Here Are The 3 Skills Needed For The Emerging Innovation Economy

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A few years back, I was invited to participate in a meeting with leaders from the US Department of Education. Others in attendance at the meeting included university presidents, representatives from the teacher unions and a handful of others. All told, there was about 20 people in the room.

The objective of the meeting was to identify ways to “radically innovate” the K through 12 education system in the US. Talk about an ambitious goal. The metric that the organizers were using as “proof” (or incentive .. Or rational) that there was a crisis was where the US students came out on the rankings of the standardized test scores when compared against students from other countries.

A quick side note — since 1965 when the first of such tests where administered, the US has never ranked higher than in the middle of the pack. When compared to GDP growth, the tests are not predictive of the future.

When I was asked about my view on the issue, I shared that I’m not an expert in education or curriculum development. I view myself as a “purchaser” of the output from the education system. I hire scientists, engineers, strategists, technicians — a highly skilled workforce to do the work we do.

I then told the attendees in the meeting that as a purchaser, I didn’t want what the education system was producing. I need an organization staffed by highly innovative individuals who will have the skills to solve problems we don’t even know exit using technologies that haven’t been invented yet.

From my perspective, the focus on “test scores” results is a system that generates the worlds greatest test takers — where success is defined by memorization of facts and formulas. Graduates that memorize yesterdays’ answers using yesterdays technologies will not be the workforce for tomorrow’s innovation economy.

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Leadership In Transforming The Education System

Let me pause here for a second. While I’m talking about the US and my work with the government here, the same can be said in most countries around the world so don’t stick your head in the sand thinking this is just a US issue.

I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming educators. The ultimate responsibility falls on us parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles for the education and training of our next generation.

So what skills should we ensure our kids have to be competitive in future innovation economy?

In a recent study of US and China parents, we can gain some insight in the priorities they have for their kids. What I found most interesting in the survey was the distinct difference between the two groups of parents. More than half of the US parents identified “Math and Computer Sciences” as the number one skill their kids need to succeed in the future innovation economy – while #1 skill China parents ranked was “Creative Approaches to Problem Solving”.

3 Critical Skills for Innovation

So what do I think are the skills needed for future success in the innovation economy?

  1. Critical Thinking: Our kids need to be taught how to think rather than how to memorize. Its not about finding the one right answer for a test but instead the ability to search out a range of the possible solutions to a challenge or opportunity and then learning how to prototype possible answers. Critical thinking and problem solving skills should not be a stand-alone subject but instead taught across all subjects. For example, thinking through the range of options a given historical figure faced and then determining what would have been the alternative outcomes. Did that person make the right decision?
  2. Entrepreneurship: Its no longer about having deep expertise in a given area but to also have the broad understanding of how a given idea is transformed into a successful innovation. Understanding the structure, steps and culture of teamwork is a fundamental skill that everyone needs to have.
  3. Creative Storytelling: Since the currency of the future will be ideas, an individuals ability to present their idea so that others see the value in it will be critical. Verbal and written storytelling skill is a rare find today and one that determines how fast and how far someones career will advance.
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Government shouldn’t hide behind “common core” or the old “no child left behind”. None of these address the real issues.

While we as a society need to change the educational system to ensure we are producing the best employees possible, its the parents that can have the most positive and immediate impact. I can’t emphasize this enough — its not too late. Don’t wait for the school system to change. That will take decades.

If we don’t, what jobs will our children be equipped to have when the innovation economy takes over?

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