In the early 1990s, psychologist Robin Dunbar studied the social connections within groups of monkeys and apes. He theorized that the maximum size of their overall social group was limited by the size of their neocortex.
Based on our neocortex size, Dunbar calculated that humans should be able to maintain relationships of no more than roughly 150 people at a time. He also found that many businesses and military groups organize their people into cliques of about 150. This has led to the now often disputed Dunbar Number of 150.
There are indeed limits to the number of relationships we can maintain, but with today’s online tools, we are not restricted to just 150. Yet we all have limited attention spans and the quality of every relationship depends on the amount of attention we dedicate to it.
Managing relationships will be a critical skill both today and for decades to come, regardless of the overall size of your network. But being a successful person in the future will require far more than just forging meaningful relationships.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the concept of “office as a place” has also been evolving. For untethered workers, any place with Wi-Fi where you can sit (or stand) in relative comfort is where work happens.
The age old “office” has transitioned from being a necessary place to go to being more of a power tool for making big things happen. The sterile confines of office buildings have morphed into something that is part-hotel, part-restaurant, part-coffee shop, and part-impromptu meeting space.
Offices with heavy wood desks, file cabinets, and chairs are holdovers from an era of paper, books, and briefcases. The office phone has come and (mostly) gone, much like fax machines, copiers, desk-top PCs, and printers.
Sitting desks have morphed into sit-stand workstations, walk-stations, and even no-stations. Features like workout rooms, bike lockers, showers, and sleep-stations have all entered the employee lexicon, along with massage rooms, happy hours, beer taps, and gourmet-chef kitchens.
Workers are no longer defined by the size and location of their cubical but by the pedigree of thinkers they hang out with.
Twelve Critical Skills for the Future
Equally as important as our Dunbar number or the place we call an office are the rules we live by. We currently have very few rules for how to live our lives in a fully immersive world where explosive amounts of information and technology are flowing around us on a second by second basis.
Since neither colleges nor traditional schools have come to grips with the unusual number of challenges lurking, like landmines, in the world ahead, it is up to us to master the “new rules of engagement.”
For this reason I’d like to help you think through twelve critically important skills you would do well to manage in your future:
1.) Distraction Management – The average smartphone user checks their phone over 220 times a day. During peak times this jumps up to once every six or seven seconds. Total addicts will actually jack-in over 900 times in a day and several reports have revealed incidents where young drama-junkies have been hospitalized from exhaustion because “fear of missing out” caused them to stop sleeping altogether.
Texting is the most frequently used app on a smartphone, with 97% of Americans using it at least once a day. The average Millennial exchanges 67 texts a day. It takes 90 minutes to respond to email, most will respond to a text in less than 90 seconds.
An average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes a day perusing these networks, accounting for 28% of the time they spent on the Internet.
In the U.S., YouTube is currently the most popular social network, with a visitation rate 8% higher than Facebook. Since both Facebook and YouTube claim well over a billion users worldwide, this is not a U.S. only phenomenon.
But let’s not forget television time. During peak hours, over 70% of the bandwidth for the Internet is dedicated to video streaming with Netflix and YouTube sucking up over 62% of the entire bandwidth in North America.
The average American spends over 5.5 hours a day consuming some form of video content.
So after all of that, how much time do you really have left for your job, your family and friends, and actually experiencing the world around you? Distraction management will be a critical skill for successful people to master over the coming years.
2.) Emerging Skills Management – How long will it be before you need to know how to pilot a flying drone? If you flippantly say “never,” how will your thinking change when you’ve just been laid off from your job and all your friends are getting high paying jobs as drone pilots?
But maybe it’s not drones. Perhaps the hot new career will be designing parts for 3D printers, or working as an aquaponics technician, crowdfunding consultant, material specialist for contour crafting, sensor engineer, data analyst, game designer, or apps expert for smart clothing?
What are the skills that will be required for your next job? Will you need to know how to operate a driverless car, communicate with your boss over a smart watch, merge spreadsheets on a smart phone, be conversant on the latest Internet of Things devices, use a telepresence room, perform actuarial breakdowns on your new client list, or find Wi-Fi hotspots in the middle of a desert?
If you think you’ll have time to plan your next career move after your job goes away, chances are you’ll be struggling with this issue until the day you retire, and with some of the latest plans for indexing retirement dates, that may be several decades of tortured living.
