‚Sir, when looking at future trends and stuff – what should I study?‛
Being a futurist Industrial Psychologist often attracts a questions like this. It is often asked by a late teen/early twenty-something whose parents stand just that little bit too close for me not to notice the desperate grin behind the smile. But why is this question so ironic? Well, firstly, I’m a 20-something myself. And, secondly, it is the wrong question to ask. And if you ask the wrong question, you will always get the wrong answer.

So what would the answer to this question be? The only answer I can give to such a question is: ‚Whatever.‛ But, coming from a 20-something year old, this does not convince parents that need hard and fast advice upon which to base their decisions about their child’s future. Still, if the real issue is to decide for which undergraduate course to enroll, my answer remains: ‚Study whatever you like to study.‛ However, if the real issue is not what to study per se, but rather what is needed to succeed in the future workplace, we can have a long an interesting conversation.
In a recent (quite intensive) literature review I found it interesting that the top ingredients for future success are not regarded to include any subject-specific knowledge or skills. Why? Because in a world where knowledge doubles every eighteen months, the stuff that you study today will be outdated before you graduate; and in a world where technologies change faster than ever before, the skills you acquire today might very well be obsolete tomorrow. Thus, what you need to succeed in the future workplace are those characteristics that will help you function in a rapidly changing environment where relationships will be the most valuable resource.
Let’s have a look at some of the most highly regarded characteristics for future success:
1. A passion for learning
Except for the fact that continuous changes in the work environment will require people to continuously develop new skills or enhance and adapt their old ones, the mere fact of the explosion of knowledge also requires hard work and dedication from individuals who want to be in demand. The individual that has a passion for learning and a natural curiosity will have the edge. However, this continuous learning does not necessary mean continuous formal education. It also does not refer to the rote memorisation of new facts and figures. It refers to the drive and ability to make sense out of facts. The individual of the future will need to gain insights from experiences and trends and develop visionary abilities. And except for having a passion for her/his own learning, the individual of the future also needs to have a passion for the growth and development of her/his team. Future individuals need to communicate their insights, ideas and visions to their teams or networks in order to reap maximum benefits from continuous learning.

2. Confidence
Knowledgeable, confident workers are essential for the lean and meaningful company of the future. The individual of the future needs to be self-reliant. This does not refer to individualism versus interdependence amongst team members, but to an inner security that springs from the individual’s mastery of him/herself. Individuals need to know themselves, their strengths, weaknesses and goals.
3. Motivation
A high degree of internal motivation improves one’s chances of thriving in the new world of work. Specific traits associated with motivation, are tenacity, self-discipline, focus and energy. One’s motivation should also provide the drive and momentum necessary to pull others along as well. In an uncertain environment with continuous challenges, the self-discipline to endure will be imperative. Furthermore, one does not only need to be able to pull through; one’s motivation needs to be of such a level that one is continuously inspired to pro-actively engage with the challenges of everyday life. This pro-active approach will pre-empt change and come naturally to one who is inspired, motivated and passionate.
4. A passion for change
In order to excel in the future world of work, one needs to be passionate about change. It is not about being able to cope with change; it is about embracing change and creating change. The reshuffling of jobs will create a new business culture in which most people, as well as having more than one career, will have been laid off, or retrenched, at least once, can expect to be laid off again, and are likely to behave as if their current jobs are fleeting. In order to thrive in this environment one needs to be flexible and adaptable. One also needs to know where to source security from, as it is no longer going to come from one’s job.
5. Kindness / Compassion
An interesting attribute necessary for functioning in the workplace of the future, is kindness. Some scholars refer to compassion or tenderness while others simply call it love. When thinking about this attribute, words like charitability, humility, light heartedness and appreciation are also used in the literature. In a world where business and work will depend more and more on relationships and the way one manages those relationships, one begins to understand the value of these ‚softer‛ attributes. 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. These acts of kindness or love are seen as major investments in future relationships.

6. Integrity
Integrity, authenticity, honesty and consistency are all crucial for managing networks and relationships. Once a person’s integrity is in doubt, it will be almost impossible to do business within one’s existing network again. In an economy based on relationships and networks, this will be economical suicide. Integrity means that people know where they stand with a particular individual. It means that one is consistent in what one promises and delivers. It also refers to being reliable and trustworthy. All these things are crucial for making any relationship work. Closely related to integrity, is ethics � to know the right thing to do. Scholars have argued that it will be impossible to survive the twenty-first century with the ethics of the twentieth. Arguments are being raised that the movement of women into executive positions can overcome these problems as they are more focused on relationships, and less on executive greed.

Closing remarks
What exactly you go and study doesn’t matter nearly as much as who you are � or who you will be in future. Although I’m not against doing tertiary studies (as I’m a bit of an academic myself) I want to make a clear point that tertiary studies are not enough. Your degrees won’t give you the competitive edge � your ability to engage in good relationships within an uncertain world will.
Please contact Jean, at [email protected] for the full bibliography that supports this article

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