When I was 8 years old I knew all the flags of the world. When I was 16 I knew about Pythagoras theorem and when I was 21 I knew how Nylon was made.
Whilst flags, Pythagoras and Nylon are all interesting to a degree, I’m not sure how genuinely useful any of those topics have really been in my career. I learned about them to pass exams. I crammed the information in order to regurgitate it and get as many questions right as I could. Then I forgot it all. My schools and Universities could tick a box though. If enough of us remembered enough facts it meant they got better ratings which meant more students and more money in subsequent years.
Throughout education I remember being rewarded for getting things right. And I learned this young. At an early age I figured out that asking challenging questions, thinking differently or being a maverick didn’t make me popular with teachers, so over time I stopped.
Then when we start work we are given key performance indicators and objectives. As adults working for an organisation we are measured and judged on how we conform to a set of pre-defined objectives. These are just the grown up versions of getting rewarded for getting things right passing tests, and ticking boxes.
So it’s no wonder that so many organisations struggle to be successful at innovation. Learning to pass exams rather than learning to think for ourselves discourages innovation from an early age, and lets not underestimate the impact that our early years experiences have on our adult behaviour.
Innovation isn’t about confirming to a set of rules or learning about how things have always been done. It’s about thinking differently to solve problems and having the courage to push new boundaries to make change happen. I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn from history and the great discoveries that have gone before us, but if we are not mindful, we may end up focusing on the events of the past and miss the real lessons of the innovators experiences; of questioning the status quo, learning from trial and error and not giving up when others said it was impossible.
And real life lessons that we experience are really important in a world that is changing faster than ever before and will never move so slowly again. It’s unlikely that anyone entering the workforce today will have the same job in ten years time. *One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist.
Last January, a McKinsey & Company study found that about 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be computerised and if that wasn’t bad enough, last year, the Bank of England’s chief economist said that 15m UK jobs might be taken over by robots!
Ford, the futurist, offers some optimism with predictions of three job areas that are most likely to survive the robot invasion.
- Jobs that involve ‘genuine creativity’, such as being an artist, a scientist, or developing a new business strategy.
- Occupations that involve complex relationships with people, for example, nurses, or a role that requires close relationships with clients.
- Roles that are highly unpredictable, like a plumber who is called out to emergencies in different locations.
All these jobs involve thinking for ourselves to solve problems. So I’m proposing that we get better at doing this. Let’s take charge and skill ourselves and our teams with the tools and confidence to think, to ask questions, to solve problems, to understand data and draw conclusions, to challenge convention, to learn from failure and build personal resilience to get back up again and have another go.