SkillingNow Podcast: Episode 2 - Transcript

​TRANSCRIPTION (translation from Spanish)

  • Priscila Chaves ( PC ): Welcome to the podcast on life-long learning. I am very happy to be hosting today’s episode, as part of the Global Apprenticeship Network’s SkillingNow Campaign. My name is Priscila Chaves and I am a social innovator. I worked in the corporate world for a long time, only to realise that I wanted to do something different in life. I had to learn to unlearn, which is one of the themes we will discuss today. I am very honoured to present today’s espisode. We will focus on the meaning of life-long learning. What do we need to acquire new skills? What will be the skills for the future? And speaking of the future, we will discuss what the future of work looks like. In this episode, I want to focus on three themes. The first theme relates to the possibilities offered by automation. How do businesses move towards scalable efficiency? Traditional, repetitive work with little added value is being taken over by systems and machines. This frees a lot of our time and gives us the opportunity to learn new skills and use these new skills to build future jobs. These new jobs consitute the second theme of this episode. What is the reskilling or retooling pathway towards these jobs? We also need to ask the question, what are the things that I could learn today, and quickly, so that I can invent something quickly for the future that is already here. Many employers, industries and organisations are already inventing new jobs. Five years ago, the post of Community Manager did not exist and today you have thousands of people in this very position. Nevertheless, it’s a role that is to disappear in the next three years, making it a job that lasted only eight years! The third theme of today’s episode relates to the type of skills needed to invent new jobs. When we speak about the future of work, we speak about the flexible economy. What will the economy look like in the future? How did I, someone who once upon a time worked her entire life for big organisations and large corporations, decided to become an entrepreneur? What are those skills, including learning, which I should start to strengthen and develop to be able to enter this new economy? Some call it the creative economy, others call it the collaborative or the gig economy. Liz Brenes, a woman I admire immensely, joins me today. Liz is a serial innovator. She leads the research, innovation and development observatory at Costa Rica’s Distance State University. She is an opinion leader and author of seven books about strategy, innovation and management. Her new book titled Diseña tu Vida (Design your Life), will be launched shortly. In it, she prepares us for what we will need to build a future in which we want to live. Welcome Liz.

  • Lizette Brenes ( LB ): Thank you, Priscila, it’s also an honour for me to be here. I admire you and it’s a real privilege to be with you, here, this afternoon.

  • PC: You can hear the excitement in our voices when we speak about the very topics that we are passionate about. To start, tell us, please, about your new book. What is it about and what can we expect to find in it?

  • LB: Diseña tu Vida (Design your Life) is about three great disruptions. We are living in an era in which humanity is crossing a bridge towards a new civilisation, made up of many civilisations.  These three great disruptions are: exponential growth of knowledge, the emergence of a new collective consciousness and the economy of experience. To cross this bridge and reach this new stage we need new skills. This is why it is so important to obtain these new skills, the co-skills.  

  • PC: I cannot wait to read it! I would like to start by talking about disruption. What does it mean, disruption? And what will we really start seeing, or are we already seeing on the news? Starting now, what will we see more frequently? 

  • LB: What we are mainly hearing, rather than seeing, when we speak about the world of work, is a big change in the way people behave. Our ‘operational system’, the way we act daily, is the first thing to change. Increasingly, we see the growing need to use digital devices. The latter were the first big change and they are already part of our every day. The second thing to change are our priorities. It is more important to be rather than to have, to be rather than to do; it is more important to live rather than possess. I call this small change the millenial attitude. Millenials are doing humanity a great favor with this new attitude, which is impacting all of us. The third change that affects all of us is our new relationship to space and time. Work space is no longer what it used to be. Today, our work space can be our mobile phone. Right now, we are here, later you will be in another place. We can also work from home or any place in the world. Our relation to time and space has changed. Regarding time, let me give you a ‘fact’: I believe that millenials will end the concept of the weekend. We might have thought that the ‘weekend’ has always existed; but it has only been around for 100 years and it will end with the millenials. The weekend will become a thing of the past when all our days become days we design, hence the title of my book, “Design your Life.”

  • PC: I love what you’re saying. In the beginning, this idea that the ‘weekend’ will come to an end made me a little anxious, but at the same time I take it to mean that I will be able to really design how I want to work, how I want to spend my free time. If we find ourselves in a future where we will have more free time, because many of our routine chores with little added value will be done by machines, then I will be able to dedicate myself to what makes me passionate; to that thing that awakens something within me and in that future I will be able to do what I want for the rest of my life. Or maybe, even that expression of ‘for the rest of my life’ is already obsolete. Let’s talk about that, how has the concept of the one and only job for life changed not only among millennials and centennials but also in other demographic groups?

