Jean was awarded his Masters in Industrial Psychology cum laude in January 2005. This article is based on intensive research for his Masters thesis. More details of how to access his research will be available soon.

During recent years the world has experienced unprecedented technological advancements, which left indelible marks on how people live and work (Ridderstrale and Nordstrom 2004). This rapid rate of change is increasing exponentially (Molebash and Fisher 2003) and poses challenges that the workforce never had to deal with before (Koschmann 2000). This means that the workplace that people were trained for ten years ago does not exist anymore and nor will the workplace as we know it today exist in ten years’ time (Grulke 2001; Ridderstrale and Nordstrom 2004). Traditional methods of education and training, however, are not regarded as being sufficient for turning individuals into the Bright Young Things of the future workplace (Senge 2000; Dixon-Kraus 1996). If these methods of education are not sufficient to prepare people for the workplace of the future (Senge 2000; Dixon-Kraus 1996), how should one go about training people for a workplace that does not yet exist (Cetron 1999)? One educational methodology that is suggested as a possible solution is the social constructivist theory of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896 � 1934), a Belarusian psychologist whose work only became translated, known and respected by the Western world in the late 1960’s (Smith 2003; Holt and Willard-Holt 2000).
The purpose of this article is to shed some light on how to approach training and development if one wants to turn individuals into the Bright Young Things of the workplace of the future. Attention is firstly given to a theoretical description of the future workplace as well as the characteristics needed to be regarded as a Bright Young Thing in such a workplace. Secondly, a theoretical discussion of social constructivism as a possible educational approach, takes place.
When thinking about the world of the future, technology is seen as the major driver of change (Marginson 2000; Adler 1992). Although the possibilities of nano- and biotechnology are widely being speculated about (Grulke 2001; Hiemstra 1999), one only needs to consider the growing capabilities of current, everyday information and communication technologies to realise the immensity of the speed of change (Drucker 1998). Molebash and Fisher (2003) emphasize the impact that Moore’s law (that the power of microprocessors doubles every 18 months) will have on the global economy and society at large. If one adds to this the increasing connectivity provided by the internet, with bandwidth doubling every nine months (Geldenhuys 2004), one moves to a world that is smaller than ever before, and a workforce that has more information at its fingertips than ever dreamt possible (Drucker 1998). It thus becomes clear that communication and information technologies like the internet, laptop and handheld computers, cell phones and wireless applications will have an ever-increasing impact on the way the workplace is organised (Koschmann 2000). Add to this the increasing changes in societal institutions and values, and one has a totally new world of work with radically different rules (Ridderstrale and Nordstrom 2004).
One characteristic of the workplace of the future is that the emphasis is moving from large corporations to smaller organisations and stronger relationships (Epstein 1998). The organisation of the future will be nimble, quick and resilient (Wagner 2002). It will consist of extremely fluid work teams and workers will work in different teams and in different roles simultaneously (Bass 2000). These teams will be highly diverse and dispersed across the globe (Kerka 2000). Furthermore, as rapid change and chaotic uncertainty are becoming an integral part of doing business, the organisation that wants to survive the future, needs to be able to embrace chaos and be radically innovative about doing everyday business (Grulke 2001). Also, in a world where information abounds, an extremely high value will be placed on people who can create value out of knowledge and meaning out of information (Brownstein 2001). In order to fuel this, the physical layout of offices and work-team structures will be designed to enhance communication and collaboration, where individuals can creatively stimulate new ideas and concepts (Herman and Gioia 1998). Continuous training and development will also become critical aspects of the workplace of the future (Brownstein 2001; Cetron 1999).
The workplace of the future that has been depicted so far will demand specific characteristics of individuals. In order to excel in the future world of work, one needs to be passionate about change (Boyatzis 1999). It is not merely about being able to cope with change, but about being totally adaptable, viewing change as a positive inevitability, embracing change and creating change (McGinn and McCormick 1999). This includes the ability to cope with the stress and frustration that accompanies chaos, uncertainty and change (Ridderstrale and Nordstrom 2004). The Bright Young Things of tomorrow will also have the ability to creatively and innovatively seek and create opportunities as well as the risk proneness to pursue them (Herman and Gioia 1998). The person who is capable of imaginatively spotting new opportunities as they arise, capitalize on them and move on to the next opportunity, will be in high demand in the marketplace of the future (Kerka 2000). In addition to the above, the Bright Young Thing of the future needs to be assertive, confident and self-acceptant and needs to know him/herself and his/her strengths, weaknesses and goals � feeling competent and well-liked by others (Branden 1997). Characteristics such as integrity, authenticity, honesty and consistency will also gain an even higher importance in future as these are all vital ingredients for managing networks and relationships (Boyatzis 1999). People with the ability to maintain a healthy balance between people- and task-orientation will be able to create workplaces that are pleasant, peaceful and non-threatening amidst an uncertain and changing environment (Epstein 1998; Branden 1997). Also, in a world where business and work will depend increasingly on relationships and the way one manages those relationships, one begins to understand the value of attributes such as love, kindness and compassion (Humphreys 2003). Seeking the best interest of the other party and going out of one’s way to serve are all connected to the concept of kindness (Epstein 1998). In a workplace that will become increasingly diverse, a kind and respectful demeanour will improve one’s chances of having fruitful relationships with team members from different cultures, religions and backgrounds (Humphreys 2003).
