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Now and for the foreseeable future, a high level of fluidity and uncertainty will continue to be the norm.
The idea that we live and work in a world of chaotic change and growing complexity isn’t new. The pace of technological disruption and paradigm-shifting innovation has been accelerating for decades, and it continues to charge ahead, despite economic crises and financial instability.
Now and for the foreseeable future — a period dubbed “the age of flux” by Fast Company editor Robert Safian in the magazine’s February 2012 cover article — a high level of fluidity and uncertainty will continue to be the norm. To survive, companies will need to be nimble, prepared to take risks and ready to change, sometimes overnight. They also will need to be clairvoyant enough to hire people for jobs that don’t yet exist.
As frightening and challenging as this unpredictability is for businesses, imagine how daunting it is for individuals trying to figure out their employment options and chart a career path. An ever-shifting competitive landscape creates relentless pressure to build new skills, take on new responsibilities, be open to new work situations and even be willing to jump from job to job or field to field.
According to Safian, “You do not have to be a jack-of-all-trades to flourish in the age of flux, but you do need to be open-minded.” He believes thriving in this climate requires a “mindset that embraces instability, that tolerates — and even enjoys — recalibrating careers.” Responding to his remarks on the magazine’s website, one woman wrote, “We talk about working our way up the ladder, but the ladder doesn’t just go up anymore: it goes sideways, backwards, upside down.”
Many experts believe resilience is the key to coping when our lives — and careers — are subject to non-linear transitions and change without notice. George Vaillant, director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development for 35 years, defines resilience as the “self-righting tendencies” of a person, “both the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back.” Psychology Today describes it as that “ineffable quality” that allows some people to “change course and soldier on.”
Regardless of the definition, most sources agree resilience is not an extraordinary gift or a genetic trait that some people have and some don’t. Resilient attitudes and actions can be learned and developed in anyone. For business organizations, the current problem is few traditional education tracks or career counseling approaches train individuals to be resilient; fewer still prepare them for a working world where the most important skill is the ability to keep acquiring new skills.
The rising need for a more resilient workforce should be sending out ripples everywhere within an organization — including altering the usual approaches to workforce learning and development. But the age of flux mandates more than just a rousing pep talk about being “lifelong learners” or simply ramping up learning requirements for those in critical talent positions.
What’s needed is a learning organization that mindfully models, teaches and encourages resilience in a way that prepares the workforce to face uncertainty without flinching. Forward-thinking learning organizations are already doing just that. They motivate employees to openly acknowledge the role that chance can play in their career development, offer access to tactics and strategies they can deploy to thrive amid disruptive changes and inspire the entire workforce to make a sustained investment in its own education.
These learning organizations are as fluid and flexible as the prevailing conditions in the marketplace — constantly evaluating curriculum, expanding accessibility to learning and aggressively promoting development opportunities. At the top of their agenda is what some call “luck readiness,” preparing employees to best use the potential of future events, both the likely and the contingent, to uncover new ways to contribute to the company.
In addition to offering a robust catalog of job-related skill-building courses, they deliver basic training in personal resiliency skills — creativity, open-mindedness, adaptability, problem-solving and stress management — and make sure employees are exposed to diverse experiences and positive role models for managing change.
Throughout the age of flux, most people will need to adjust to several job changes, update their capabilities and recalibrate their careers on a regular basis. Is your learning organization resilient enough to help them — and your business — turn all that churn into opportunity?
Editor in Chief
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