[Written by Kiran Johny] Originally featured in nextbigwhat.com.
A shift from linear Darwinian evolution to the era of exponential evolution requires the skill of Learning to learn fast anything, any conditions and challenges. The traditional idea of one skill and one specialization domain for the rest of your life is obsolete already.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” Alvin Toffler.
Alvin Toffler wrote the book “Powershift” 27 years ago as he looked at the industrial economy moving to the knowledge economy. Many years passed and the major philosophical question remains similar but more intense. What happens when economic value is created out of knowledge of intangible assets like programming skill and creativity. What will happen when everything from Self-Driving Car to 3D printing requires only one type of professionals “The Knowledge Worker”.The more scary thought is what will happen when exponential technologies like AI, Biotech, and Nanotech merge and cross-pollinate. What will happen when Quantum computers become mature enough to calculate seemingly impossible amounts of data in less than a snap. What will happen when all these exponential technologies work along with block-chain methods to disrupt institutional agents like governments, banks, and money.
These questions are obvious but the answers are impossible to be precise and bound to be incorrect because exponential technology evolution is a domain of complexity.
Complex events like technology evolution, entrepreneurship, social movements etc are far more difficult to understand and manage. It’s harder to predict what will happen because complex systems interact in unexpected ways and with unknown variables. It’s harder to make sense of things because the degree of complexity may lie beyond the limits of our cognitive ability and analytical tools. In complex systems like technology and business, it is harder to place bets because the past behavior may not predict its future behavior. This often makes the outlier more significant than the average.A small change in any initial condition variable can result in a huge difference in end result.That is why every moment in history happens only once.There will be no more Google, Facebook and AirBnB created twice in history.The creation and success of these companies were outlier events accompanied by accumulated advantage of massive wealth and connection.
Implications On Human Learning
Many experts estimate that up to 40% of what students learning today will be obsolete a decade from now when they will be working in jobs that have yet to be created. Indeed the top 10 most in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist 10 years ago. To say that we live in a linear world with Darwinian natural evolution understates the speed of both the pace and the scope of ongoing change. Natural and social boundaries are simultaneously disappearing fast and the global human resources become more skilled and mobile. This means the competition in the top 10% jobs will become more and more global.
The other corollary is that everything that can be automated will be automated and everything that can be Digitized will be Digitized.This is even true in the Trump and Brexit era of Nationalism.Historian Yuval Noah Harari says “ I don’t know about the present, but looking to the future, it’s not the Mexicans or Chinese who will take the jobs from the people in Pennsylvania, it’s the robots and algorithms. So unless you plan to build a big wall on the border of California — the wall on the border with Mexico is going to be very ineffective”.
On the other hand, our schools and universities are hopelessly inadequate in preparing us for the impending disruption in every walks of our life. Our education system is built on the factory economics idea where one spends a few years in a process of progressing in a linear fashion, and at the end of it, granted with a degree of bachelor’s or master’s or a PhD, you are somehow magically prepared for the rest of your working life.This traditional model worked well in a previous era, which was characterized by predictable skill demands and process jobs. But in the new era of digital acceleration jobs will soon be outdated or automated faster than they are created, This is why the very definition of ” learning” and “school system “needs a paradigm shift.
Learning to learn fast is the only De-risking intervention possible
Our ability to adapt fast to challenges and pro-actively make changes in our life is what will make of a crucial differentiator. According to Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent.It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”Adapting and changing comes with the risk of leaving something behind and losing something.How should we approach this era of a never-ending possibility of risk?An insightful thought can be found in the advice of Peter Thiel. In a recent interview, Y Combinator asked Mark Zuckerberg about the best advice Peter Thiel ever gave him, which was;
“In a world that’s changing so quickly, the biggest risk you can take is not taking any risk.”
The essence is that the world is aggressively marching forward. When it comes to adapting to change, a delay is increasingly expensive as you quickly lose your place. Every change is a risk and every learning requires some degree of choice to take this risk or that risk. This psychology of competing opportunity costs requires increased skill of risk tolerance.Risk taking is learning to deal with uncertainty which is an essential part of the new world order.
Skills of Dynamic Stability: A Google X Perspective
Learning agility is the primary skill to unlocking your change proficiency and succeeding in a complex, unpredictable and constantly evolving environment. The choice is simple: act or be acted upon. Be proactive or reactive. Since change is the only constant you can truly rely upon, learning to navigate and adapt to it is essential for us to survive, succeed and thrive.
Astro Teller CEO of Google X shares one of the most intriguing idea about learning.He says
“I am actually not a huge believer that you have to pick what it is you are going to be an expert at NOW (and) study that really hard and go out and shop that expertise throughout the rest of your life .The bad news is that the stuff you are learning now is going to be fairly irrelevant in 10 years.The good news is that the skill of learning things quickly ,(and) figuring out how to understand the first principles and be able to reconstruct your knowledge even after you forget 90 % of it later ,Those skills are critical for the rest of your life “