Future Skills

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“Insightful learning-by-doing project ‘On Building 21st Century Skills’ by @rotanarotana #futureskills #curiosity #sociallearning #leadership #sensemaking #AI”

Paul S H

“Terrific post.”

Tim Kastelle

Building 21st Century Skills

“How do you teach people to be more comfortable with ambiguity?”

My response was: “The first thing we need to do is give them projects to do where we can’t know what the right answer is in advance.”

“(…) The projects were life-changing for many of us involved with them. I think a big part of why is that the level of uncertainty was so high – it forced us to try new things, to learn (a lot!), and to grapple with ambiguity head-on. Both the learning outcomes for students and the commercial outcomes for clients have been fantastic.”

“(…) The way we pitch it to students is: if you look at that list of 21st Century capabilities, and agree that they are important, this is the best way to build them.

Will it work? I don’t know – we’re learning ourselves as we build this. But to me, if we don’t offer opportunities like this, we’re not doing our job.

It’s forcing me to be more comfortable with ambiguity too. Which is exciting, and scary. Just like everything else that’s worth doing.” — @timkastelle

Learning By Doing

With TheNewABC startup, we also taught students and workers to embrace not knowing and uncertainty.

For instance, we brought them projects such as running their own webinars – privately and publicly. It was part of a six-week learning program for upskilling them on 21st Century skills (complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and emotional intelligence). Here is below what our Global Upskilling Program looks like:


After scanning the impacts of emerging and global trends, i.e. societal, environmental and technological trends (artificial intelligence, automation, robotization, climate change, migration, demographic changes, for naming few ones), the emergence of skills for work futures, analyzing and synthesizing insights, interviewing students and knowledge workers, global institutions as well as universities, we have noticed that there is an urgent need to enable people to develop 21st Century skills: collaboration, creativity, complex problem solving, critical thinking, communication and lifelong learning.

What & How

6 ­weeks duration – 23,5 hours (total)

Coaching (Group and Personal) ­

Access to 21st Century Skills Video Courses and 21st Century Skills App (that we created)

‘Learning By Doing’ assignments, including:

  1. Building a team of three people – in person and remotely by getting to know each other via collaborative and communication tools.
  2. Doing a personal live webinar — Topic: dealing with uncertainty.
  3. Starting and engaging on public social networks
  4. Doing a group live webinar — Topic: having a conversation about one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
 global goals grid color substainable sdg rotana ty

Source: https://www.globalgoals.org/resources

Social Learning Program

  • Part I: Learning the basics of 21st Century Communications
  • Part II: Assess and improve your 21st Century Skills
  • Part III: Team Building, Collaboration
  • Part IV: Being a Global Employee
  • Part V: Being an Ambassador for your company
  • Final Part: Determining the next steps

Learnings from Experience, Reflection & Doing

Somehow, the level of uncertainty was high for students, workers and us, too. Even we prepare them, and they prepare themselves, they and we didn’t know if they will succeed in terms of resonance of their insights, interactions with their audience and usages of communication and collaboration work tools (Google Suite, Google Hangouts and Slack) with other team members for their small project / personal or group live webinar (20 minutes talk, 20 minutes Q&A, 10 minutes for feedback from the coaches of the learning program).

Each participant of our learning program had the challenge of:

  • Being a speaker (facilitation)
  • Being a writer (content)
  • Being a coordinator and communicator (logistics, promotion)
  • Being a participant (conversation)

With this simple real-world exercise and through our learning program, they learned many 21st Century skills than only one skill. To map the 21st Century skills they developed, we provided them with an online tool/table for doing so based on 48 skills that we organized into 2 types (inner skills and outer skills) and 10 categories:

  • Outer skills
    • Observing
    • Communicating
    • Leading
    • Building the Future
    • Learning
    • Working with others
  • Inner skills
    • My inner world
    • Relaxing
    • Dealing with challenges
    • Sustaining myself

And it was also a way for us to be comfortable with ambiguity. It was the first time we were enabling and supporting people to develop and improve themselves through many personalized and supportive learning experiences and work practices.

Is there another way of seeing which emergent skills individuals need to develop and practice in an augmented and automated world? Are the ones suggested by the World Economic Forum already outdated or irrelevant?

Future Work Skills

Stowe Boyd suggests other work skills for the postnormal era.

