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Four necessary mindsets for the future of work

Business Line
By Professor  
Jeremy Wade

The world of work is changing. Some jobs are disappearing, while others seem to be increasingly becoming out of reach. With consistent change becoming an everyday reality, just getting the right degree or skills won’t cut it any more.

It is your mindset that profoundly shapes your decisions and your ability to adapt to change over time. You need the right mindset, along with a portfolio of relevant skills, to keep pace with the new world of work.

I argue that students should adopt four mindsets to prepare themselves for what is to come.

A growth mindset

It is no longer possible to predict what jobs will be in demand in the future. How do students prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist? Here, developing a growth mindset is key.

In her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford professor Carol Dweck distinguishes between the two extreme mindsets people tend to have. One is a fixed mindset in which people tend to believe that intelligence is a fixed trait.  Whatever you lack, you will continue to lack. This influences not only how you see yourself, but also how you see others and what is possible.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, tend to believe that intelligence can be developed. Everyone can change, evolve and grow. This growth mindset says your qualities and skills are just a starting point, and your success is a result of effort, learning, and persistence.

Because of the rapid pace of change, having a growth mindset is becoming a distinct advantage. It allows you to challenge your assumptions, effectively work in ambiguity, and adapt to change. With this, you are always learning.

Obtaining a growth mindset, though, isn’t always easy. Everyone has fixed-mindset triggers. When we face challenges, receive criticism, or do poorly compared to peers, we can feel insecure. Actions taken in this mindset often lead to actions that inhibit growth.

The best approach is to surround yourself with people and communities that practice growth-mindset thinking and behaviour, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors.

A digital mindset

Digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society. We know digital change will have significant impact on future jobs and skills. Companies that are successfully adopting digital technology don’t view it as an add-on — they see it as an entirely new way of doing business. Students looking at the future should also view digital this way.

The core to having a digital mindset is to understand data and use it to make better and faster decisions. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman at Alphabet Inc (parent company to Google), in a CNBC interview, said, “I think a basic understanding of data analytics is incredibly important for this next generation of young people. That’s the world you’re going into. By data analytics, I mean a basic knowledge of how statistics works, a basic knowledge of how people make conclusions over big data.”

The growing importance of data will create a significant need for statisticians and data analysts. SHRM’s Jobs of the Future: Data Analysis Skills report, sponsored by the American Statistical Association, found that 59 per cent of US organisations expect to increase the number of positions requiring data analysis skills in the next five years.

Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, in an interview, expressed similar insight into the future of jobs. “The new wave is coming. Jobs will be taken away,” Ma had said. “Some people, who catch up [with] the wave, will be rich, will be more successful.” But for those who fall behind, says Ma, the future will be ‘painful’. For Ma, the heart of the future is data. “The world is going to be data. I think this is just the beginning of the data period.”

A digital mindset is not just about data analysis but also about working effectively in a digital economy. This includes embracing more decentralised decision making and practising more rapid ways of doing things.

An entrepreneurial mindset

New industries are constantly being born and old ones are becoming obsolete. Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, said, “People will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central. It will undoubtedly play a greater role in the years ahead.”

The traditional 9-to-5 career job is becoming an outdated concept. It was build for the past, not the future. What you study will mean less than the skills you build over your career. Some argue even job titles are likely to be replaced by measureable skill sets.

This means students seeking an entrepreneurial mindset should challenge themselves to take more initiatives. This is not about everyone becoming an entrepreneur. But employers are now looking for employees who consistently seek out new opportunities, ideas and strategies to improve. Increasingly, leadership opportunities in companies are created through ‘intrapreneurship’.

The entrepreneurial mindset is drawn to new opportunities and challenges, risk-taking and seeing the big picture. It is the foundation of innovation.

A collaborative mindset

The global economy has become intertwined, complex and interdependent. Technology has allowed work and collaboration to transcend geographical boundaries.

Many start-ups and companies are thriving in global teams of workers, who work remotely using collaboration software like Slack, Github, and Skype. And there are a growing number of opportunities for those able to participate in this style of technology-enabled, cross-cultural remote work.

However, most people are not prepared working across digital networks and sometimes, with individuals from radically different backgrounds.

A collaborative mindset is about having the individual self-awareness to work effectively across cultures. Complex projects may require continuous communication and consensus building in the face of occasional conflict or disagreement.

You might need to establish, build and maintain trust over time without ever meeting in person. While there are new technologies to help make this easier, working collaboratively requires higher levels of empathy and strategies to find shared understanding.

This is not to say the future of work will be any less competitive. Here, a competitive spirit and a collaborative mindset can provide complementary motivations. Indeed, one of the most effective ways to compete in the future will be through thoughtful collaboration.