(An open letter to the students in my inaugural “inNOVAtion Lab” classes, 2019–2020. Great thanks to Christian Talbot of http://www.basecampschool.com for his inspiration.)
Dear NOVA Lab Pioneers:
When I first introduced this class to your counselors, I provided them with a “one pager,” a document that sought (in two pages) to offer an overview of why this class was something every student ought to take at least once in their high school career. (Here are the first few paragraphs of that letter.”)
What strikes me now, and the reason I write with such a cryptic title, is that our current situation, this enforced break to flatten the curve of the Corona Virus pandemic, offers us a unique opportunity to assess our place in this class and how to take this time to find opportunities to help in whatever way we can.
NOVA Lab and the VUCA World
One of the first lessons I taught in September of 2019 was about an acronym adopted from strategic leadership scholarship that was then taken up by the US Army War College. That acronym, VUCA, described the world facing us post-Cold War, a world full of “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.” Given the description of our class in the one-pager, and given the work we’ve done to understand “Why are things the way they are?” and “How can we make them better?”, it’s now eminently clear that a mindset born through the spirit of Social Entrepreneurship and driven by design thinking’s comfort with ambiguity is exactly the kind of mindset that we need in a time like this. And that mindset isn’t nurtured in one college major or one “pathway” of study. Instead, it will take a “Range” mindset–as in the book I keep talking about.
A great example here is my friend Tim Klein who works for Wayfinder:
“Like a stereotypical millennial, I don’t have one job, I have three: I work at Project Wayfinder, teach at Boston College and am a writer*. No specific major in college or program could have adequately prepared me for each and everything I do. So how do we support the next generation of people like me? How do we prepare young people for an uncertain future?
- Leadership, creative problem-solving and communication are the skills that employers value most. Linkedin just released its latest workplace learning report that surveyed over 6,000 professionals about the future of work. Overwhelmingly, business leaders valued “soft skills” in potential employees over hard-skills. In fact, engineering and coding skills were rated “least important” for recruiters.
- The most successful business people in the world agree on the importance of these skills. For their new book Innovation Capital, Jeff Dyer, Nathan Furr and Ralph Hamers interviewed many of the top 25 leaders in business, including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Marc Benioff, to understand the skills that make them so successful. Their research found common traits among these leaders; they were all creative problem-solvers, persuasive communicators, and powerful relationship builders.
- The takeaway: focus on transferable skills as opposed to domain-specific ones. The beauty of these 21st century “soft skills” is that they are not education-specific; we can develop them playing video games, participating on a club soccer team or by editing an Instagram post. Ask of yourself (or a young person), where are you most creative? Where are you solving a lot of problems? Where do you feel most successful? What are you doing that’s driving this success? The answers’ to these questions provide valuable opportunities to build the skills to thrive in the future world of work.
I hope you recognize that what I wrote and invisioned in the original “one pager” for NOVA Lab and what Tim and the articles he cites claim are the most important skills of the future are exactly the kind of skills and talents we will need to succeed in this VUCA world.
As a NOVA Lab pioneer (and I’ve tossed around terms for that: NOVAneer, NOVAte, NOVAtor, NOVA-tiate…none of the work) you are perfectly positioned to embody the mantra I have allowed to stay on our blackboard: Now is the time, Here is the place, We are the one.
So I’m writing this to introduce a task that you might find utterly interesting though utterly optional. I found it through Christian Talbot, the young man (younger than me) who organized the Social Entrepreneurship “Junto” at Penn that I attended a few Wednesdays ago. You’ll find the Assignment on this Google Doc.
But another opportunity you should access might be even more important, because it will help you build a stronger, more resilient and agile Entrepreneurial Mindset. And that is the two week free course and LinkedIn group (you’ll need to sign up for a LinkedIn acct.) presented and set up by Don Wettrick and his STARTedUP Foundation. For FREE, you’ll not find a better opportunity available to you. Plus you’ll be able to connect with mentors and other like-minded students from around the country.
In a time when social distancing could lead us to more loneliness and unhappiness, this opportunity will help you reconnect with a sense of purpose, take control of things when they seem out of control, and find more meaning in your work and life.