  • LB: Basically, traditional work is the new dinosaur. It tends to disappear and not only because of automation but also because we no longer want routine-driven lives when we can have exponential lives that we can design. People are beginning to reinvent themselves at all ages. I have already told you about my mum. I am 54 years old and I told her: ‘mum, let’s go for a swim; I love swimming’ and she replied ‘But, what I really want is to box’. She’s 75. My mother in law, who lives in Australia, works 30% of her time. She’s 82. She also exercises and is a political activist. But let’s go to the other extreme; let’s look at small children and youth. You can see Greta [Thunberg] be a global activist; Lucy, my partner’s niece, who lives in Australia, looks up to Greta and is organizing a movement there too; and she is designing her life at 11 years old. I have given you examples of women at 11, 75 and 82 years old reinventing themselves.

  • PC: I believe that the key to being able to reinvent oneself is access to role models. Wherever I can see someone reinvent themselves, I can empower myself and decide to do the same with my own life. Systems also play an important role in this process; for example, companies that are now offering incentives to people to do just that. Recently, we heard that Amazon is offering their employees USD 10 000 to resign in order to start their own distribution centres, so that they can serve Amazon. Obviously, the company has a strategy here, but at the same time it incentivises its own workforce to reinvent itself, in the knowledge that massive automation of its own processes is coming. What could we do in Latin America to stop being scared of leaving our confort zone, so that we can say ‘OK, I spent a lot of time and effort on my degree, I worked in something for 20 years, but now is the moment to let it go and try something new”?

  • LB: The best way to do this is by going to different places and meeting different people, that is the best formula. I have seen it and you have seen it, whether in the Sillicon Valley, in China or also in Latin America, also in Costa Rica. Last week, we took part in a Western Union activity that encourages staff to lead social innovation projects. We saw the example of a young woman, María, who is leading the One Young World Costa Rica chapter, and is the organizer of the organisation’s Summit. She is sponsored by her employer, Western Union. This mechanism only works when the company realizes that by allowing empowerment and personal growth, both the company and the staff will grow. This is what we call ‘grow-grow’ in one of the co-skills, which is the co-creation skills. The practice of ‘grow-grow’ is fundamental, which means that companies that open co-working spaces and let people from the community enter, push those on the inside to imagine and start reinventing themselves.

  • PC: This breaks down our thinking as organisations and companies about our role in society. Because we think we will hire someone, that we will have a team of people work for us, for our clients, and that of course we will train them, which they will require to do their work well. In the last few decades, some companies focused on excellence. Their goal was to specialize workers in a process that they would have a nearly 0% margin of error. What this does is ensure that a company has extremely efficient processes, that they can produce something en masse and create very high quality. At the same time, the company’s staff are increasingly more tied to the given process or service, given that they have become so specialized in it, and psychologically this plays out against them as they think that this is the only thing they know how to do. How can companies have exponential leadership? How can companies apply this new collective work mentality so that their staff do not feel tied to their jobs, which already have an expiration date?

  • LB: Companies must invest more in spaces rather than traditional training courses or workshops. They need to open up spaces and organise events. Following on with the topic of life-long learning, these spaces and events will result in companies learning because companies do not teach, they learn and reinvent themselves too. It is not only the workers who learn throughout life, companies do too. The way in which a company learns and evolves is by creating mechanisms or strategies to manage the knowledge that comes from these spaces in order to scale it afterwards. We have seen this formula work and it is relevant for Latin America too.

  • PC: Let’s see if I understand well what you are saying. The model of my having an anual budget for training courses for my staff become obsolete. I should change strategy so that I can give my staff as many experiences as possible so that they can develop a range of skills in a circular manner so that they can see what is happening within the company and to incentivise them to look for new projects, new experiences and stimuli so that they become ever better skilled. In your book you mention three different types of skills: technical skills, or hard skills as they are known; essential skills, which some call soft skills; and now co-skills. Speaking of these three types of skills, we have seen that much focus had been placed on hard skills. More or less, the topic of soft skills has been in development; but co-skills, the concept you introduce here, fascinates me. Tell us a little more about how co-skills will become more critical in the future when we begin to interact with Artificial Intelligence..

