Essential skills for the new digital era
Originally published on 22nd October 2021. Updated with relevant information on GPT and the impact of generative AI on creative work.
The world has changed drastically in the past couple of years and this pace of change only continues to accelerate, with the past six months bringing even more unprecedented disruption thanks to the release of OpenAI’s GPT. It’s fair to say that we’re now firmly in the 21st century and, naturally, this requires a completely different set of skills to be successful than in the previous century.
In such a world, soft skills centered around acquiring new hard skills are often more important than said hard skills, especially as artificial intelligence is able to provide these hard skills with more and more relevancy.
Businesses will still be looking for top industry talent, of course, but these soft skills will be precisely that which defines top talent, playing a significant competitive advantage and helping workers remain indispensable in an increasingly automated world with more and more of the content being generated, and more and more tasks accomplished with the help of AI.
In this article, we’ll break down some of the key areas of skills to have in this new highly digitalized era. Most of these will not only be essential assets for business success, but also for personal growth and happiness.
The number one skill to have for effective navigation in the digital world is no doubt digital literacy – that is, familiarity with digital terms, concepts and the most typical digital flows or experiences, as well as the ability to work with AI-generated content and distinguish it from original content produced by a human.
Younger generations who have grown up alongside digitalization are already well familiarized with basic digital skills, and the Covid-fueled rise in digitalization has contributed to more digital literacy among the older generations as well.
Still, for professionals working on digital products/projects, a little more than the basics is necessary for success. They will need to learn the basic terminology of the different aspects of a digital project for efficient collaboration with the different teams responsible for its development.
One of the absolutely essential skills in this new digital landscape is familiarity with cyber-security risks and the respective preventive measures. Employees in particular will need to become security-savvy in order to recognize and not fall victim to the growing number and ingenuity of cyber-security threats, thus shielding their companies from potentially devastating consequences.
The next skill is essential for the constantly changing nature of the digital landscape and a world plagued by constant disruptions. The ability to embrace change and adapt to it has become one of the crucial skills not only for professional but also for personal settings, as we’re most evidently witnessing now with generative AI and the mixed responses to it.
Embracing change comprises two different factors. On the one hand, flexibility is key for responding to changes quickly, while on the other, drastic changes can be much more easily managed via more proactive, long-term thinking.
Many businesses today are embracing agility and enhancing their digital strategies with various combinations of agile methodologies. Our prediction is that agile will become the modus operandi for businesses going forward and will help them stay successful during future uncertainties.
Future-ready, disruption-proof approaches will also become essential for the more long-term strategies of tackling disruption. Companies will need to invest in training to help their employees adopt this simultaneously agile and more proactive mindset which is so crucial for true digital transformation.
A large part of this mindset shift is focused on attaining a growth-oriented mindset. This means having a more open, solution-oriented approach characterized by seeking opportunities rather than shying away from personal growth and development.
A key step in the transition is viewing weaknesses, or shortcomings, as opportunities for improvement rather than failures. Such a mindset is also crucial to remaining competitive in a constantly changing business landscape – as opposed to the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude which is not the best fit for such an environment.
What’s more, since opportunities are plentiful in the digital world, digital literacy comes into play again as an important orientational element which can help in deciding which business ideas or learning opportunities to pursue.
Finally, having a growth mindset will not only benefit you as an individual, but will actually have a positive impact on your team and your collaboration as well. Which brings us to our next point…
Because digital initiatives are often complex and require input and skills from professionals in different fields, effective collaboration is of critical importance for seeing projects through in the digital era.
Again, digital literacy is needed for effective remote collaboration, but here we want to focus more on people skills; namely, empathy and good communication. The former is even more important for leaders, while the latter is basically essential for any kind of team setting or partnership.
Not only can empathy help with efficiently collaborating on on-going projects by giving team members greater insight into the positions of others, it’s also an essential trait for managing in a world full of (unpleasant) uncertainties where there is at the same time more and more emphasis put on employee experience and well-being.
Empathy forms the foundation for psychological safety, another essential factor of good collaboration. An empathetic leader should establish psychological safety within a team and thus facilitate a more open and productive exchange of ideas.
Yet no collaboration is possible without communication, of course. Great communication will become even more vital for ensuring the success of digital projects and initiatives, which often tend to involve a lot of moving parts.
In addition, due to greater globalization, foreign language skills have become a must. English proficiency is now an invaluable asset for collaborating on diverse teams, while certain businesses or industries may also want to look at languages of markets on the rise and/or those specifically relevant to them.
If you’re concerned about automation leading to mass job redundancies, then creativity is definitely one of the key traits to cultivate, even with the impact of generative AI on creative roles. However, in the age of ChatGPT and other LLM, this will likely mean a new approach to creativity with new skills such as prompt engineering.
Innovation has become a buzzword across all industries and those responsible for driving it will need an open and creative outlook to effectively cut through the competition, and the competition will almost certainly be using AI – meaning that those that won’t are likely to quickly get outcompeted.
Creativity is also closely tied to many of the skills we’ve discussed so far, in particular agility/adaptability and having a growth-oriented mindset. They complement and feed off each other, and together they form the basis for the 21st century mindset as innately human skills.
One of the major limitations of (at least the current) automated approaches is their inherent incapability of out-of-the-box ideating. ChatGPT and similar technologies are incredibly proficient at producing content that looks original, but is in fact just a reproduction of content obtained from their vast data sets, which often results in inaccuracies and/or outdated information, not even mentioning the issue of plagiarism.
Therefore, out-of-the-box creative thinking will be essential for efficiently collaborating with machines and getting the most out of the vast amount of data and content that they’re able to provide. A great example of this is the aforementioned evolution in prompt engineering which is itself becoming somewhat of a science.
With all this said, it’s important to remember that analytical thinking won’t altogether stop being a sought after skill. In fact, those able to think both creatively and analytically have a unique advantage – they’re able to look at problems from two opposite perspectives, and this unique approach to solutioning is key in a data-driven reality.
With so many various capabilities of AI technology and so many of the ubiquitous digital experiences being created with the aid of AI, we are on the cusp of another major disruption to the way we work and perceive the world – and this one is likely to be more groundbreaking than any we’ve seen so far.
While specific hard skills will continue to be important and new ones will continue emerging to cater to these new ways of life, the skills discussed in this article will all be key for no matter which industry, no matter which position and no matter the seniority of the role.
Industrial and societal revolutions have always brought with them changes to some of the most fundamental aspects of life. So, just like the invention of the printing press spurred literacy, the digitalization of society has spurred digital literacy and all the accompanying skills necessary to navigate in such a world, while the full impact of AI is yet to be seen.
We hope this article has armed you with the right insight to know what to focus on in this brave new world, and you’ll be able to take a more proactive approach to developing and cultivating these skills. Don’t forget – just like with any new skill, commitment is the best way to mastery, and taking steps now lays the foundation for the future.