3.) Communication Management – Where do you get your news today? Yes many of you are still reading newspapers, watching TV, reading books and magazines, and listening to radio.
But a growing number are finding digital substitutes for traditional news. For young people, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, and Instagram are their only news sources.
When it comes to talking to your family and friends, are you more likely to use Skype, send a text message, or video clip, chat with them while playing Destiny, send photos, use Facetime, or Google hangouts?
Yet all these options, when it comes to doing business, one-to-one or one-to-many verbal communication is still a company’s most prized skill.
On average, women speak around 7,000 words a day compared to only 2,000 for men. With a 3.5 times as much practice, women have a natural advantage in this area.
Communication is an essential ingredient in all of our lives, but too much or too little can have devastating effects.
With new communication channels springing to life in games, social media, and smartphone apps on a regular basis, people suffer great anxiety over not keeping up with their friends and family. And when they turn things off, they suffer even greater anxiety over feeling left out.
Effective ways of managing our communication channels is a critical skill currently not being taught in school.
4.) Reputation Management – By 2020, one study estimates that more than 40% of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be independent workers—freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees. Exactly how we define ‘freelancer’ will increase or decrease that number substantially.
Recent surveys confirm the biggest challenges facing freelancers is poverty-level income that comes erratically and keeping the project pipeline full.
No one is actually born to be an entrepreneur, but according to LinkedIn Founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman, we would all be better served if we managed our lives as if they were a business.
In Hoffman’s latest book, “The Start-Up of You,” he goes on to explain many of the intricacies of living your life as your own personal brand, and how your online reputation has become a foundational piece of every person’s success.
Our reputations are no longer something that builds up around us that we have little or no control over. With highly personal online content being generated about us from many different sources, it is now up to us to exercise control over what people are saying, the images of us that appear online, videos we’re in, bylines of our work, and virtually every other indicator of who we are and what we stand for.
If you don’t think your online reputation is important, consider the following stats:
- 88% of those online will avoid doing business with companies that don’t protect their privacy.
- 80% of divorce lawyers use Facebook to find evidence.
- 65% of recruiters frown on job seekers who frequently use profanity in social media.
- 68% of hiring managers have made a decision to hire a candidate because of something they saw on social media.
Clearly this is another critical skill that schools have yet to come to grips with.
5.) Privacy Management – Privacy and transparency live on opposite ends of the same social spectrum, but they’re both part of the huge ethical issue that falls under the banner of privacy.
Drone privacy is different than social media privacy, which is different than online retailer privacy, Internet of Things privacy, big data privacy, email privacy, and snooping-around-in-my-business privacy.
People can often derive significant benefits from sharing their personal details as they take advantage of relevant and useful services online. However, once collected, businesses often exploit and monetize personal information, leaving people exposed and placing their information in predatory danger.
Yes, protecting and enforcing privacy is an added burden for business, but a lack of privacy creates risk for users and reduces trust. Trust plays a key role in virtually every form of innovation.
The free flow of personal information that respects privacy will do just the opposite, fuel and cultivate innovation. Optimizing the risks and rewards across the stakeholders may lead to new forms of innovation and the release of new economic value. The big challenge ahead will be to establish legal frameworks that foster innovation and facilitate information sharing across jurisdictions in global business environments.
Understanding both sides of this equation will be a critical skill for future generations.
6.) Information Management – In 2008, Roger Bohn and James Short, two researchers at the University of California in San Diego did a study to determine the amount of information people have entering their brains on a daily basis.
As it turns out, the average American spends 11.8 hours every day consuming information in 2008, and that number has been increasing 2.6% every year since then. Other countries are posting similar numbers. People today are being exposed to far more information than ever in the past.
How can we manage all this information better? How can we be smarter about the information we consume and the sources we’re getting it from?
Our ability to effectively manage our personal information inputs and outputs will greatly determine our ability to compete in the global talent marketplaces of the future.
7.) Opportunity Management – Currently 54 million Americans are now freelancers.
A 2014 study done by Field Nation concluded that 88% of freelancers think of themselves as highly engaged small business owners and 97% of them love the idea of working independently.
Being a freelancer is a form or entrepreneurship.
When they start out, most freelancers will try to increase their income simply by working more hours. But once they’ve quit their day job and start dedicating 30 or 40 hours a week to their business, there are really just two ways to make more money – either by becoming more specialized so they can charge higher rates, or by engaging other freelancers to work under their project umbrella, giving them the freedom to tackle bigger, higher-level projects.
