13 years ago, Sir Ken Robinson, British author, speaker and international adviser on education in the arts to government, famously said in a TED talk, “Nobody has a clue … what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet, we’re meant to be educating [our students] for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.” Some 63-million views later, the difference is today, we do know what the world will look like to a very good degree. And that is part of my job: work with a team of amazing people around the globe to analyze the future.  

Disclosure: I actively volunteer with people training students in collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills. They go beyond integrating STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. They require students to solve fairly complex challenges based on STEAM, but must be solved solely by the team of up to seven students in grades 2-college. In the process,they build self reliance, confidence, and confidence in others. They build teamwork, and the recognition of what good teamwork looks like. This is a process, and frequently doesn’t always make a great photo or video, but is fun for the students and yields strong results, regardless of how a team finishes the year.

The Destination Imagination program is offered in about 30 countries and nearly 150,000 students take part in this each year. In the United States alone there are over 30,000 volunteers who support “D.I.” mostly as an after-school program. Some schools are integrating the program in the school day. Yet many parents and volunteers aren’t yet aware how these skills are making the difference in college and beyond.

Global market intelligence firm IDC talks about today as entering the period of Multiplied Innovation, where innovation at scale accelerates business and home life [related article | research]. We are still relatively early in the journey of digital transformation, but this is the reality for us and especially for our kids.This new way of working, and underscores the need for creativity. This was also shared in a new IBM report.  It describes how emerging intelligence will affect the job market: “Artificial intelligence is likely to change how every job is performed, eliminating work related to repetitive tasks but increasing the need for creative thinkers.” This is consistent with other IBM reports over the past decade.

The Harvard Business Review recently reported that “critical thinking is the number one soft skill managers feel new graduates are lacking, with 60% feeling this way.”

The World Economic Forum (weforum.org) shared details from a Society for Human Resources Management report stating, “Three-quarters of American companies say they have difficulty recruiting the right people, with critical thinking among the top requirements.” Creativity, innovation and problem solving skills were at the top, but they then asked, “Can these ‘soft skills’ be taught.” I would argue, on behalf of 1.5 million program alumni, that the answer is  “yes”.

On the business front, collaboration is already saving companies money. In an interview with Front, I shared that “IDC research shows the most common benefits of collaboration are increased group productivity, saving time, personal productivity, and faster time to market and execute projects.”

The problem Sir Ken eluded to is that the world is changing. Not slowly, but to the point we’re walking around with computers, and talking to connected cylinders on our tables – and not getting freaking out about it. When Sir Ken made that statement, this was science fiction. Now these devices are starting to head into businesses. The connectivity of the future is changing everything. Most notably, the average consumer has high customer experience expectations when online, and when the average consumer goes to work, they become employee expectations. Kids are using Google to collaborate (they have over 80-million education licenses), they are using text, Facetime, WhatsApp, Instagram and even Slack to get their work done. 

The D.I. kids appear to have the advantage beyond collaborative software: They know how to spot talent in others and bring it to the foreground, incorporate research, create solutions designed to “wow”, stay on budget and on time. (What’s not to love about that?). As Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence becomes more mainstream, it will become just another data source for their creativity to build upon, and still be questioning the results as accurate.

It’s only technology if you didn’t grow up with it.

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