We’ve all been warned that the “Digital Age” is upon us—automation, robots, drones, big data and a host of other disruptive technologies. And, that it’s moving faster and becoming more integrated within our lives than ever before. So, do you have the professional skills to be successful in this emerging new Digital Age?

Why do we go to school? To learn the 3 R’s—Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic (for you readers who are my age) or for today’s generation, to learn STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?

James Manyika shares the following in a recent McKinsey article entitled “The Digital Future of Work: What Skills Will Be Needed:”

“I think of my own son, who’s 16. On the one hand, I think he should study science and he should understand systems. But would I tell him to focus just on coding? I don’t think I would because machines are going to be very good at coding. Would I ask him to focus just on statistics?  No, because I think machines can calculate statistics and analytical things incredibly well. But it’s important to understand how statistics work. Not that that’s what he’s going to be doing, but because he needs to understand that, and have a more system level view of those things, and be able to think in a computer science like way.”

I suggest that while standard coursework is all important, it is NOT the reason we go to school, or why we send our children to school. We go to school to “learn how to learn.” It is critical—now more than ever in history—that we dedicate meaningful time to personal continuous learning, otherwise we quickly fall behind and are less relevant, and frankly less needed, by our businesses.

So, what skills must we be continuously improving?  Here’s my personal top three:

  • Creative thinking skills—being able to define the real problem—not its symptoms—and determine what’s required to develop a solution.
  • Connecting skills—”seeing the forest and not just the trees,” understanding context, the environment, potential unintended consequences, and whole system optimization.
  • Communication skills—ability to make the complex simple, to talk at the level of the audience, to listen for understanding, to ask the right questions, to influence and not order.

STEM learning is just a path to “learning how to learn,” which is the skill we’ll need our entire lives.