  • LB: They are critical for a number of reasons. Firstly, because we now build and co-create with people whom we may never meet in person; with people who live on the side of the world. We also build and co-create with AI. I have had fascinating experiences with Siri: I laugh a lot, she tells me jokes, I talk to her, I make mistakes, she makes mistakes and it’s marvelous. To me the beauty in all this is the learning that both Siri and I experience. She learns from me and I learn from her. Looking into the future, co-skills will change a little, the topic of co-skills undergoes another small change, that is the collective. The focus is not on problems, it is a focus on ideal scenarios. If companies, organisations and people continue thinking about problem solving we will reach 10% of what is possible in this time. If we imagine ideal scenarios, we can arrive at destinations we had not even imagined. So co-skills are not only about co-creation with people we have never met and AI but also about the focus on ideal scenario planning. 

  • PC: I like this way of thinking; it leads me to think about the abundant future rather than in the scarcity of the present and the past. And while I like this duality a lot, I would like to return to what you said about the human-machine interaction. More and more, we see it in our every day lives. We interact with chat and we do not know whether we are interacting with a person or a machine. Sometimes I ask, is it a person or a robot? And then I get a cheeky, human response. Well, at least that’s what I think, the truth is, I don’t know. These past few years I have spent some time developing virtual assistants, basically chatbots or interactive platforms for services that have been automated.  The artificial intelligence that is used in these assistants processes language so that the chabot or the machine can interpret what we say without our having to use key words. The fascinating thing that we discovered is that people are a lot more comfortable acting vulnerable with a machine than with a person. The moment the person knows that she is interacting with a machine, she may do one of two things: she starts to insult the machine to see to what extent the machine will react or respond, or she begins to open up. I wanted to talk about how technology is so present in our every day lives that in the near future our integration with machines will be necessary to expand our abilities. It might happen like in science fiction; when I don’t have a certain skill or certain knowledge, I integrate myself into an artificial system to obtain this knowledge and use it. What do you think?

  • LB: First of all, I think that we need to make enormous ethical and philosophical effort in these times. There are people who say that a philosophy or science ethics degrees are not necessary. On the contrary, they have never been as necessary as today. But it is also everyone’s job to make the ethical and philosophical effort. Apart from this, I think all these changes are fascinating and like you I take part in all that appears. For example, I am participating in a Google poem experiment Project. What this means is that each participant adds a word and through the help of artifical intelligence, poems are created. Have you added your word? I don’t think that co-creation should only be human and here I integrate the meaning of nature in all its extremes. I believe that as human beings we will grow when we realise that we are not at the centre of the universe and that we are biocentric in our creation. The biocentric perspective means that Priscila and Liz are as important as the context, the trees and the rivers, that all that exists is important. Regarding the topic of robots, I am not worried that people will become robots, as many fear. I often believe that I am a robot. When they test to see if I am a robot, I always fail! I think that by focusing too much on limits will not take us anywhere. I believe that quantum physics and mechancs teach us to give a chance to that which could be possible.

  • PC: I am fascinated by what you just said. You mentioned that degrees in philosophy, sociology and anthropology connect us to the essence of what it means to be human, that this is becoming more and more relevant and that technical degrees will at some point cease to exist. I think this message has already reached the youth. But when we speak of older people, including those young at heart, but not so much in age, what kind of message should we be sending them? When a person has their degree, or not, and has spent the last two, three or four decades working in a given position at various companies, or at the same company, and is increasingly seeing the moment in which their work will become automated, when companies will start taking advantage of new types of scalable efficient solutions; what kind of message could we give these people who will say “ok, but I am not going back to university at my age, it does not make sense?” They don’t need to go back to university, do they?

  • LB: What you say is interesting. Let’s not think about age, let’s think that all people, regardless of age, need to reinvent themselves. And reinventing means learning throughout life. It means going to different places to learn different things; it does not necessarily imply going back to university for a new degree, but we have people in our laboratories, adults of all ages, working on prototypes. That is one way. To reinvent oneself means learning all life long. It means not being scared of pursuing new projects, of innovating and of designing. I believe that we will all end up learning, launching ideas, desiging and innovating. 

  • PC: In regards to this topic, which communities do you think are the most vulnerable at the moment? We often hear in the news about unemployment in Latin America and especially among the slightly older population group, the 40+. Should they feel vulnerable? Or is it those who ignore the warnings and who think this will never happen to them?

  • LB: I think that right now vulnerability begins when people are disconnected from opportunities. All those who do not have access to opportunities are vulnerable. While they have access to the internet, to an open university, to knowledge, they can achieve many things in their reinvention journey. They can learn, launch ideas, innovate and design. It is a question of having access, being connected and having space.

