Our Head of Communications approached me for a last-minute write-up on key skills that would be in demand in 2020 and beyond. I thought it should be easy as we have heard the keywords – AI, Machine Learning, IoT, Blockchain, etc. So, I promised her that I could turn this around in just a few hours. However, it was just coincidental that I was attending an outbound team session and sat there observing the team and how people in their 20s to 40s interact with each other. It then struck me about the most critical skill needed for 2020, and onwards was ‘being more human.’
Learning to be more human is a skill mandated for 2020. We see a shift in skills and priorities as the role of people and technology in organizations continues to become multifaceted. Future successful business delivery models will need a combination of human behavioral and technological skill sets to be truly effective and to help companies stand out from the crowd. Below are some more detailed reflections around the same.
Human behavioral skills
Mindfulness: Mindfulness has always been related to spirituality and meditative practices, but actually, we need this skill as a mandate with most of our workforce. It essentially helps develop intelligence, openness to ideas, self-reflection, curiosity, and intellectual flexibility, thereby helping better the emotion quotient levels. Many programs for corporations are based on demystifying mindfulness. It has become the staple employee development offering in several Fortune 500 companies. Harvard Business Review reports that brain activity is redirected from the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex--basically from the reactionary part of the brain to the rational part of the brain. This changes the fundamentals of how we react to everything right from tasks to people.
Storytelling: Storytelling sells. Storytelling resonates. Storytelling connects. The skill of organizing thoughts and data points into a comprehensive, holistic narrative is becoming a crucial business ask. Today we see employees and individuals struggle with writing e-mails and communicating effectively and with precision. The skill of storytelling reinforces the corporate culture and helps in steering organizations through a process of change. This also helps people see what data in organizations means or stands for. Clubbing the same with technical skills opens doors to business intelligence.
In today’s world of the internet, storytelling is a connectivity tool. It connects employees internally, brings unity, and creates a real dialogue with people, which cannot be replaced by any chatbot or AI…or not yet, anyway. Recent time’s example is Airbnb; there’s a powerful story told every time one encounters their brand online. Instead of telling their company’s story, they let the customers tell stories about their experiences. In fact, they have a customer community page dedicated to the same. Nike is another excellent example of the ’90s. No matter what Nike does, it always backs its point with storytelling, whether it is ‘Just do it’ or their several employee campaigns. Apple and Google’s new product launches are also based on the skill of storytelling. They do it so effortlessly we don’t even realize till they leave us wanting for more.
Judgment and decision-making: I call this out as a vital skill because the seeds of this skill need to be sowed when we are kids and not when we enter the corporate world. In my personal experience, I have come across the majority of managers and leaders who lack decision-making skills. In the Indian scenario, the parents call the shots and force their kids into the right thing to eat or wear, who to be friends with, what to study or which workstreams to choose. We lose our decision-making capabilities at a very young age and do not hone this until we enter the corporate setup. Right from what resources we need to hire to what technology to adapt to changing times, making the right decisions is the job of every executive for robust business excellence.
A recent McKinsey Global Survey shows that only 20 percent of respondents say their organizations excel at decision-making. One of the survey’s fascinating insights was on how much time the decision-making process consumes. On average, over half of respondents reported spending more than 30 percent of their working time on decision making, and more than one-quarter spend the majority of their time making decisions. The interesting part was that this time increases with seniority. The other aspect which I found interesting was that decision making speed was found to be inversely proportional to the quality of the decision. A big area worth investing our skills on.
Cognitive elasticity: I define this as the ability that uses different sets of rules, processes, and approaches to get the result you want. Basically, never living even for a moment in your comfort zone. This ability further intensifies as an enabler to mix-and-match ideas, systems, processes, materials, and data and create new products or ideas. Times are changing and will continue to change fast.
