Here’s what you’ll need to thrive as a designer in 2025

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?

When I was little, my mom used to tell me the tale of the Ant and the Grasshopper in the hope to make me considerate about the future.

For those of you who don’t know the tale, it goes like this:

A grasshopper, at the beginning of the first colds of the autumn, goes begging for food to some ants, who are working on the food reserves they have saved up for the winter. When the ants find out that the grasshopper didn’t save up any food, because he was busy making music and dancing all summer, they give him the middle finger and tell him that it’s on him if he’s starving.

Pretty brutal, isn’t it?

The moral of this story shows me that there are two types of people when it comes to managing situations like winning the lottery:

  1. The Grasshoppers: these people would spend all the money on partying because they got rich, and end up broke in a few years time. These are short-term thinkers.
  2. The Ants: these are the ones that would spend a little bit of money and save or invest the rest to build wealth, and enjoy it for the rest of their lives. These are long-term thinkers.

But this is isn’t a post about winning the lottery or about wealth management, this is a post about thinking long term and the skills we need to thrive in the future. I’m talking about the set of skills that will set you apart and give you an advantage in a future scenario where robots could take your job.

If you don’t want that to happen, continue reading, because you will either want to be working on building that robot or, at the very least, you want to be skilled enough so that no piece of machinery can replace you.


The 6 drivers of change

In 2011, the Institute for the Future, sponsored by the University of Phoenix Research Institute, made a forecast to identify the six drivers of change and the future skills needed to inject in those drivers:

  1. Extreme longevity: Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning.
  2. The rise of smart machines and systems: Workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks.
  3. Computational world: Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system.
  4. New media ecology: New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text.
  5. Superstructured organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation.
  6. Globally connected world: Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations.

The 10 skills for the future

The skills that inject into the six drivers of change are a mix of hard and human skills that will make the difference in an era where all of our focus is on the progress of technology. These are the skills for the future:

#1: Sense-making

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Definition: The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.

Why it’s important: As smart machines take over rote, routine manufacturing and services jobs, there will be an increasing demand for the kinds of skills machines are not good at. These are higher level thinking skills that cannot be codified. We call these sense-making skills, skills that help us create unique insights critical to decision making.

What to learn: Sometimes sense-making is a simple as removing jargon and saying it how it is. Maybe it’s being able to express the problem as a picture or a model. We need to learn mental models, writing, sketching and drawing.

Resources:


#2: Social Intelligence

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Definition: The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.

Why it’s important: Socially intelligent employees are able to quickly assess the emotions of those around them and adapt their words, tone and gestures accordingly. This has always been a key skill for workers who need to collaborate and build relationships of trust, but it is even more important as we are called on to collaborate with larger groups of people in different settings. Our emotionality and social IQ developed over millennia of living in groups will continue to be one of the vital assets that give human workers a comparative advantage over machines.

What to learn: Social intelligence can be translated to street smarts, how you speak to others, how you handle disagreement and how you express ideas. We need to learn conversational skills, verbal fluency, social self-efficacy and listening skills.

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#3: Novel & Adaptive thinking

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Why it’s important: Job opportunities are declining in middle-skill white-collar and blue-collar jobs, largely due to a combination of the automation of routine work, and global offshoring. Conversely, job opportunities are increasingly concentrated in both high-skill, high-wage professional, technical and management occupations and in low-skill, low-wage occupations such as food service and personal care. Jobs at the high-skill end involve abstract tasks, and at the low-skill end, manual tasks. These skills will be at a premium in the next decade, particularly as automation and offshoring continue.

What to learn: Adaptive thinking helps you to come up with out-of-the-box ideas in any critical situation. We need to learn how to learn, problem-solving and decision making.

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#4: Cross-cultural competency

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Definition: Ability to operate in different cultural settings.

Why it’s important: Cross-cultural competency will become an important skill for all workers, not just those who have to operate in diverse geographical environments. Organizations increasingly see diversity as a driver of innovation. Research now tells us that what makes a group truly intelligent and innovative is the combination of different ages, skills, disciplines, and working and thinking styles that members bring to the table. Diversity will, therefore, become a core competency for organizations over the next decade. Successful employees within these diverse teams need to be able to identify and communicate points of connection (shared goals, priorities, values) that transcend their differences and enable them to build relationships and to work together effectively.

What to learn: Collaboration between people from very different backgrounds who combine their own expertise allows us to make great discoveries. We need to learn new languages, integration and cooperation, understanding different cultures.