  • PC: Talking about access and the examples you give, I was fascinated by the innovation rooms and labs you showed us when we arrived here today, at the Distance State University [UNED]. Let’s talk a little bit about the type of access and types of spaces that could exist, as these are not exclusive to this university and exist in many countries. How could I, someone who needs new skills, get access to new technologies and new ideas, and be inspired in these spaces. How can I find them?

  • LB: Yes, that is very important. Let’s take FabLabs  - fabrication laboratories. There are hundreds of these around the world and I would encourage companies to set up a small FabLab, even a mini FabLab. At our university, the labs are open and diverse people come such as a small child who made us a project proposal or a singer who is developing a prototype of a device that could help correct a jaw problem. We receive soccer players, people of all walks of life and ages. Elena, a student, realised that to design her degree – because now students have to do that – she needed to study mechatronics at one university and biology at another. She comes to our university to work on her prototypes. This is becoming more and more common. The degrees of the future are like Lego blocks. As universities, we need to keep these open spaces to remain flexible.

  • PC: I love this topic because we can relate it to the companies of the future. Companies of the future will be distinctly different from what they are today. Companies of the future, or rather exponential companies, have to do many things at the same time. If they need specific talent, they do not spend months recruiting the ideal person, rather, they look to the gig economy to find the best candidate. They hire the worker on an hourly or temporary basis and, in this way, they can access the talent and knowledge they need quickly and efficiently. Such a hiring process is also cost efficient. Another characteristic of these companies is that they receive nourishment from the communities they serve and of which they are a part. These organisations might be the same as those seeking automation, looking for ways to shorten, flatten and render more efficient their processes. Hence, they are looking for scalable efficiency and should be looking for scalable learning. This means moving away from training so that the learning can serve all its workers and the community where they live. There are examples of multinational companies in which not only the workers are encouraged to acquire new skills but also people from the surrounding area are invited to benefit from continued learning.  In such cases, the person who has spent 20 years working for the company and the woman living two blocks down the street enjoy the same benefit. What this means is that the company can scale its impact, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it makes business sense.

  • LB: I agree completely with you. And in this new collective consciousness that is emerging, we realise that rather than there being the human inteligence, the artificial intelligence, the emotional intelligence and rather than there existing reality, augmented reality and virtual reality, there exists only one type of intelligence, that is collective intelligence. And when we have understood this, we will understand that social innovation is not optional. You mentioned that this is possible in multinational companies. I love the example of Airbnb’s Chip and Brian. Chip is a vintage millenial mentor, like me, and Brian is a true millenial and he is the CEO. In one discussion Chip advised Brian that it was important to invite an older adult couple who spent a year travelling using Airbnb to share their experience so that Airbnb could learn how the company could support this kind of experiences. In another example, following a hurricane, a woman wanted to donate space in her house, and Airbnb modified its system to allow people to donate space. When companies are alive and organic, and are part of our lives, we realise there is only one consciousness, one intelligence, one reality, one world, one universe, or multiverse.

  • PC: And we are moving in this direction. Since it is time for us to finish our conversation, I would like to ask you a few, quick questions, that is, the best advice you could give to people in difference situations. Quickly, what would you tell a college student about to choose what degree to pursue?

  • LB: That she should not stress. That she should choose what she likes the most, and that she should build her degree lego-style.

  • PC: Great! What advice would you dispense to universities?

  • LB: As universities, we have only one word, which we need to understand: flexibility. We need flexible space, flexible degrees. Everything must be flexible. And we must focus more on research, innovation and development than anything else.

  • PC: What would you advise an older person to do? A person who has just lost her job due to automation, who sees her chances of finding new work as limitied and who is thinking in this very moment: “What am I going to do for the rest of my life?”

  • LB: I would tell her that she is not alone, that she should look for learning opportunities of which there are many. That she should approach people who are learning, spaces, FabLabs, universities so that she can reinvent herself. There are many opportunities out there.

  • PC: And last but not least, what kind of advice would you offer or what kind of request would you make to both state and private companies? 

  • LB: That they should join us. These are global challenges. These are everyone’s challenges.

  • PC: Wonderful; I loved our exchange and how it gives our listeners the opportunity to keep educating themselves, keep evolving. Where can we acces your work; the book that is about to be launched?  

  • LB: Yes, www.lizettebrenes.com. You can find all the information on this site.

  • PC: Wonderful. You can also access a lot of information on the GAN Global website, including podcast on the topic of lifelong learning. You can also look for information on our 10xImpact website. We look forward to continuing this conversation. There is a lot to do, but there are also many opportunities. Thank you very much for listening to us today. Until next time.

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