I guess people born in the ’80s will be able to relate a lot with this. We were the generation who used to walk into school computer labs taking out shoes, worked on IBM Pentium 386 processor to MacBook Pros, monochrome to color monitors, transitioned from radio players to Walkman to Discman to MP3 players to apple iPod to now use online streaming music apps. We still survive with ease as we not only adapted, but we had one leg in the old analog school and the other in the digital new school, giving us a unique perspective. Individuals who are able to increase cognitive adaptability have a higher ability to adapt to new situations, be creative, and be able to communicate one’s reasoning beyond a particular response. Harvard offers a program on cognitive competencies where they learn to prepare for creating, collaborating, and navigating through the world’s complexities.
Let me get your attention to some interesting facts. The below inputs mostly come from Mary Meeker's 2019 Internet Trends report.
- The cloud is eating the world; 50 percent of enterprise applications in the cloud by 2020
- $8T will be spent on fighting cyber-crime
- Economics is reaching a breaking point; 50 percent Internet traffic growth while IT budgets are flat
- 75 Billion IoT will be connected devices by 2025
- AI has arrived; 72 percent of business leaders say AI will be a business advantage
So, what are the skills that are needed in the 2020 future?
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
The scientific study of algorithms and statistical models. As organizations get more and more data-centric, the need to interpret data becomes imperative. AI and ML are the two most talked-about skills and will see a huge demand in 2020 as companies start implementing them on a large scale to improve efficiency. In a recent survey, it is estimated that Machine Learning and AI alone have at least 1.4 million open jobs at the moment. According to the AI talent report, the number of AI-related jobs has increased by 119 percent. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are progressing towards making autonomous decisions. The very thought that machines will make decisions in place of humans scares many people, thinking of how easy it will become to replace them eventually. But this has also triggered ideas towards explainable AI governance. The deeper you go, the more value you see in this field. A good skill to keep investing in on an ongoing basis.
Focuses on features to decentralized processing power and enable mobile computing and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. The goal of edge computing is to keep the traffic and processing local to reduce latency, exploit the capabilities of the edge, and enable greater autonomy at the Edge. The future of Edge will create unstructured architectures consisting of services connected in a flexible mesh distributed over the cloud. Imagine drones communicating with an enterprise over IoT platform, maybe to monitor or navigate city traffic better. The future is going to be all about speed.
While it still remains immature for enterprise usage due to scalability, relinquishing control, and lack of awareness, it is becoming one of the most thriving skills in the IT job market. The blockchain talent pool in India leads by a margin of 40 percent, compared with Australia, China, Singapore, and Japan, the five countries with a significantly large blockchain talent pool. The future belongs here as it sees huge potential in reducing cost, record keeping/ sharing, transaction time, automated process setups, and asset tracking. The future of smart cities will rely a lot on this, and hence the demand is only going to rise.
With the advancements in AI technologies, companies will likely not need to maintain large cybersecurity teams within their IT department. This is going to be a perpetual employment opportunity for many. As hackers continue to be more sophisticated, use new methods and tools to create avenues for cyber access. Technology will continue to evolve and provide hackers with an equal safety shield. According to a recent workforce development survey, 59 percent of organizations have vacant cybersecurity positions, suggesting a shortfall of 1.5 million by 2020 globally. Cyberwarfare will only create the tool as commodities for varied end-users. This space has both length and breadth to be able to tap the best out of it.
This is a skill that has also come upon Gartner’s top 5 technology for 2020 that will shape the future. It is a combination of multiple machine learning software and automation tools. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a crucial component of hyper-automation. It is the future of content-centric processes. An upcoming example of this technology is Bot-Audit-As-A-Service.
Augmented reality is expected to reach $7 trillion by 2027 and about the expected revenue of $50 billion by 2021. From cellphones to the gaming industry to e-commerce, organizations to product design and development. There is just no end to the usage and creativity this technology offers. Augmented reality is being used heavily by companies like Ikea and Ford in the field of sales and product service. It offers a safe working environment and stronger infrastructure. It has reached its reputation in a very short span of time, and companies are experimenting with its impact with complete openness.
The fourth industrial revolution will be marked by the fusion of different technologies like genetics, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, and biotech to create a world that is more integrated than ever before. The future no longer belongs to those who can read and write, but those who can learn, unlearn and relearn.