A high level of internal motivation, pro-activity and drive as well as the ability to inspire and motivate others will also improve one’s chances of thriving in the new world of work (Land and Jarman 1992; Pickett 1998). Specific traits associated with motivation are tenacity, self-discipline, focus and energy (Porter 1968). Finally, in a world of abundance of information and exponential growth in knowledge, it is impossible to imagine success without a continuous drive for learning and self-development (Branden 1997; Senge 1993; Marginson 2000). This includes an investigative, inquisitive and creative approach to everyday tasks and challenges (Koschmann 2000). The following diagram gives a broad overview of the literature pertaining to the world of the future, the workplace of the future and the characteristics needed by individuals to be counted amongst the Bright Young Things of such a workplace.
It is clear that the ingredients that will constitute the Bright Young Thing of the future are far more complex to develop than specific skills and knowledge. As the knowledge and skills that are relevant today might be totally outdated tomorrow, one needs to focus on developing the value base upon which new knowledge and skills could be built continuously. But how does one develop characteristics such as confidence and a passion for change? In a recent study done by the University of Pretoria, social constructivism is identified as a possible effective way to develop the characteristics of the Bright Young Things of tomorrow. But what is social constructivism and what does a social constructivist training intervention look like?
The constructivist movement, as defined and developed by Jean Piaget (Flavell and Piaget 1963), has grown essentially from dissatisfaction with educational methods where rote memorisation, regurgitation of facts and the division of knowledge into different subjects (Dixon-Kraus 1996), led to a situation where learners were not necessarily able to apply what they had learned in real life (Senge 2000). The main underlying assumption of Piaget’s cognitive constructivism is that individuals are actively involved right from birth in constructing personal meaning that is their own personal understanding from their experiences (Holt and Willard-Holt 2000). This action-based theory is thus more concerned with the process of learning than with what is learned (McMahon 1997).
Where cognitive constructivism focuses on a process of learning where the individual constructs her/his own version of truth based on active assimilation and interpretation (Savery 1994), social constructivism, as fathered by Vygotsky (1978), adds another component to the learning process: social interaction. The individual’s version of truth thus needs to be tested against other individuals’ versions in order for the group to arrive at a higher order version of truth (Derry 1999). Social constructivism thus embraces a dynamic interaction between instructors, learners and tasks where learners can create their own truth due to the interaction with others (Sternberg and Williams 1998). The task or problem becomes the interface between the instructor and the learner (Archee and Duin 1995). The relationship between the instructor and the learner thus becomes central to the learning process (Brown et al. 1989).
Social constructivism also emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what is happening in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (Derry 1999; McMahon 1997). It does not only acknowledge the uniqueness and complexity of the learner, but actually encourages, utilises and rewards it as an integral part of the learning process (Gredler 1997; Wertsch 1997). It is also argued by social constructivists that the responsibility for learning should reside increasingly with the learner and that the learner should be actively involved in the learning process (Von Glasersfeld 1989).
According to the social constructivist approach, instructors have to adapt to the role of being facilitators and not teachers (Brownstein 2001). Where a teacher gives a didactic lecture which covers the subject matter, a facilitator helps the learner to get to his or her own understanding of the content (Rhodes and Bellamy 1999). The emphasis thus turns away from the instructor and the content, and towards the learner (Prawat and Floden 1994). The context in which the learning occurs is also regarded as central to the learning itself (McMahon 1997; Di Vesta1987). Decontextualised knowledge does not provide the skills to apply our understandings to authentic tasks (Duffy and Jonassen 1992). One social constructivist notion is that of authentic or situated learning, where the student takes part in activities which are directly relevant to the application of learning and which take place within a culture similar to the applied setting (Brown et al. 1989; Ackerman 1996; Gredler 1997). Savery (1994) also contends that the more structured the learning environment, the harder it is for learners to construct meaning based on their conceptual understandings. Vygotsky (1978) further promulgated that instruction is good only when it proceeds ahead of development, or, as he called it, within the ‘zone of proximal development’. As far as assessment is concerned, social constructivism argues for a dynamic assessment process in which the assessment process forms a dialogical part of the learning process (Holt and Willard-Holt 2000).
I acknowledge that this is quite a bit to digest. In February’s e-zine I will do a practical discussion of a social constructivist training intervention. We will look at how you need to view the learner, what your role as facilitator might look like, how to design an optimal learning process and how to assess whether sufficient development has taken place. The crux of the matter is that if you want to turn people into Bright Young Things, you need to be able to create experiences through which they can collaboratively discover insights pertaining to the self, each other and their environment.
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Jean Cooper is an Organisational Alchemist at, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich steams of the new economy. Jean completed two Masters degrees in 2004, both cum laude (an MPhil and MPsych). He is an Industrial Psychologist intern and team dynamics expert, with a passion for helping companies get the best out of their bright young things.

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