In the 20th century, large organisations existed to provide scalable efficiency. They existed to make the same widget or execute the same process repeatedly. This size of scale drove down costs, led to greater efficiency and created competitive advantage.
But a world shaped by almost constant exponential change creates near constant disruption; the things we did yesterday won’t be effective tomorrow. We need to constantly adapt. A world of near constant disruption requires near constant innovation. In a world requiring near constant innovation, doing the same thing repeatedly is a recipe for obsolescence. But the mindset, approaches and institutional practices we use, mostly continue to be linear.
As a result, organisations are increasingly being confronted with new and unexpected situations that go beyond the textbooks and operating manuals and require leaders to improvise on the spot, coming up with new approaches that haven’t been tried before.
Skills have a shorter and shorter half-life. While skills are still necessary for success, the focus should shift to cultivating the underlying capabilities that can accelerate learning so that new skills can be more rapidly acquired.
At Google for example, recruiters mainly ignore titles and diplomas. During the recruiting process, candidates are presented a problem to be solved. The way a candidate solves the problem is the only capability that is evaluated, along with social competencies necessary for efficient and engaging team work. In other words, only the capacity to rapidly acquire new skills and capabilities even in areas where the candidate has no prior knowledge along with social and emotional competencies are evaluated. Continental, the tire manufacturer, just to mention another example from a more traditional industry, has adapted its recruiting process in a similar fashion. This way of doing is based on the assumption that hard skills can be rather easily acquired whereas capability gaps and characters trait gaps are more difficult to address.
These new essential capabilities include curiosity, critical thinking, willingness to take risk, imagination, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence. If we can develop those learning capabilities, we should be able to rapidly evolve our skill sets in ways that keep us ahead of the game.
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