“First of all, let’s state explicitly that we’re talking about skills that are helpful for operating in the wildly changing world of work, and note that I make no distinction between the skills needed by management versus staff. That is an increasingly unhelpful distinction, as the skill set will make clearer, perhaps.

Here’s some alternatives to those listed by WEF, which we’ll call postnormal skills. With the exception of Boundless Curiosity, they aren’t ordered by importance, although I bet for different domains they could be weighted profitably.”

I go through each skill.

Boundless Curiosity

“In a world that is constantly in flux, dominated by a cascade of technological, sociological, and economic change, the temptation may be to shut our eyes and close our ears. However, the appropriate response is to remain flexible, adaptable, and responsive: and the only hope for that is a boundless curiosity.”

(…) I believe that the most creative people are insatiably curious. They ask endless questions, they experiment and note the results of their experiments, both subjectively and interpersonally. They keep notes of ideas, sketches, and quotes. They take pictures of objects that catch their eye. They correspond with other curious people, and exchange thoughts and arguments. They want to know what works and why.”

So, what does your learnability look like?


“As AIs and robots are expanding their toehold outside the factory floor, we are all going to have to learn how to play nice with them. Or, maybe said better, to use them to augment our work.”

(…) We have to learn to dance with the robots, not to run away. However, we still need to make sure that AI is limited enough that it will still be dance-withable, and not not-runnable-away-from.”

How do you embrace a possible collaboration between humans and machines to augment yourself and your work?

 Emergent leadership

“The second most critical skill is … emergent leadership. Not the title, not a degree in management. But the ability to steer things in the right direction without the authority to do so, through social competence.”

Constructive uncertainty

“In effect, Ross is suggesting that we slow down so that our preference and social biases don’t take over, because we are deferring decision making, and are instead gathering information. We may even go so far as to intentionally dissent with the perspectives and observations that we would normally make, but surfacing them in our thinking, not letting them just happen to us. The idea of constructive uncertainty is not predicated on eliminating our biases: they are as built into our minds as deeply as language and lust.

On the contrary, constructive uncertainty is based on the notion that we are confronted with the need to make decisions based on incomplete information. More than ever before, learning trumps ‘knowing’, since we are learning from the cognitive scientists that a lot of what we ‘know’ isn’t so: it’s just biased decision-making acting like a short circuit, and blocking real learning from taking place”

How do you navigate knowledge flows at your pace?

Complex Ethics

“Complex ethics are needed to jumpstart ourselves, and to consciously embrace pragmatic ethical tools. As one example, Von Foerster’s Empirical Imperative states we should ‘act always to increase the number of choices’.”

Deep generalists

So we have to adopt the winning strategies of the two classes of living things: those that are specialists, deeply connected to the context in which they live, and at the same time generalists, able to thrive in many contexts.

We can’t be defined just by what we know already, what we have already learned. We need a deep intellectual and emotional resilience if we are to survive in a time of unstable instability. And deep generalists can ferret out the connections that build the complexity into complex systems, and grasp their interplay.”

How do you embrace multidisciplinarity?

Design logic

“So postnormal design logic jumps the curve from dreaming up things to build and sell, to using the logics of user experience, technological affordance, and the diffusion of innovations in a more general sense, in the sense of envisioning futures based on our present but with new new tools, ideas, or cultural totems added, and being able to explore their implications.”

Postnormal Creativity

“Creativity was not quite ‘‘normal’’ in Modernity, if we are to believe the popular Romantic mythology of tortured geniuses and lightning bolts of inspiration. We should therefore expect that in postnormal times creativity will have a few surprises in store for us. In fact, creativity itself has changed, and in postnormal times creativity may paradoxically become normal in the sense that it will not be the province of lone tortured geniuses any longer (which it was not anyway), but an everyone, everyday, everywhere, process.” – Alfonso Montuori

Posterity, not History, nor the Future

“(…) we should instead cultivate the skills that come from reflecting on posterity, the future generations and the world we will leave them. ‘Posterity’ implies continuity of society and the obligations of those living now to future inheritors, a living commitment, while ‘the future’ is a distant land peopled by strangers to whom we have no ties.”

(…) We need to colonize the future ourselves, we must make our own maps of that territory, maps that show us as inhabitants and inheritors, making new economics, breaking with the deals and disasters of the past, and committing again to each other: to be a community and not consumers, to be partners and not competitors, to be from the future and beyond the past.