Resources:


#5: Computational thinking

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Definition: Ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.

Why it’s important: As the amount of data that we have at our disposal increases exponentially, many more roles will require computational thinking skills in order to make sense of this information. Novice-friendly programming languages and technologies that teach the fundamentals of programming virtual and physical worlds will enable us to manipulate our environments and enhance our interactions.

What to learn: Computational thinking is often associated with computers and coding, but it is important to note that it can be taught without a device. It’s a thought process, rather than a specific body of knowledge about a device or language. We need to learn decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithm design.

Resources:


#6: New-media literacy

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Definition: Ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication.

Why it’s important: The explosion in user-generated media including the videos, blogs, and podcasts that now dominate our social lives, will be fully felt in workplaces in the next decade. The next generation of workers will need to become fluent in forms such as video, able to critically “read” and assess them in the same way that they currently assess a paper or presentation. They will also need to be comfortable creating and presenting their own visual information. As immersive and visually stimulating presentation of information becomes the norm, workers will need more sophisticated skills to use these tools to engage and persuade their audiences.

What to learn: New-media literacy skills include being able to access media on a basic level and to analyze it in a critical way based on certain key concepts. We need to learn communication, recognising problems, researching sources and understanding bias.

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#7: Transdisciplinarity

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Definition: The literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.

Why it’s important: Many of today’s global problems are just too complex to be solved by one specialized discipline (think global warming or overpopulation). These multifaceted problems require transdisciplinary solutions. While throughout the 20th century, ever-greater specialization was encouraged, the next century will see transdisciplinary approaches take center stage. The ideal worker of the next decade is “T-shaped” — they bring deep understanding of at least one field, but have the capacity to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines. This requires a sense of curiosity and a willingness to go on learning far beyond the years of formal education.

What to learn: The capability of jumping to and from a different discipline, even within the same line of work. We need to learn thinking skills, social and communication, self-management and research.

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#8: Design mindset

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Definition: The ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes.

Why it’s important: The sensors, communication tools and processing power of the computational world will bring with them new opportunities to take a design approach to our work. We will be able to plan our environments so that they are conducive to the outcomes that we are most interested in. Discoveries from neuroscience are highlighting how profoundly our physical environments shape cognition. Workers of the future will need to become adept at recognizing the kind of thinking that different tasks require, and making adjustments to their work environments that enhance their ability to accomplish these tasks.

What to learn: To provide a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods. We need to learn design thinking methodologies, innovation, visualisation and prototyping.

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#9: Cognitive load management

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Definition: Ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.

Why it’s important: A world rich in information streams in multiple formats and from multiple devices brings the issue of cognitive overload to the fore. Organizations and workers will only be able to turn the massive influx of data into an advantage if they can learn to effectively filter and focus on what is important. The next generation of workers will have to develop their own techniques for tackling the problem of cognitive overload. For example, the practice of social filtering — ranking, tagging, or adding other metadata to content helps higher-quality or more relevant information to rise above the “noise”.

What to learn: Cognitive load management relates to the amount of information that our working memory can hold at one time. We need to learn memory skills and productivity

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#10: Virtual collaboration

Photo credit: milesweb.in

Definition: Ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

Why it’s important: Connective technologies make it easier than ever to work, share ideas and be productive despite physical separation. But the virtual work environment also demands a new set of competencies. As a leader of a virtual team, individuals need to develop strategies for engaging and motivating a dispersed group. Members of virtual teams also need to become adept at finding environments that promote productivity and wellbeing. A community that offers “ambient sociability” can help overcome the isolation that comes from a lack of access to a central, social workplace. This could be a physical coworking space, but it could also be virtual.

What to learn: Working as a team, across digital tools to accomplish tasks is the way of the future, with an eye to “real” day-to-day interactions, of course. We need to learn communication, autonomy, delegation and adaptability.

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Conclusion

The skills listed above will not only boost your chances of being in demand for the future, but they will also give the confidence and security to be the best version of yourself in your everyday life.

I would like you to think of your skills like a winning lottery ticket and treat them with an ant mentality. The skills are there for you, you just need to invest in them.

Even if you didn’t use these skills for professional reasons, everyone would benefit from learning speaking and listening skills. And we could all use some pointers on how to think better, don’t you think?

Investing in the skills for the future is one of the best choices you could ever make.

Start investing in yourself now!

Thank you for sharing and following 🙂


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