Education for the Future Isn’t Just in School… and Isn’t Just for Kids

Many challenges of the emerging future are unprecedented and have no known solution. Yet.

In addition, many solutions applied successfully at this moment may cause unanticipated challenges. These are called “wicked problems.”  Although wicked problems are not new, the speed of emerging wicked problems occurring globally has increased exponentially.  This is why the ability to adapt and innovate is needed more now in every industry and every single sector of society.

This, in-turn, calls for people with diverse abilities and sets of skills ,as well as the willingness to learn in every phase and area of life. Going beyond his initial theory, “survival of the fittest,” Darwin pointed out that adapting is an essential element of survival. Adapting requires learning. And we often learn new things in life, not because we wanted to, but because we had to.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Current escalations of global situations (e.g. the rapid development of advanced technologies and climate change) are forcing more people to learn new things more often and with greater urgency. Although there are several kinds and areas of education for everyone that will help, two float to the very top of the list: AI Ethics and Climate Sustainability.

AI Ethics: responsible use of artificial intelligence technologies. AI Ethics education is slowly becoming more widely available across sectors for people of all ages. Understanding the importance and knowing how this affects us is not just for engineers. Available AI Ethics courses and programs  are increasing for adults and educational materials are even being created for young children, with universities like MIT developing programs for kids k-12.

For anyone who says , “I don’t need to deal with AI Ethics…I don’t use artificial intelligence.” they might want to think about how many times a day they use a GPS or SIRI, or their organization tracks the trends of their clients, or each time we click “accept” on a website’s privacy terms.

For those who say “Our IT people handle all our technology,” that’s not enough anymore. Although it is beginning to change, I was surprised to discover that most engineers didn’t get AI Ethics education as part of their training. Also, consider that many new technology and software developers are self-taught. When unintended consequences occur as a result of the design, development, or use of technology, it will be the leaders, managers, and users who will feel the consequences and/or be held responsible.

Climate Sustainability: a societal goal that focuses on the effects of climate change on humans ability to safely co-exist and thrive on planet Earth. This includes sustainability goals (e.g. UN SDGs, ESGs, B-Corps) and Regenerative Design.

For those who think, “My life or my industry is not affected by climate change,” consider the materials we need in every single area of our lives that are sourced or produced in an area of the world that is not functioning because of astronomical temperatures, fires, increased flooding, or contaminated water supplies. Not understanding the effects of our human behaviors’ puts us at a serious disadvantage, increasing our reactivity— and making it much harder to adapt in the most beneficial ways.

For those organizations and businesses that say “We’re doing ESG reporting, so we’re doing our part,” that doesn’t apply to the scope of factors that determine global well-being. Understanding the differences in the frameworks is vital. The SDGs are global goals set out by the United Nations to support the well-being of humans, living beings and the planetary environment, whereas ESG is a rating system used by companies to measure their environmental and social credentials. Being conscious of the differences impacts how effectively they are used.

There are several other types of education that will support flourishing in the future that are not new, but have been vastly ignored—even though many industry gurus have discussed them for years. These include skills and abilities that differentiate humans from machines. These will increase in demand as the world becomes increasingly dependent on technology (Multiple Intelligences: social, emotional, creative, etc). And, although identical machines can be produced, each human is unique, with potential to discover unique solutions.

These skills and abilities also apply to effective leadership. Adaptive Leadership, a model and practical approach, for leaders solving issues and navigating in constantly changing situations and landscapes. The foundational pillars of the model needed for effective Adaptive Leadership are:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Organizational Justice
  • Development (i.e. continuous learning)
  • Character (i.e. applying a wide range of character strengths)

Created by Harvard professors, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, the model speaks to motivation and effectiveness, breaking down challenges into two problem-solving categories (technical and adaptive), acknowledging that ability to adapt is at the core of any thriving organization.

“The improvisational ability to lead adaptively relies on responding to the present

situation rather than importing the past into the present and laying it on the current situation like an imperfect template.” ~ Ronald A. Heifetz

When we actively and consciously continue to learn, it can be quite exciting. When we commit to learning something new, the challenge can result in an incredible reward. This is what renowned psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, described as the state of Flow. The experience of Flow supports one of the ultimate human desires, to have a sense of engagement and meaning, something we see lacking in so many sectors of life.

“Being in Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The great news? Education can take place everywhere and at every stage in life!

No need to wait. What will you learn today?

By Marisa Zalabak
Educational Psychologist and Leadership Coach