Change is scary. Disruption is scary. Being left behind is scarier

left-behind

The world of work is about to change dramatically. Truthfully, it already has been for some time, driven by stunning  advances in digital technology and a shift in the job market toward a gig economy.

But the already torrid pace of change will accelerate over the next 15 years, rendering unrecognizable many of the tools and job roles we see today, along with how workers collaborate, how organizations make decisions, and even how organizations are structured. Enterprise employees increasingly will work alongside temporary contract workers (who may far outnumber full-time staff), machines and “intelligent” technology in the form of automation, smart voice assistants, robots, and algorithms capable of learning, making decisions, and taking action.

For someone used to more stability and structure in their jobs and organizations, the future can look quite foreboding indeed. And it is! Jeanne Meister, a partner with HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace says success in the digital economy requires what she calls “Z-shaped skills.”

“Z-shaped skills combine deep business and digital literacy with soft skills of the Five C’s: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communications, Cultural Fluency and Change Management along with a focus on Creativity and Innovation,” she writes.

That’s a tall order for the millions of workers who aren’t used to being proactive or thinking outside the parameters of their specific job. As investor and author James Altucher writes in The Uber Equation: How to Succeed In the Innovation Economy, “a century of corporatism” has molded generations of workers to adopt a 9-to-5 mentality.

Nonetheless, in a world where machines are handling responsibilities ranging from customer service to inventory management to financial analysis, workers must demonstrate additional value or risk losing their jobs. Fortunately, if there’s one place where humans have an edge over machines (at least for now), it’s in soft skills such as the Five C’s Meister references, as well as — and maybe particularly — creativity and innovation.

Altucher argues that the seemingly formidable skill sets that people need to survive in the current and future economy actually align with our innate intellectual curiosity. “We need to explore,” he writes. “We want to adapt constantly to new environments and use the part of our brain that evolved specifically so we could create new works of art or new productions.”

Let’s face it: Many people hate their jobs, or aspects of their jobs. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if they could be liberated from daily drudge work to focus on more fulfilling and more strategically valuable activities? Without a doubt — but just not so liberated from drudge work that they lost their jobs entirely.

Still, whether that fate befalls you depends largely on your ability to adapt to the new requirements of the workplace — of which the most valuable characteristic is, not coincidentally, adaptability.

By the way, I’m not just dispensing “expert” advice; I’m living these changes too. The media and communications landscape has altered a lot over the past few years, and there’s no let-up in sight. I’m launching a podcast soon, so I’ve had to learn a lot of new information and skills in the process. And I have to update my professional profile on LinkedIn and several content platforms every year to reflect my knowledge of the latest technologies, or I look out of touch. That’s one of the reasons why I love writing about the workplace of the future; it forces me to stay up to date.

Change is scary. Disruption is scary. Being left behind is scarier.

You can’t do anything about the first two, other than be aware of them. The good news is you can do something to avoid being left behind. And that’s adapt, learn, adapt, learn, adapt, learn, infinity.

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