Although we now live in an an age of automation, it’s important to remember that machines can’t do everything. Technical efforts must be balanced with social and emotional skills. Part two of our Future Skills article highlights the importance of technical, cognitive, and soft skills in preparing for the future.

In a speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Aga Khan School in Osh, the Kyrgyz Republic in 2002 Mawlana Hazar Imam said, "The ability to make judgments that are grounded in solid information, and employ careful analysis should be one of the most important goals for any educational endeavor. As students develop this capacity, they can begin to grapple with the most important and difficult step: to learn to place such judgements in an ethical framework. Therein lies the formation of the kind of social consciousness that our world so desperately needs."

Growth mindset, adaptive thinking, and agile methodology 

Twenty years ago, if someone was said to be pursuing a career in social media management or “user experience,” it would result in confused staring. Today, it is not certain what the latest job trends will be even a decade from now. 

Yet, there is a way to train to become ready to see – and seize – the opportunity when it arises. It starts by having a growth mindset. Popularized by Stanford University psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, this is the notion that intelligence is as malleable as a muscle, as opposed to fixed and limited from birth. Whether the “muscle” is being strengthened or atrophied is up to each individual, but those who recognize that metaphoric “strength training” is possible, will ultimately be more inclined to “train” leading to greater learning and tenacity. 

Being mentally nimble matters to employers. 

“For Google, the number one thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ, it’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information,” said Block. 

These values are being hailed by other elite companies as well. IBM urges its workforce to “restlessly reinvent.” According to its CEO, Ginny Rometty, that’s the only way a company so old can stay relevant today, and that requires a paradigm shift; to be known for the inquisitive people who lead to world-changing innovation, versus products that may come and go. 

Agile thinking takes these first two components one step further. Typically used in the context of the design-based thinking sweeping the globe, mental agility is more aligned with a methodology to elicit practical and creative problem solving by adjusting as you go. No more putting all your eggs into one basket or attempt and hope it doesn’t fail. The goal is to explore, prototype, evaluate, and modify along the way.

Considering we ourselves have become products and brands that are constantly valued and bought, this iterative method makes sense to harness as we too must develop new skills and competencies continuously. In doing so, Hazar Imam says that we “nurture the spirit of anticipation and agility, adaptability and adventure.” 

Ethical literacy, moral reasoning, and decision making 

The Pew Research Center analysis of government jobs data finds that for the past several decades, employment has been rising faster in jobs requiring higher levels of preparation – that is, more education, training, and experience. The number of workers in occupations requiring average to above-average education, training, and experience increased by 67% between 1980 and 2015.

What good is additional training without the right purpose? Whether it’s for personal needs or business strategy, decision making skills are highly in-demand. 

“It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in, to try to solve any problem, and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others,” Block said. “Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve.”

This stems beyond teamwork and “playing nice with others.” Hazar Imam told the University of Alberta in 2009: “It seems to me to be the responsibility of educators everywhere to help develop ‘ethically literate’ people who can reason morally whenever they analyze and resolve problems, who see the world through the lens of ethics, who can articulate their moral reasoning clearly — even in a world of cultural and religious diversity — and have the courage to make tough choices.” 

Selling, communication skills and people skills 

What good is a vision if one cannot articulate it, or an idea if one cannot sell it? Both are needed to convince people of the value you, your idea, or both would bring. Despite the machine takeover, the vast majority of deals require selling and negotiation face to face. This will only prove more challenging as the volume of ideas being sold will also increase. Therefore, those who can sell ideas, products, and themselves, will have a strategic advantage and more potential financial gains. 

This is particularly true because even though we’re in the automation age, it’s important to remember that machines can’t do everything. It must be balanced by human understanding of the technical and implementation of social and emotional skills. For example, breaking away from the automation craze, Toyota actually replaced the robots in its factories with people “because human workers can, unlike their machine counterparts, propose ideas for improvement,” according to Bloomberg.

The accelerating pace of change in all fields of endeavor is evident; the successful will be those who can manage to keep up with it and use their technical, collaborative, and people skills, to their advantage. As Prince Rahim said in a speech: “Like the great Muslim artists, philosophers, and scientists of centuries past, we must enthusiastically pursue knowledge on every hand, always ready to embrace a better understanding of Allah’s creation, and always ready to harness this knowledge in improving the quality of life of all peoples.”