Curious? You’d better be

©INSEAD

Life skills and a passion for learning are the key to the global knowledge economy. Thriving in this environment demands several qualities. 

The February 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics predicted that by now, we would all be eating food made from sawdust, cleaning the interiors of our totally waterproof homes with a garden hose, and controlling the weather. The writer got it wrong. But in general, if the future is difficult to see clearly, we often can discern its outlines. This is particularly true when we observe global market trends to gauge what skills will prove instrumental in the decades ahead. In the first editions of the OECD Observer back in 1962, experts predicted the need to skill up for an increasingly technological world. Such foresight allows educators, along with their partners in business, government and civil society, to work together to prepare future talent for careers that are successful and significant.

As we map the territory ahead, institutions, like individuals, will have to be flexible enough to respond quickly to market changes, adapting their policies, curricula and resources to current and emerging circumstances. This is not easy, since institutions are notoriously slow to change. What we learn, and why we learn it, reflect our core values as a society. It’s our responsibility to shape the world we want, even as we react to market changes. This view is implicit in Peter Drucker’s remark: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” We can acquire new skills relatively easily, but acquiring the right skills, and then putting them into practice, is more difficult. Skills gained without wisdom offer no guarantee of success—in fact, they may produce the opposite effect. Yes, wisdom is a notoriously opaque term. What I mean by it is the practice of cultivating self-knowledge, humility and a long-term perspective rooted in enduring ethical values. The goal of this mindfulness– which is itself a skill–is action that “puts people first” and results in a society that is more harmonious and more prosperous. The market is our greatest engine for achieving this outcome on a large scale, which is why the skills we choose to develop for this matter so much.

If we conceive of skills as a pyramid, as my INSEAD colleagues Bruno Lanvin and Nils Fonstad have done in their research, we see that its foundation is literacy and basic abilities, such as maths, science and IT literacy. Above that come job-specific occupational skills. Then, at the top of the pyramid we find global knowledge economy skills, such as those needed to manage virtual and multicultural teams. All are important and linked, although here my focus is on the pyramid’s apex.

We are witnessing a move away from traditional capitalism toward greater “entrepreneurialism” in many parts of the world. Globalisation and technological advances have played a big part in this shift, and these forces will keep operating at breakneck speed, challenging us to learn and re-learn if we are to remain valuable contributors. Given the complexity of the global marketplace—especially the knowledge economy and its IT tools— human capital development will drive this century’s progress as steam power propelled the Industrial Revolution. To thrive in this environment, several qualities are required.

First, there’s a need for interdisciplinary acumen. The ability to synthesise and integrate disparate information, working alongside colleagues from different academic backgrounds, will be key. It will be necessary to complement our own expertise with a working familiarity of related or adjacent disciplines. Consider the Internet, which began as an engineering feat, but became what it is now through the contributions of many people, from linguists to neuroscientists. In fact, digital technology is a good example of why it is important for our knowledge to span disciplines: besides managing people well, leaders must manage technology effectively, since these tools will remain at the heart of organisational design, communication, human capital and decision-making.

Cultural diversity is another factor. A global market demands people who can blend and mix, chameleon-like, across many cultures and borders. For the best results managers must understand the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, while harnessing diverse insights from their teams. Schools, particularly business schools can increase their value by promoting diversity skills. At INSEAD, global perspective and cultural diversity have formed the core of our research and teaching for more than 50 years has led us to branch out to develop fully-fledged campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, in addition to the original campus in Fontainebleau near Paris. These values have underpinned our fully-fledged campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, as well as Fontainebleau/Paris, and have supported our goal of bringing together diverse people and ideas to transform organisations.

Then there is relentless curiosity. In a world continuously reinventing itself, only the curious will thrive. People with a passion for lifelong learning will adapt to new circumstances and drive groundbreaking value creation. In his research on innovation and entrepreneurship, INSEAD Professor Hal Gregersen has identified five core skills needed for what he calls “disruptive” discovery: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking. He found that the most inventive people connect different ideas and knowledge domains, engage with others to get new insights, and keep asking questions that sharpen and test their own ideas. The challenge for institutions is to create an appetite for this perpetual curiosity, and the resources to support it. INSEAD does this in many ways, including by engaging with the private and public sectors. These relationships bring leaders onto our campuses and into our programmes, and provide insights to keep our courses timely and relevant. This practice, in turn, allows us to impart global leadership skills and produce graduates that can make significant contributions.

Finally, humility and respect—for others, society and the planet. For those seeking to create a positive impact an authentic ethical intelligence will be as integral as analytical and emotional intelligence.

Taken together, all these qualities create a holistic mindset that melds analysis and wisdom. Skills are a prerequisite for good jobs that sustain the economy. Yet this discussion cannot ignore other factors. Demographic shifts, especially in Europe and Japan, are resulting in labour challenges as fewer younger workers are replacing those retiring from the workforce. Those pensioners are living longer—a credit to medical and social innovation—but this presents an economic challenge that needs careful policy responses. Some proposals, such as raising the retirement age, have angered people who consider them unfair. This situation highlights the need for a concerted institutional effort to support lifelong learning, even as individuals understand their own responsibility in pursuing skills to fuel longer careers. The OECD, like INSEAD, is leading the enquiry into these issues. By addressing them and doing our best to anticipate the broad lines of the future, we can minimise the “skills gap”, increase human potential, and strengthen our economic and social foundations.

See: 

Kaempffert, W. (1950), “In the Next Fifty Years”, Popular Mechanics, Hearst Magazines, Harlan, Iowa.

Fonstad, N.O, and B. Lanvin (2010), “Economic Tigers: Sustaining the Roar”, INSEAD eLab Skills Report.

Gregersen, H., J. Dyer and C. M. Christensen (2011), The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, Harvard Business Review Press, Harvard.

www.insead.edu

See also: 

www.oecd.org/education/SkillsStrategy

www.oecdobserver.org/education

©OECD Observer No 290-291, Q1-Q2 2012




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Unemployment
Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016