The Skills we Need to Flourish in the 21st Century

Human Skills
The good news is that we already have these skills, if we are human.

Curiosity truly engaging with ideas and also finding new ways of looking at things that are not out there, which leads to creativity, a method of liberating human energy, taking initiative, an important component of any type of work, using multi-disciplinary thinking, including intuition, judgment, the art of multi-asking (not a typo), and empathy. These skills help us connect deeply with what is around us.

Companies know they need to hire talented people, what they don't know is that they need to hire people who can learn, who can adapt to the ever changing and complex environment we face in business today. It's a big challenge, because this is preventing so many organizations from flourishing.

Many of these themes have been areas of deep exploration on my personal strategic roadmap, and I know I am not alone in the pursuit of better. We can do better to connect with each other — finding and getting some other person out there to commit to partnering rather than being an army of ones.

Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain recently wrote, directed, and edited a short about The Adaptable Mind, which explores the skills we will need in the 21st Century (embedded below.)

The Adaptable Mind from The Moxie Institute on Vimeo.

Shlain is also the founder of the Webby Awards and has championed the idea of being connected on a human level even as we are increasingly using technology to do the connecting. 

In her 2010 Commencement Speech at UC Berkeley, she said:

The web has, in many ways, taught us how to think about links and look at how things are connected. John Muir said it beautifully when he said, “When you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it’s attached to everything else.”

In the past 10,000 years, we have been struggling to make sense of our world by breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces. We’ve dissected, and looked into microscopes, and specialized in our knowledge. This reductionist approach has been extremely successful: It brought us the clock, calculus, electricity, the Theory of Relativity, so many of the brilliant ideas and breakthroughs you learned here at Cal.

“Divide and conquer” has been our primary strategy for centuries. But now it’s time to focus on how to put things together. It’s time to look for connections, to look for information to help us understand connections and build connections.

As we spend so much time these days searching, looking and finding all this information, what becomes that much more important is understanding context for that information you find.


What will be your strand? Margaret Meade once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

System thinking helps us make the connections visible and develop deeper collaborations through curiosity and multi-disciplinary work. Conversation is the technology we can use to activate this work (we can liberate the word from improper use.)


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