Tom Friedman has a way of capturing the essence of complex economic, social, and environmental dynamics and putting that complexity in words that the rest of us can understand. He coined the phrase “the world is flat” to describe the globalization of everything. Now he has announced “the world is fast” to describe the three major challenges that we face. He writes, “The three biggest forces on the planet — the market, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law — are all surging, really fast, at the same time.”

These changes are having an enormous impact on what and how people need to learn. In a book by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson titled, “The Second Machine Age,” the authors describe the situation this way:

…as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers. Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people, as it  Second machine age cover
races ahead. As we’ll demonstrate, there’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only “ordinary” skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.

Using this logic, we are not able to predict what skills and abilities workers will need even just a few months from now. It seems like every day there is a disruptive innovation that is dramatically changing the way work is done and what people need to know. Guests can now check themselves into their hotel rooms with their smart phones. Doctors can make “house calls” via the Web. First-run movies can be streamed at home. Clothes shopping can be done entirely online. Banking can be done entirerly online. In each case, old jobs are being replaced by new jobs and those new jobs require much more knowledge and skill.

Instead of trying to anticipate the training that will be needed in companies, we need workers who can continually learn and organizations that support continual learning and change. We need workers who can utilize learning opportunities that are presented to them, whether formal or informal, self-directed or social, desktop or mobile, and we need organizational cultures that value and reward learning. And we need leaders and managers who help workers learn where and when it is needed and hold those workers accountable for learning and for making a difference in their organizations.

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