Where to point the arrow?

Business | Mon 13 Jun | Author – Business & Finance

Given our inability to confidently predict the future, taking an entrepreneurial approach to your career will safeguard your future prospects, writes Jessica Hayden.

The ability to predict the skills that will be needed in the next 5-10 years has become less and less effective. It is difficult these days to even understand, with any degree of accuracy, which companies will become dominant or indeed which products or services will be popular.

There are opportunists everywhere, waiting to disrupt the next big market that is crying out for new and innovative approaches. Even the entire discipline of skill prediction and workforce planning may become obsolete when we take into account some predictions that are being made about the advance of computational power and artificial intelligence.

In March this year, a computer programme named AlphaGo, beat a professional in the ancient game of Go four to one, something which experts in the area thought was at least 10 years away in 2014.

That experts in their field underestimated the pace of advancement of programmes solving one of the computational problems thought to be impossible to be solved by machines until very recently, raises a rather interesting question; if we cannot predict what the machines we build are capable of, how then can we predict what will be needed in our workforces?

And what of our career plans? In what direction should we point our arrows? How should we sharpen our tools? And what then, of our aspirations?


The Expert Group on Future Skills Need (EGFSN) has identified three skills areas that will become more and more relevant in the next five years; sector-specific skills, for example, risk and compliance; cross-sectoral skills such as ICT skills and foreign languages; and transversal skills such as team-working, entrepreneurship and creative thinking. The addition of the third set of transversal skills is interesting because it belies a lack of certainty about exactly what will be needed, and suggests that it is better to find people who can figure out what to do when things go off script.

Ray Kurzweil, author, futurist, inventor and the person heading up Google’s efforts to re-create the human brain (amongst other things), predicted back in 1999 that by 2019 there would be a device available for $4,000 which would be equal to the human brain in terms of computational ability. Perhaps this prediction is more on the optimistic side of development, however the point he is making is: “Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion,” he explained. 

Those who cannot change their mind cannot change anything

So how are we going to stay relevant in this kind of world, with the ground endlessly shifting beneath our feet, and what value can we bring to the ever-changing labour market?

At the Innovation Academy, we often look to the scrappy and often confusing world of entrepreneurship for answers. And when it comes to the world of career management, there are quite a few more answers there than one might expect.


Understanding value propositions for businesses and keeping them relevant over time is something that entrepreneurs do extremely well. So taking an entrepreneurial mindset to one’s career allows you to understand what you have to offer and who might be interested in it. The notion of career itself is one that I believe will change. Adaptation to our new worlds, new cultures, subcultures, tropes, memes and availability of information, and the potential for auto-didaction, will call for flexible skills, an ability to shift focus quickly and we will easily be saying goodbye to outdated processes, technology and ways of working; facsimile anyone?

The World Economic Forum’s report on ‘The Future of Jobs and Skills’  says of skills stability that: “Business model change often translates to skill set disruption almost simultaneously and with only a minimal time lag.” So its important to figure out what value you bring to an equation, and if you can, have one of those wild-card transversal skills in your back pocket, so that when everything else changes for your employer, at least you still have something you can offer.


Entrepreneurs see opportunity everywhere. You can see their eyes bulge and their questions coming thick and fast when something has really caught their attention.

Forget the jobs section of a newspaper or trawling through job postings on LinkedIn, opportunity in its broadest sense can mean many things. Is there a chance to gain exposure to a new environment? Is it possible to network with people in a new field of interest? Can you develop your skills and gain experience? Do you have the opportunity to meet people with whom you may start your own business with?

One thing that lots of change will bring is lots of opportunity, albeit wearing slightly different guises. Develop your sense of the entire value of what an experience might offer in terms of your career. A good way to do this is to ask these kinds of questions when you sense there might be something interesting afoot. Can I see myself telling people about this experience? Will I be able to add or reframe my skillset in light of this? What specific things should I be able do after this that I can’t do now? Will I be stretched by this? Will it push me outside my comfort zone?


George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their mind cannot change anything.” Again, like any good entrepreneur, listening to what your customers need, listening to their problems and finding a unique way to solve them is the key to success. The same goes for your career. Stating what you really want to do for a living can be a great first step, but being open to changing and tweaking this as labour market needs change and as new products and technologies emerge, is what will keep you ahead of the curve.

Its important to stay hungry for knowledge, learning and feedback. With this kind of mindset, you won’t mind so much when you have been brave enough to go for a particularly wild career aspiration and it doesn’t work out, or the field you are interested in becomes obsolete. In the words of Carl Sagan: “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge.”


By maintaining a growth mindset you are more likely to translate your potential into performance and even improve on your original form. Performance gurus at Lane4 discuss this in relation to athletes who have continued to improve because of their attitudes towards setbacks, rather than in spite of them. So instead of thinking that your idea has failed, think of it as not yet ready.

Jessica Hayden

Jessica Hayden

As a HR professional of many years, I have interviewed my fair share of people and one of the most convincing things a candidate can say to me to show me that they are adaptable and valuable to my business, is that they can learn from mistakes.

By maintaining a growth mindset you are more likely to translate your potential into performance

If someone tells me they don’t make mistakes, I will assume they have just not had enough experience or that they are lying. If a candidate talks about continually making the same kinds of mistake, I will worry that this candidate doesn’t have the self-awareness to take a step back and look at what was going wrong or perhaps they won’t have the ability to recognise patterns of behaviour that lead to poor outcomes.

However, if a candidate can speak candidly about something they tried and failed at, what they learned from it and what they’d do differently next time, I immediately have confidence that this person, if under pressure, will be able to keep calm, take control and find some sort of solution to help my business in its time of need. This transversal skill is an ability to cope with ambiguity, and if I were to recommend you develop one skill over the next five years, it would be this one.

At the Innovation Academy, we give students lots of opportunity to experience ambiguity in a safe way, whilst applying new tools and techniques to solve problems creatively. You should try it, it’s fun and it might just keep you relevant in the labour market of the future. 

Those who cannot change their mind cannot change anything

By maintaining a growth mindset you are more likely to translate your potential into performance