterns in your local environment for clues as to what may happen next.
  6. Ask questions about the problem you’re facing. Think critically to understand the problem. Why did your client bail mid-project? Who is responsible? What were the motives? How can you make the necessary changes moving forward? Poke holes and ask questions. The more you understand the issue, the better you will be at solving it and preventing it from happening again.
  7. Assess the risk appetite of everyone impacted by a decision. Will your decision influence your team in a positive way or will you be the only beneficiary? How will your decision making affect your environment? What will your team, management, community members, or shareholders think? It is imperative as you grow in adaptive thinking that you assess the risk tolerance of not only yourself but those around you for maximum leverage.

The more you practice novel and adaptive thinking the easier it becomes.

Cross-Cultural Competency

A book called The Culture Map
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We all need a culture map

Key Driver(s): Globally Connected World; Superstructured Organizations.

I recently had a conversation with the co-founder of a successful fintech startup in Austin, Texas. Like many other startups, he manages his business exclusively with the help of remote teams around the globe.

I was curious how he managed to accomplish so much with a team he saw so little of. 

As smart machines, global connectivity, and super structured organizations among other drivers are reshaping our thinking about work, he reiterated this theme we’ve been exploring that skills need to adapt to this new future.

What he described in going through his set of business principles with me was the skill of cross-cultural competence – the ability to operate effectively in a different cultural setting.

But the real question is what exactly makes up cross-cultural competence and what combination of attitude, knowledge, and skills makes someone cross-culturally competent?

Louise Rasmussen and Winston Sieck also faced the same question. They conducted extensive research and identified several core aspects of cross-cultural competence. Here are the guiding principles to follow on the path to becoming cross-culturally competent:

  • Stay focused on your goals.
  • Understand culture from a self-perspective.
  • Manage attitude and the way you react to other cultures.
  • Direct learning of other cultures: for instance, how others behave.
  • Prepare for cultural surprises.
  • Formulate cultural explanations of behavior to develop deeper understandings.
  • Plan cross-cultural communication using what you have learned.
  • Control how to present yourself, finding the most appropriate response.
  • Reflect and seek feedback, continuing to improve yourself.

The Austin co-founder I spoke with knew the importance of cross-cultural competence, so he studied it, but what about communicating that to his team? 

In a remote workforce, leaders face the challenge of communicating their message across the organization. Traditional in-house training sessions don’t work anymore. He found that video-based training was a better option to train employees and get them ready to face challenges.

The team in Austin is happy and producing excellent results. The training helped his team improve internal communication, resulting in an increase in overall performance.

Design Mindset

A wall covered in sticky notes
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Thinking in sticky notes

Key Driver(s): Computational World; Superstructured Organizations.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president, and CEO, IDEO

Having a design mindset means the ability to look holistically at your environment, your objectives, your resources, and your challenges, and shape HOW you are going to reach that objective. The core components of this skill are the discovery process, which involves observation and open-ended questions, and rapid prototyping, which involves creating, getting feedback and iterating in an endless loop. 

The design thinking institute at Stanford University, commonly referred to as the d.school, seeks to instill in students “creative confidence that, when given a difficult problem, we have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before.” 

They offer programs and resources to help build the skills needed for a design mindset. Broadly, there are 5 modes of thinking that make up the methodology:

  1. Empathize – the centerpiece of the design process, this is the work you do to understand people within the context of your design challenge. Key skills in this mode include observation and interviewing.
  2. Define – in this mode you make sense of all the observations and insights you picked up from the first phase, synthesizing them and looking for patterns. The goal here is to craft a meaningful and actionable problem statement. 
  3. Ideate – in a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes, you generate ideas as a way to transition from identifying problems to creating solutions. The goal here is to generate a wide range of possible solutions, not find the best solution. 
  4. Prototype – this is the building mode, in which the goal is to generate anything an end-user can interact with as quickly and cheaply as possible to test your ideas. 
  5. Test – finally, you solicit feedback on the ideas you prototyped, presenting another opportunity to gain empathy for your end-user. The key here is to ask why to truly understand the emotions and motivations that drive your end-users behavior. 

Developing a design mindset involves taking yourself and your team through these modes of thinking, applying them to relevant problems, and following the process with discipline. The result is a robust team able to take on new challenges with the confidence borne of a rigorous process.

Cognitive Load Management

The amount of data created every minute on the internet
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Information overload, by the minute

Key Driver(s): New Media Ecology; Computational World; Superstructured Organizations.

Every year, Domo puts out this fascinating study of the amount of data generated every minute online. Cognitive load management is the ability to filter this firehose of information for importance.

As I’ve written about before, the capacity to present material is unlimited, and the capacity for storing knowledge in long-term memory is virtually unlimited. But the capacity for mentally holding and manipulating words and images in working memory is limited. And herein lies the greatest challenge, which is to filter for the signal over the noise. Skills like ranking, tagging or adding metadata to raw data become important. 

The writer and productivity expert Tiago Forte created a system called Building A Second Brain, that involves the following steps for managing cognitive load:

  1. Remember – develop a process for capturing your ideas and insights. A helpful way to do this is to first ask yourself what are the most important questions in your work or life. Then consume information through the lens of these questions. 
  2. Connect – similar to the Define mode in design thinking, this step involves noticing patterns and connections in the information you have collected. Tiago’s system encourages you to distill your notes into actionable, bite-sized summaries for your future self. 
  3. Create – information should not be consumed passively. The goal is to put to use what you consume. The way to go about that is to create smaller, reusable units of work. For example, start with a Tweet to flesh out an idea, then record a video discussing the issue, and finally turn it into a 5,000-word blog post exploring the topic in depth. 

The insanely useful benefit of developing this skill is that, in Tiago’s words, “because you know how to capture and make use of anything, every experience you have becomes an opportunity to learn and to grow.”

How can you help your team develop these skills?

Some of you reading this may be responsible for training at your organization. 

I’ve written about how video-based training is emerging as one of the most effective ways of telling stories and conveying information.

Brain studies reveal mirror neurons are responsible for individuals learning through mimicry. People learn from what they see. As modern organizations consist of teams from dispersed locations, it is not always possible to arrange training in-person. Video-based training can help your team develop these skills right from their laptops and tablets. In addition, video-based training triggers memory retention, by prompting employees to relate the message to their life or their work environment.

Is your team equipped with the right digital skills for the next decade? 

If not, reach out to see how we can help.

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