A good starting point for being ready for the future is to fully appreciate the present. The chances are that you have a lot on you mind right now. How important are those thoughts? How real are they? Do they represent reality or only your perception of it? Notice how busy your mind is − mental events occupying your thoughts, floating past like leaves in a stream, re-living past problems or worrying and pre-living potential future problems.

Clarity and calmness of mind is needed for planning our personal and collective strategies for the future amidst the new reality of the fourth industrial revolution. We need to be balanced, realistic and responsible in our thinking – not only open-minded, but also heartfelt and spiritually aware.

The technology that is and will become available is certainly powerful, exponentially so in comparison to what we were used to in the past. So powerful that we can be led to believe it has a life of its own, independent of us as humans with no implications for our conscience. Indeed, technology can enable us to flourish like never before. It also has the potential for self-destruction.

We are facing challenges at three levels:

  • Personal
  • Collective and organisational
  • Cultural and mind-set

Personal challenges

From a personal perspective, we are probably most concerned about our potential work roles − or the absence thereof − in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution. Do we have the necessary skills to keep our jobs? Or else, if our jobs are no longer wanted, can we confidently apply for and manage work roles in the fourth industrial revolution?

The need to upskill ourselves is obvious. However, the message of future readiness goes beyond our current and future skills. The way most of us were educated and conditioned is depicted in the cartoon of a typical education system … mass production, feeding us a selected body of knowledge, rules and formulae to fit into society at the cost of creativity, internalised discipline and personal influence. Work in general and participation in society followed an outside-in approach … from the expert or authority to the rest of us.

Our challenge and opportunity today is to find and acknowledge the seed of potential within ourselves, to align our being and what we do with our true selves, and achieve to live authentically. By working on our inner selves, we become less threatened, and in the process we also become more open to others and to change. Resistance to change, lack of openness and collaboration, and an inability to lead transformation, probably have a lot to do with the following recent survey results:

About 87% of respondents in a survey conducted by Deloitte Consulting believe their organisation does not have the right leaders in place to face disruption.

Adaptability is key for leadership. Not less so is being rooted in principles to guide actions and behaviour. Adaptability and a deep sense of ‘knowing what you know’ − showing moral character and integrity − will be the mark of excellent and dependable leaders in the workplace.

Collective and organisational challenges

Facing the disruption of fourth industrial revolution’s technologies, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that holding on to a silo mentality will be punished heavily. We need to connect, collaborate and co-innovate. We need to shift from a default position of self-promoting (pride) and self-defending (fear) to a default position of personal growth (humility) and growing of others (care).

Individually, we might be creative and innovative, but we need a diversity of views and contributions if we want our work organisations to become agile and relevant in the new working environment. Wherever we find ourselves, open, stimulating and creative conversations should be ongoing. This will enhance self-belief as much as it will foster teamwork.

Cultural and mind-set challenges

What do we value as society? If our powers are almost unstoppable with the most mind-blowing technologies at our fingertips, what is the kind of culture and lifestyle we want? What should the balance be between increased efficiencies and our personal freedom, between security and privacy, and between super artificial intelligence and happiness? These questions are no longer the domain for intellectuals or experts on their own, but for all of us.

To be active players and not only spectators as the new world of work unfolds, we have to consciously face the need to shift from being stuck in an analogue mind-set to being adept with a digital mind-set. Within an analogue mind-set, only hierarchy and experience matter. With a digital mind-set, on the other hand, ideas, speed and the moment matter. The analogue mind-set’s motto is ‘let’s study it’. The digital mind-set’s motto is ‘let’s try it’. The analogue mind-set works along incremental dreams, while the digital mind-set works according to exponential dreams. Working with a digital mind-set, we are transparent and we distribute influence. Working with an analogue mind-set, we have secrets, hold onto our personal skills and consolidate influence.

It is not about having either a digital or an analogue mind-set, but to know when and where which type of mind-set adds value. What we sometimes discover in the waves and in between the moments can be more important and meaningful than the digital information we rely on. From a leadership point of view, we need to be able to appreciate the digital mind-set, but create an environment for growth by demonstrating sensitivity, emotional and spiritual intelligence, connecting the dots and being intuitive.



Information pollution

One clear and obvious challenge to deal with in a VUCA world is the volume and speed of new information we are bombarded with. Even though the vast majority of messages reaching us on our phones, laptops and televisions are irrelevant to what we are about, we tend to still give it our time and attention. It is the double-edged sword of progress: we love to be knowledgeable and informed, but it comes at the price of being distracted and often-times irritated as we scan through volumes of messages, the one supposedly as critical to our well-being as the next. In truth, this is a serious matter: an overload of information, researchers tell us, negatively effects quality decision making and the overstimulation of our brains can lead to neurodegenerative disorders.

Losing integrity

What would be a healthy way of dealing with information pollution?We should keep in mind, as historian Daniel Boorstin says, ‘the fog of information can drive out knowledge.’ Our sense of integrity is tied to our sense of truth and meaning. The more random things we hear or read only in a sentence or two (or 140 characters), the less sure we become about the truth, meaning or value of it. The more we feel unsure about what to trust, the less integrated we feel. The less integrated we feel, the more everything appears to be equally important or unimportant. We need dedicated uninterrupted time to focus on and evaluate what we believe we know, and to welcome and internalise new learning – or else we lose our positive energy.

Maintaining positive energy

‘Positive energy’ comes from knowing what we are really doing when we are doing what we doing. In other words to be mindful of how our actions are connected to what we are about, from the inside-out, what we value and believe. And if disconnected, to be aware of it in order to adjust and re-integrate.

Will anyone deny it that the world would be a much more beautiful place if we can share in each other’s positive energy? Two people can have the same job description, and one is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle life energy in doing his or her job, while another is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle negative energy while doing the exact same job. Are we not responding much more to one another’s energy than to their exact words or actions? Our positive energy is always the outcome of inside-out work – reflecting on and questioning our intentions, aligining with our vision, beliefs and values.

Living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world can endanger what we have as positive energy, but it doesn’t have to be that way – as long as we remain committed to live a life of integrity.

How to know what matters

As we navigate our way through the stormy and murky waters of a VUCA world, it would be helpful to reflect regularly on the following questions:

  • Am I true to myself, what I believe and what I value, in what I am doing now?
  • Imagining myself at the end of my life, will I be satisfied with the way I applied myself to

–         a life of integrity?

–         my relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues?

–         my work?

–         unlocking my potential through continuous learning?