January 18, 2018
It’s an extraordinary time to be alive. Most of us get to enjoy a standard of living that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors—lives filled with modern conveniences that make our experience of being here on Earth, relatively speaking, safe, comfortable, and even entertaining.
To highlight the progress we’ve made, consider this: according to the OWID, in the year 1820, 94.4% of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. By 2015, that number was down to 9.6%.
So why are we so stressed, anxious, depressed, fearful and cynical ? Why do 1 in 6 adults in the United States—the pinnacle of modern convenience and comfort—live with a mental illness?
While myself and most reading this won’t have to worry about our children starving this week, the challenges we face are not few. And perhaps even more significantly, they are not simple. We tend to get nostalgic about the past, not because it was more comfortable or entertaining, but because it was simpler.
What we have now is a complex world full of complex challenges.
We may be able to give our children food to eat, but what can we tell them about the world they will grow up in and work in and make lives for themselves in? What can we tell ourselves about this world?
A recent Forbes article cites that up to 65% of the jobs that Generation Z will perform do not exist yet (arguably, those born after the year 2000), and that 45% of the activities that people are paid to perform today could be automated with current technology.
As this technology advances at an exponential rate, it’s no wonder we’re stressed out and anxious. We may be living in comfort like our ancestors could have never imagined, but we’re also facing some mind-bending realities that would not have entered into their wildest dreams.
Beyond the notion that hundreds of millions of us will soon be replaced by robots at work, we have a changing climate, terrorist attacks surrounded by questionable narratives, and world leaders who look and act a lot like cartoon characters as they threaten to launch nuclear missiles at each other.
But we’re not here to get whipped into a frenzy—we’re here to figure out how to not just survive in this strange new world, but to thrive here and into the future.
Just as it’s becoming more difficult to tell our kids exactly what they’re going to need to do to get ready for their future, it’s getting harder for others to tell us how to get ready for ours. In fact, we’re quickly getting to the point where we’re all going to have admit something that we’ve historically had a very hard time doing: we have no clue. We don’t have the answers.
Now, not having the answers for the future does not mean we become disempowered to act in the present. It just means we have to make a shift in how our actions are informed. Once upon a time we got trained up, filled with lots of good and relevant information, and we were released into the world largely knowing how to work and live there. Bid that world farewell.
In today’s world, we don’t get ready—we have to stay ready. We don’t learn in preparation for experience—we learn through experience. We don’t just consume knowledge—we create knowledge.
In other words, nobody can tell us what we’ll need to know, or be able to do—we’ll have to figure it out for ourselves as we go. We’ll have to pay attention and keep adjusting our course as we get better at what we do.
The Forbes article mentioned above, which is titled “This Skill Could Save Your Job—And Your Company,” is all about what the author calls learnability. Like it sounds, learnability is essentially your ability to keep learning, adapting and developing. We might think of it as the ability to navigate the process of figuring it out for ourselves as we go.
As we enter into this new age, this is the ability that allows us to remain sane, productive, relevant and useful. Without it we quickly become lost, confused, and obsolete. We become dinosaurs in a world that has moved on.
Although many of us understand this on some level, we tend to make a critical assumption that causes us some serious problems:
Because we’ve all spent thousands and thousands of hours learning, we assume that our learning skills can only improve incrementally.
With this assumption, we go about learning like we always have, which is largely centered on consuming information from experts. So we try to read more, and read faster, and get better at memorizing stuff, and improve how we are organizing this information.
There are a couple of important problems that come with this assumption. One is, like we’ve explored, the fact that the experts don’t have the answers we really need anyway. These answers are specific to our own unique context, and have to be discovered on a personal level.
Second, the information out there is growing exponentially. The total amount of data is currently doubling at an alarming rate of 12-13 months (at the beginning of the 20th century, it took around 100 years). One report by IBM states that with the development of the ‘internet of things,’ the amount of data out there will soon begin doubling every 12 hours.
The thought of trying to keep up is a bit nauseating. Trying to do so with the ways we’ve learned how to learn puts us on the fast track to overwhelm and hopelessness. A new approach to learning is needed.
This new approach is not a replacement for our old info-consumption-based way of learning, which still has its place. It transcends and includes it—adding an evolving set of skills, tools and mindsets that are equipped for higher levels of complexity. Learning becomes less of a task, and more of a continuous practice. Learning becomes a way of life.
This learning practice orients and re-orients us as we move through a complex world. It gives us the compass we need to avoid spinning around in circles and feeling overwhelmed by all the information we are bombarded with from all angles on a daily basis. We become more strategic about where we’re headed and how we’re getting there, and with this comes increased confidence in our ability to do what we need to do, and decreased anxiety about the uncertainty we are facing.
So what does this practice look like? By nature, it will look a little different for each of us. Just as no one can tell you what exactly you need to do to get ready for what’s coming, no one can tell you exactly how to get there. But there are a few basic principles and patterns that are likely to run through each of our practices:
– Integrating our learning with our work and day-to-day lives.
– Shifting and expanding our mindsets to gain an understanding of complex systems by recognizing patterns of relationships (systems thinking).
– Becoming designers of our own experiences, strategically intervening in these systems by creating experiments, learning through these experiments, and continuously making adjustments to what we do and how we think about things.
– Establishing and nurturing mutually-supportive relationships across global networks. Knowledge is power, but you don’t have to—and can’t—have as much as you’ll need alone.
– Better understanding the tools we have at our disposal—both technological and biological (understanding how our minds work, how our behaviors are influenced, and how we evolve and co-evolve).
While this might seem like a monumental task in its entirety, it is in itself a continuous process that unfolds over time.
There are things that can be implemented quickly and can have a significant and immediate impact on your work and overall quality of life (like starting a daily reflective practice).
There are other aspects that will take time, and this is important: support. We need to help each other grow into this new way of being in a new world.
In this spirit, I’d like to offer some (free) support to you personally, as you look to transition into this new way of learning and developing in the complexity and uncertainty of the modern age.
This will take the form of a no-cost, no-sales, no-pressure free 30 minute coaching session. You can fill out the form below to schedule your free session.
In full disclosure, I’m not offering this because I have all the time in the world (I certainly don’t)—so if you’re wondering what the catch is, or what’s in it for me, I’ll be happy to tell you:
I get to learn from you. It’s part of my own process of learning into the complex challenge of how to support people to increase their learnability and thrive in a complex world.
I want to help you clarify your thinking and make a plan to take action. I also want to hear your story and understand your challenges on a deeper level.
A simple, no-money-exchange, win-win.
Let’s have a conversation! Fill out the form below: