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Stephen Walker

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Training to think


Stephen Walker asks, what is the future of training when yesterday's skills are obsolete today?
"The only constant is change" said Diogenes Laërtius 2000 years ago. Things have changed since then. The news feeds are red hot with the story of political revolt in Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Egypt. The citizens of these countries are demanding the right to choose their own leaders. When you consider the demographics of those countries you realise the majority of the population is under 30 years old. Neither the Tunisian or Egyptian regimes have held elections in the recent past that have given this young majority a real opportunity to choose their leaders.
The Tunisian leader, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has been in power for 23 years. He took over from President Habib Bourguiba who was suffering ill health at the age of 84. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali is generally credited with developing the economy and having a pro-Western stance. Many would say he has done a fine job in steering Tunisia toward being a modern developing country offering safety and a good life to its citizens.
"It is no longer enough to have one skill and get better and better at applying it."
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak has announced his intention to stand down after nearly 30 years in power. He took over from President Anwar Sadat following his assassination in 1981. In the last 30 years Egypt has developed economically while being in the grip of emergency laws allowing wide ranging actions to suppress the political opposition.
Both men have done much to develop their respective countries during their decades in power. Are they unpopular today because they have lost their reforming, revolutionary zeal? There are people nearer to home who demonstrate a shorter cycle: The cycle of rise to power, success, failure and rejection.
These people are football managers. There is such a high churn rate amongst them that they have their own website - Why do the owners of football clubs employ so many managers who turn out to be poor performers? Football clubs experience upsets with their performance and managers are sought who have shown they can address that particular issue. This demonstrated ability usually fixes that issue but eventually a new problem finds the manager lacking the necessary skill. Even in the more mundane world of football managers the pace of change is alarming.
When I look at the online recruiters and their job adverts many of them describe jobs that simply didn't exist when I started work. It is no longer enough to have one skill and get better and better at applying it. That skill may become obsolete or more likely not relevant to today's problem. The young people coming into the workforce today can reasonably expect to work to 75 years old. I don't think we have a clue what skills they will need in 2065.
We all need a toolkit of skills today to maintain our employability in the 21st century. That toolkit will allow us to keep up our performance in the face of the changing situation and its new requirements. We can use the best tool, the right skill for the job. The assumption is that we have that skill and that we know how to choose which skill to use. Generally speaking it is easier to obtain a new skill than realise we need it.
We need training to analyse the situation, skills to unpick things and synthesise a solution. We need training to think.
Imagine an organisation that is staffed with people trained to think. When they meet a new situation wouldn't they automatically re-configure themselves to best match the external need? Wouldn't the person with the appropriate skill be moved in to work on it, regardless of grade or seniority? How do we, as trainers, train people to analyse situations, synthesise solutions and act?
"How do we, as trainers, train people to analyse situations, synthesise solutions and act?"
How do we train people in the 'what to' not the 'how to'? We talk about the next generation needing skills to allow them to find information and put together short lived coalitions to get something done. A mix, if you will, between cloud computing and social networking – cloud working perhaps. Nothing is fixed but shifts constantly to allow people to use their best skills on a fleeting variety of wealth creating opportunities.
This describes the lives of many small businesses today. They apply their specialist knowledge to many opportunities. So long as their specialist knowledge remains relevant. How do we choose the relevant solution, the best skill and the way forward? How do we design training courses that develop people's ability to think? Is thinking a skill that can be trained?
Of course there are 'thinking' tools that can be taught. Is that enough to allow a person to develop these skills?
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to think.
Stephen Walker has over 30 years of hands-on business and academic experience. He is the founder of Motivation Matters, a management consultancy focused on inspiring achievement in people. You can follow Stephen on Twitter and Facebook.


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