Getting Ready for Your 21st Century Life?

In the 20th century, young folks were told that education was the key to success. “Do well in school and everything will be just fine.” This advice followed early 20th century experience, where for the first time ever, huge numbers of people were able to enter knowledge professions by getting an education.

We forget, however, that universal education was only introduced in the 19th century,. In terms of social institutions,  it is very new. So the advice to get an education should not be taken as universal advice — it just fit that time — the 20th century. What about now?

Some experts argue that the education that schools offer now may not be good enough to insure a good life now. I am thinking. for example, of Sir Ken Robertson. He and others argue that formal education is too much focused on shoving pre-fab knowledge down your throat and not enough focused on building creative capacities.

Why would that be true? One reason is that in the 21st century, we are likely to see an acceleration in the production of new knowledge. Thus, knowing stuff will have a shelf life. One will have to participate in generating new knowledge to do well in the 21st century. BTW, if you doubt this, consider that knowledge geneatoin has been accelerating over the past 3 or 4 centuries. There is no reason to think that this trend will suddenly abate. Moreover, we are just now beginning to understand how the mind generates ideas. Finally, we have better and better tools for transmitting information.

So how does one prepare for participating in knowledge generation? Certain skills may be helpful

  • The ability to concentrate, to focus deeply.
  • The ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.
  • The ability to do public problem solving through cooperative work.
  • The ability to search effectively for information and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well.
  • Synthesizing skills (being able to bring together details from many sources).
  • The capability to be futures-minded through formal education in the practices of horizon-scanning, trends analysis and strategic foresight.”

These are also recommended.

  • The ability to learn constantly in a self-directed mode
  • Social Intelligence and ability to connect with people beyond geographical barriers virtually in a deep/meaningful way and collaborate.
  • Adaptive mindset to evolve the thinking and learning to keep pace with the pace of changes around us.
  • Interdisciplinary thinking (more here)
  • Critical thinking (more here)

Indeed, collaboration skills may be the most important. Why? Because, as Steve Johnson points out, generating new ideas has a social dimension. If you can collaborate creatively, you can network effectively.


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