Over the coming years we’ll see more freelancers cultivating specialties and forming teams that let them earn bigger revenues than ever before.
At the same time, sharing economy companies are opening the door for new kinds of “gig economy” professionals like Uber drivers, Zaarly pros, Task Rabbit workers, or managers of AirBNB properties. All fall into a transition category for new age job hoppers where the barrier to entry is relatively painless and they can manage their own schedule and job performance without a hovering boss nearby.
8.) Technology Management – The very first Apple iPhone entered the world in 2007. Since then, new tools have been appearing on a daily basis.
What should we be paying attention to, and what can we dismiss?
With sensors becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday living we will soon be wearing smart shoes, sleeping on smart pillows, eating smart food, with smart spoons, while watching our children play with their smart toys.
Our choice of technology defines who we are and our ability to function in an increasingly technology-dependent world.
Very soon we will be downloading apps for our drones, our smart houses, our pets, our cars, our clothes, and even our imaginary friends.
Our relationship with our personal technology will continue to be an ongoing challenge and improving skills in this area will be highly advantageous.
9.) Relationship Management – In a world immersed in social media, we know lots of people, but what kind of relationship do we have with them? Yes those that go beyond the Dunbar number. How do we qualify and quantify the value of those relationships?
As the size of a person’s social network increases, it becomes difficult for someone to have meaningful conversations with each person. Different rules apply to those we have strong ties with versus those who only know by face or name.
The way relationships are managed in the digital age is changing, especially when it comes to our emotional ties like love and marriage. The traditional marriage, which has been a foundational piece of societal structure since the beginning of recorded history, has been reduce to little more than a ceremonial contract of declining importance with each new generation.
Our understanding of the shifting nature of relationships will be one of our most critical skills in managing our future.
10.) Legacy Management – How will future generations remember you? How will they perceive your successes and failures, your accomplishments and misguided efforts, your generosity and perseverance?
While many still view inheritance as the primary way to leave a legacy, people now have the ability to manage the information trail they leave behind. In fact, they can very easily communicate with their own descendants who have not even been born yet.
The body of work we leave behind will become increasingly important. So if we chose to let future generations know who we are and why we set out to achieve the things we did, we can do that today with photos, videos, and online documents.
However, future generations will have far more tools at their disposal to preserve the essence of their personality, using avatars with AI engines to answer questions about issues only future generations will know to ask.
As all of us age, the notion of leaving a legacy becomes critically important, and furthering our skills in this area will indeed serve us well.
11.) Money Management – Banks and credit card companies have been unusually resistant to making the flow of money transparent, mainly because the opacity of our accounts is directly proportional to the unscrupulousness of fees and charges they assess.
In fact the entire money world has become a rich playground for those wanting to pilfer and poach from it. But that will soon be coming to an end.
Silicon Valley’s latest crop of fintech (financial technology) startups, numbering well in excess of 8,000, and funded with billions from VCs and crowdfunding, are out to make the bloodletting stop.
In addition, blockchain technology, the crypto-engineering tech behind Bitcoin, is quickly being implemented throughout the mainstream monetary system and driving the underlying transaction costs of the entire system to zero.
That said, even with total real-time transparency, we will still need to keep very close track of our money. This means every Apple watch purchase of Starbucks coffee, every Go-Fund-Me donation, Spotify subscription fee, Uber ride, Amazon delivery, in-app purchase, Facebook boost, and IoT micropayment will have to be accounted for along the way.
12.) Time Management – The most precious commodity in everyone’s life is still time. You can ponder it, over-schedule it, spend it with others, account for every second of it, make others account for it, squander it, or simply act as if it doesn’t exist. But so far we’ve not found a way to stretch it, reverse it, or buy extra bags full of it when we run out.
Time management systems of the past will need to morph, shift, and change to accommodate lifestyles and business demands of the future.
Every item on the list above boils down to creating efficiencies, and we can’t possibly create these efficiencies without finding better ways to manage our time.
Yes, the key word in this list is “management.” It will be up to us to manage every aspect of our increasingly complicated lives.
Is twelve the right number? This was not intended to be an all-inclusive list of skills for tomorrow. Over time, many more will be needed.
My goal was to draw attention to the most critical ones, the ones that currently seem to be overlooked today.
But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Let me know what I’m missing and where I may be off base. The ideas of the many are almost always greater than the ideas of the few.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything