How to FLEX your Future

With longer working lives, uncertain life paths and the unsettling rise of AI, the only thing we can be sure of is that we will need to flex, adapt and cope with change. What skills should we develop for more fulfilled, longer-lasting working lives?

  1. Learn how to learn
    For so long we’ve seen education as what we learn. A drip feed of information from teacher brain to student brain. Rote learning and testing happen along the way to check the info transaction is working. At some point, we take our info-full brains to the workplace and start spending this knowledge in return for money.

Except this doesn’t work. The information kids get today floods them from all directions, not just from their teachers’ brains. We need to teach them to interrogate the information they receive, to look at it critically. We need ‘Post Truth’ lessons in school. This will help children make sense of many conflicting shards of information, determine what to trust and what to dismiss, to find diverse voices rather than merely listening to the status quo, and to use this jigsaw to create a knowledgeable view on a topic.

But it’s not just about turning a deluge of information into knowledge. We need to stop simply thinking about what we learn and start paying more attention to how we learn. In other words, help our kids re-learn how to learn. The knowledge they get from school and higher education will not be timeless and resilient to the pace of economic change – especially when the jobs we’re training them for may not exist.

In the future, our ability to learn will be valued higher than what we already know. Our children need to leave school with the tools for ‘learning in the moment’ that they can use again and again as they pivot and flex through their careers.   This is the skill of coping with change, of being able to learn new things and leave old assumptions behind.

As Heather E. McGowan, an expert in the future of work, put it: ‘Having an agile learning mind-set will be the new skill set of the twenty-first century.’43

  1. Check in with yourself every seven years
    A lifespan of 100 years is daunting and overwhelming. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, gender expert and author of Late Love: Mating in Maturity, recommends breaking it down into seven-year blocks. Every seven years the body replaces itself with a largely new set of cells. Supposedly, the seven-year itch arrives in relationships. At the end of each block, we should take time out to contemplate, assess and plan (ideally with friends who are going through the same transitions – see point four on page 176).

You might ask yourself the following questions:

~ What have I learnt from the last seven years?
~ Do I still value the same things?
~ What should I leave behind?
~ What do I need to learn next?
~ Do I want to pivot and change something?

I found these questions really useful when we launched Starling. Adam and I wanted to leave behind the idea
of business growth as aggressive targets and hiring more and more people. We wanted to think differently: growth with purpose, horizontal growth that stretched our boundaries, growth in our relationships with our clients.

I wanted to pivot towards a work life characterised by generosity – of time, ideas and conversations. And generosity with our colleagues to make sure we all had whatever we needed to work best and happiest – and very often this is flexibility.

It really helped to be intentional about this when we started our business. As Wittenberg-Cox says: ‘You figure out life in the rearview mirror – it doesn’t make sense when you are actually going through it. Why do we tend to take the time to contemplate when it’s too late? Better to do it earlier.’

Some of this involves getting to grips with how to leave behind what is no longer right, useful or relevant. Like a snake shedding the skin that no longer fits, we need to identify and shed the skills, practices and opinions which no longer serve us.

  1. Reskill, pivot, side-hustle
    As a result of this introspection, we’ll see people deciding to pivot their careers, go back to education or start side-hustles. This is a difficult choice, no matter how much soul-searching you have done. It’s hard to move on from a stable job; it’s unnerving to swap directions. It’s especially difficult for older people – the adult brain is less flexible than the teenage brain, which is primed for change and novelty.

So how can we navigate our own reinvention? One way is to borrow from the Japanese concept of Ikigai or ‘a reason for being’. The model, designed in a beautiful intersecting diagram, asks the following four questions:

~  What do I love?
~  What am I good at?
~  What can I be paid for now? (Or could this become a future side-hustle?)
~  What does the world need?

It’s a useful set of questions to help us work out what we really value in our lives, where our skills lie and what we want to prioritise going forwards. It can help us decide where to pivot or what hustle to pursue.   Writing this book is my side-hustle. I’m good at coming up with ideas. I love writing. I believe the world needs flex.

Annie Auerbach is the co-founder of Starling a strategy consultancy and the author of “Flex: Reinventing rules for a smarter, happier future” published by Harper Collins  @thisisstarling @annieauerbach

https://www.waterstones.com/book/flex/annie-auerbach/9780008315030

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