The one skill you’ll need in the future workplace isn’t actually a skill


There was a time not long ago when you could ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and expect a reply that bears a fair semblance to present reality: Doctor, lawyer, baseball player, astronaut, etc. You know, jobs that people actually do!

But how do you know what you want to be if the vast majority of jobs that will be available in a decade or so don’t exist now? A Dell Technologies report from last year predicted 85% of the jobs that will be available in 12 years have yet to be created.

This expected explosion of jobs surely will be technology-driven. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, neural networks, virtual reality and augmented reality, virtual assistants, cryptocurrency, blockchain, robots, and more are starving for developer and designer talent. New jobs in all of these areas are being created right now by start-ups and tech giants, and that process will accelerate.

To be sure, some of these technologies — such as AI, machine learning, and automation — will result in job losses. Still, the feverish pace of change driven by new consumer and enterprise technologies will continue to produce new positions and career opportunities, even as others fall by the wayside.

So the question is, in a job market where change is the one constant, and today’s knowledge may be tomorrow’s ancient history, how do you retain and even increase your professional value? The same way that enterprises remain competitive amid constant change: By being adaptable.

Adaptability isn’t a skill. It’s something better: A trait. Skills are awesome, no doubt; there’s a reason people say they “have the skills to pay the bills!” And skills can be transferable: Got some mobile programming chops? Great, how about taking a shot at this mobile chat bot?

Traits are more permanent than skills. Traits are always part of who you are, and if you are adaptable, you will be well-positioned to excel in an environment of constant change. In large part that’s because your adaptability enables you to constantly obtain new skills. And while it’s harder for people to adopt traits than learn skills, it can be done.

There are many components to adaptability — proactive thinking, willingness to learn, etc. — in the context of professional careers that I’ll explore soon. But above all else, your ability to adapt in a world where nothing will stay the same is going to be the key to your professional success, much more so than what and who you know.


  1. This is very true! I have passed this along to my children.


  1. […] I wrote in June, “Adaptability isn’t a skill. It’s something better: A trait. Traits are more permanent than skills. Traits are always part of who you are, and if you […]

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