Re-imagining youth learning must begin with an understanding of the world our children and youth are stepping into. This first requires a major reality check. That’s because most of us see a very different world than the one awaiting our young people. We see the world we entered, which is not the one they will inherit. In fact, the two worlds are in many ways polar opposites, each requiring a very different skill set and outlook. I am confident that as we understand the distinction, individuals and society as a whole will make the accommodations necessary to prepare our children accordingly.
In articulating the differences, I focus on one key element: change. I am not referring to change made possible by technology or innovations in science. I’m not even speaking about the speed of change, which sounds increasingly cliché. Rather, I highlight the nature of change. Specifically, shifts in human organization are changing the complexion and complexity of the world our children must learn to command. While these shifts are subtle, they are also very dramatic.
For many generations, society had a uniquely compartmentalized approach to tackling problems and pursuing opportunities—as it relates to the modern workplace, this might be better described as “departmentalized.” It’s been a siloed world defined by hierarchy, repetition, and efficiency. But the speed and difficulty of the challenges coming at our “one-leader-at-a-time” system has overwhelmed our institutions. Thus, the walls are quickly coming down to reveal a way of organizing that is flat, fluid, and hybrid in characteristic. Behind this change, more and more of us have the opportunity to interact and play fully in this new game.
It is a pattern that mirrors what I have seen in workplaces that have similarly transitioned out of silos and into fluid systems. Based on my management experience, when the protective walls inside an organization fall, people in the middle and lower rungs are freed to lead. Interestingly, in an “everyone leads” environment, fluid teams are formed across old boundaries to solve complex problems and seize the fleeting opportunities that are presented in an environment of rapid change. Furthermore, as each challenge or set of issues evolves in scope, so do the teams around them. Thus, the value-add in this “teams-of-teams” ecosystem is the new team that is added in any moment to meet the ever-changing nature of problems and opportunities.
Given this new reality, there are implications for the learning needs of today’s youth. First, the skills needed to navigate a world based on transaction are very different from those needed in a world where the premium is on interaction. In a world that will increasingly rely on collaboration for success and contribution, we must actively help every child to master empathy.
Second, we need a re-wiring of our collective thinking about leadership in this new era in which everyone leads. Leadership in this context isn’t linear; it’s omnidirectional, requiring “other-awareness.” With that in mind, youth learning must be adapted so that teens are practicing empathy, teamwork, new leadership, and changemaking.
Finally, in an everyone-plays world, the speed of change will increase exponentially in relation to our one-leader-at-a-time past. Young people must therefore have the capacity to command change. The ability to tear down walls and bring teams together will be the requisite skill of the future. To this end, the qualities of the Changemaker—having an innovative mind, a service heart, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a collaborative outlook—will be the new premium.