At Fast Company, one of the hippest harbingers around, they call them Generation Flux. What defines Gen Flux, writer Robert Safian says, “is a mindset that embraces instability, that tolerates – even enjoys – recalibrating careers, business models, and assumptions”. It spans demographic and social boundaries, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. “Not everyone will join Generation Flux,” Safian adds, “but to be successful, businesses and individuals will have to work at it. This is not simple task.”
The world view and eclectic skills of Gen Flux fit nicely into the knowledge economy, a term bandied about but which is yet to be defined with any clarity and consensus. As economics professor Neil Kay points out, it’s a complex business moving from one paradigm to the next. “(The fictional character) Robinson Crusoe could more properly be characterised as a knowledge economy in which Crusoe spent the bulk of his time engaged in various knowledge activities such as exploration, design, hunting, foraging, inventing, writing… signalling and teaching (Man Friday),” Kay says.
That said, most agree the operating environment is shifting dramatically, and fast. There’s also convergence in discussions around the skills required to prosper in this brave new world. “’Transliteracy’ has been coined to highlight the need to be able to ‘read and understand’ concepts and ideas across a range of formats and platforms – oral, print, visual, digital – as technologies merge and integrate, enabling radically new approaches to presentation, verification and distortion of content,” says Sheila Moorcroft, research director at futures agency Shaping Tomorrow. “They focus even more on critical thinking, the ability to question, analyse, challenge; seeing arguments from different perspectives, articulating ideas.”
The implications for organisations, leaders and employees are far-reaching. “The vast bulk of our institutions – educational, corporate, political – are not built for flux,” says Safian. “Few traditional career tactics train us for an era where the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.”
Safian’s observation echoes research by the US-based Institute for the Future and others, which warns that people will have to take much more responsibility for keeping their skills relevant than in the past. “To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organisational forms and skill requirements,” its report says. “They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers of the future will need to be adaptable, lifelong learners.”