Maybe I should call myself a posterity-ist instead of futurist?”


we need to nurture the ability to create flexible models to derive meaning from a set of information, events, or the output of our AIs, and determine a course of action.”

How do you derive meaning from data, events, systems, humans and machines, and actions?

Curiosity in our Modern World

I wrote in this post:

We are heading towards a world where humans work with machines (including machine learning / artificial intelligence, robots and automated systems). Humans would need to create better insights and ask the right questions to create possible solutions for solving problems. But for doing, one needs to develop curiosity and the capacity to ask questions through habits, people, experiences, and resources in an augmented and automated world.

This is a take that I had and explored to enable and support modern professionals to make the most of and learn from all kinds of experiences and opportunities to self-improve and self-develop. What if we could enable people to develop their ceaseless curiosity as curious creatives do?

“He [Karl Lagarfeld]’s permanently filling himself with independent culture and establishment culture, so basically he knows everything, and he’s like a sampling machine.” Lady Amanda Harlech, Lagerfeld’s “muse,” concurs. “He said to me once, almost in a worried way, that he has to find out everything there is to know, read everything,” she says. “The curiosity is ceaseless.” – in the New Yorker

Spotting Future Skills

I am always scanning research, pedagogies, and game-changing initiatives related to skills development through events, environmental scanning, and conversations within my network and global communities. The latest spot-on thinking and skills development needed for the present work serves as an inspiration and a reminder of the good things people and organizations have said or done related to skills development in our world.

My focus remains on learnability. I notice that “active learning and learning strategies” are the top skills needed in the World Economic Forum publication. Sounds like learnability to me.


I pay attention to hybrid skills, too:

“think of your own potential as a set of flexible muscles that ought to be trained with a wide range of exercises and activities, rather than a single strength that you leverage and apply to exhaustion. In an increasingly hybrid world, hybrid skills will be key.” — Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Here is another perspective from Cambridge Network:

“If the year 2020 has taught us anything, it is that modern businesses must create a culture of continuous learning if they want to continue to innovate and grow. Besides the disruption caused by a global pandemic, machine learning, the internet of things and consistent technological advancement will continue to change how and when we work, what jobs we do and how we do business, which means that your people must be flexible and continue to develop their skill sets to keep up with the evolution of the future of work.”


Which skills, according to this article? Social learning, distributed work, resilience, growth mindset. I have curated resources and wrote other posts on future skills.

Does it start with continuous learning in a brave new era? Why and how can we develop our sensemaking skills?

How can we shape our personal knowledge mastery? How can we become knowledge catalysts?

How can we develop and hone community management skills? Distributed learning skills and distributed work skills? Futures thinking skills?

Future Skills Workshop is hosted remotely over six weeks to discover future skills for your personal and professional growth. Apply your insights in your own working and learning context.

2 replies
  1. Trish
    Trish says:

    Hi Rotana…. what is interesting, is that all the top skills for 2025, none of them contain or speak of the need to collaborate, to work together, to figure out who we are as individuals, who we are as teams, as groups, as organisations… and how we work together to get things done in a systems approach. Those skills are still individual and siloed it looks like at first glance.

    • Rotana Ty
      Rotana Ty says:

      Hi Trish,

      Thank you for reading the blog post and sharing your observations and thoughts. Much appreciated. Figuring out to work together and who we are as individuals, teams, organisations, and would also add as a community – of practice, center of excellence or learning community – “to get things done in a systems approach” are a must in addition to knowing how to keep learning in networks and to cooperate so that collaboration can be propelled.

      It is missing indeed. Getting to know each other, understanding and identifying the superpowers and strengths of each person, team, organisation, and its ecosystems may be a long and rewarding work to unlock the collaborative, cooperative and learning potentials and performance. Perhaps a future skills and capabilities grid/puzzle would help spot, map, discuss, and activate superpowers and strengths and activities and have a holistic approach on individual/group/organizational/community levels. My observations and latest research over here: https://rotanaty.com/2021/05/01/potential-conversational/

      It is also by being thrown into the deep that we figure out the ways and which to collaborate, co-create and cooperate – whether it is in person or remotely, in distributed teams/organizations or not, in real-time and/or asynchronously, methinks.


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