Adaptability: The one skill you need to thrive in the 21st century

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Adaptability: The one skill you need to thrive in the 21st century

When I look around my office, I realize how much it has changed since the day of its inception. I remember books and newspapers strewn around my desk. My office table was the window to my brain. Anybody could take a guess at what the flavor of the day was! The books revealed it all. But today all I have on my desk is my MacBook, my smartphone and a notepad. When I observe the classrooms, I find Smartboards have replaced blackboards. Online media has replaced books. The only commonality between then and now is the teachers and I. I wonder how much it will change in the course of the next ten years, nay, five years? The rate of acceleration of change is stupefying.

In my role, I have to continuously interact with students. My job is to guide them and hold their hands through the most precious times of their lives. After all, they are transitioning from the seemingly protected life of a school student to one about to enter a university or enter the job market. It is not only the students but also the parents that are equally anxious. Twenty years back, when I started my language school things were more or less predictable. The pace of change was such that we could keep up. But today, it seems that we are sitting on a bullet train with the landscape outside changing at lightning speed.

Welcome to the 21st century. A century defined by artificial intelligence and climate change. So, what does it take to thrive in the times we live in?

I came across this very interesting quote from Alven Toffler:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

Learnability is the keyword. Daniel Kish lost both his eyes to cancer when he was just eighteen months old. He makes clicking noises with his tongue and creates a mental image of his surroundings from the reflected sound. He now trains others who are blind to ‘see’ the same way he does. Human brains have amazing adaptability. This is what learnability does. It allows us to adapt. There is no point in fearing change; instead, we need to keep up. Learning helps us become more open to change. Did you know that there are currently 220 million people working in countries other than the country of their origin. That is equal to the population of the fifth largest country in the world. It is the ability to learn and adapt in any work environment, no matter what else changes in our unpredictable world, that allows us to thrive.

Getting a college degree is not enough. The three or four years that you spend in college should also be invested in acquiring skills other than the knowledge of your core subjects. There are loads of affordable courses available online on every imaginable topic. They do not take much time and are offered by some of the best universities from around the world. So, while you are pursuing a degree, think about the essential skills you will need when you apply for a job and look online for a course. I am sure you will find one.

Today’s workplace is constantly changing. No matter where you are on the career ladder, it is important that you continue to learn and develop new skills. It is the only way to survive in the 21st century. Learnability means you can freely move between tasks, jobs, regions, and countries.

Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.Allen de Botton.

It’s the survival of the adaptable. And adaptability comes from learning.