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Last year, the Future of Jobs Report developed by the World Economic Forum identified the Top 10 Skills in 2020.  The top six were:

  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • People Management
  • Coordinating with Others
  • Emotional Intelligence

Finding this very interesting, I did some research to see if I could identify critical skills identified in 2007 to see what has changed in just ten years.  Here are a few:

  • Communication Skills
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Strong Work Ethic
  • Computer Skills
  • Teamwork
  • Analytic Skills

While there is some connection between these two sets of skills, the change is telling.  Let’s look at a few:

Complex Problem Solving.  According to the World Economic Forum report, complex problem solving is defined “as the capacity needed to solve new, poorly defined problems in complex situations.”  It is the ability to solve real-time problems that are not clearly defined in a dynamic and complex world that cannot be addressed by routine actions.  Whoa!

Critical Thinking.  According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, critical thinking is defined as “… that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it….”  The focus is on objectively analyzing a problem by assessing evidence (data), patterns, relationships, etc. in order to arrive at an informed decision.

While the skill definitions seem overwhelming, in the simplest of terms, both are ‘mind sets.’  It is how we think about the problems/opportunities we are facing.  In other words, recognizing that many of the problems/opportunities facing business are not only below the observed surface, they are also complex, dynamic, and often obscured by fuzzy signals.

Compare these two to the 2007 skills, which are important, and think about how we have been educating and training our workforce for the last ten years.  Interestingly, the number one challenge I hear from business owners is that they cannot find qualified workers.  So, how does someone acquire these skills?  How does a company even begin to interview for this talent?  Where does it begin?

It begins with the leadership of the company “challenging the conventional thinking” within the organization.  It is a new mind set; it is a culture.  The first step is recognizing you will often have to dig below the surface of the observed problem/opportunity in order to grasp the substance/complexity of what you are dealing with, ‘before’ applying resources (time, people, and money) to act on it.  The descriptions say it all, we live in a more challenging environment than we did just ten years ago that requires a different skill set to survive and prosper.  Your move.

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Recently, I was talking to a business owner about his strategic perspective of the future of his growing manufacturing business. As expected, we got into a discussion about how difficult it is to plan with so many uncertainties in Washington (D.C.), coupled with the tendency of our government to over regulate all aspects of our economy. He said, “they are like helicopter parents hovering over our every move waiting to intervene”. The past six years have been some of the most challenging times for businesses, especially small businesses. First the collapse of our economy, followed by a dysfunctional Washington.

Businesses, for the most part, are resilient in times of economic crisis. They get knocked down, shoved to the side, tripped up, mulled over, and sometimes destroyed. But they never stop fighting for their survival. They do without, sacrifice things the rest of us take for granted, and put more of their capital at risk; they do whatever it takes to survive and prosper.

The sad part is that it is not just economic conditions they are fighting. A good part of their effort is dealing with the uncertainties being touted by the town criers of Washington. It is not my purpose to get into a political debate; I’m not looking for who did what. Regardless of why certain things happen in Washington, businesses have to make decisions about how they run their organizations in response to what is happening, or what they think may happen. Business decisions involve resources, which are time, people, and money. This is not a game or political jousting; it’s real. They know that the survival of their business depends on good decision-making.

“So, how do we factor in the multitude of political perspectives on healthcare, immigration, minimum wage, energy, taxes, climate debate, foreign trade, sequestration (debt limit), Middle East, etc., etc., etc. into our decisions, when there is a lack of earnest debate or compromise amongst the parties” he asked. “Where are we headed?” “What should I bet on?”

As we were wrapping up our conversation he said something thought-provoking; “Just give us a fighting chance to run our businesses. We can improve the economy, provide jobs, benefit our communities, and pay our fair share of taxes. All we want is a fighting chance.”

Just give us a fighting chance. – Are you listening Washington?

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