What are the Most Beneficial Lifelong Skills ?

Five years from now, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will become less relevant.

By 2020, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics.

A few skills will vanish, others will develop and employments that don’t exist today will end up typical.

The World Economic Forum reports that you need the ten skills listed bellow to flourish in 2020 :

top ten skills for 2020
top ten skills for 2020

Complex Problem Solving

Building upon solid critical think practices, one is able to look at a problem from different vantage points, develop alternative solutions, and select the best solution given their understanding of the problem, the environment influencing the problem, and those impacted by its solution.

Mind Tools presents an Introduction to Problem Solving Skills and the Basic Steps involved in problem solving.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following :

  • understand the logical connections between ideas
  • identify, construct and evaluate arguments
  • detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • solve problems systematically
  • identify the relevance and importance of ideas
  • reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values


Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing.

If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.

Larry Page

As Sam Palmisano said when he was CEO of IBM (2004), “Either you innovate or you’re in commodity hell. If you do what everybody else does, you have a low-margin business. That’s not where we want to be.”  In 2012 IBM started reinventing itself to become a design company, investing $100 million USD to hire designers, and educate 100,000 employees to become design thinkers (1).

IBM helped expand design thinking at the organization over three years to penetrate one quarter of the entire portfolio, enabling $18.6M in increased profits (2).

People Management

People management, also known as human resource management (HRM), encompasses the tasks of recruitment, management, and providing ongoing support and direction for the employees of an organization. These tasks can include the following: compensation, hiring, performance management, organization development, safety, wellness, benefits, employee motivation, communication, administration, and training. 

Coordinating with others

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

African proverb

Fundamental to good teamwork and therefore the success of your team is the ability to coordinate successfully with one another.

An effective leader needs excellent communication and coordination skills when working with colleagues. He needs to be able to both communicate well, which will make his directives clear and also keep morale high, and be organized so that he can coordinate efforts smoothly. These skills are also important in addressing problems that may arise in order to ensure that necessary tasks are completed in an efficient manner.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is generally said to include at least three skills: emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.

Judgement and Decision Making

Every day you have the opportunity to make countless decisions: should you eat dessert, cheat on a test, or attend a sports event with your friends. If you reflect on your own history of choices you will realize that they vary in quality; some are rational and some are not.

Service Orientation

Service-orientation has had many influences, but its roots lie in a software engineering theory known as the “separation of concerns.” This theory is based on the notion that it is beneficial to break down a large problem into a series of smaller, individual problems or concerns. This allows the logic required to solve the larger problem to also be decomposed into a collection of smaller, related pieces. Each piece of logic addresses a specific concern.


Negotiation is a method by which people settle differences. It is a process by which compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding argument and dispute.

In any disagreement, individuals understandably aim to achieve the best possible outcome for their position (or perhaps an organisation they represent). However, the principles of fairness, seeking mutual benefit and maintaining a relationship are the keys to a successful outcome.

Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility is the human ability to adapt the cognitive processing strategies to face new and unexpected conditions in the environment. This definition involves three important concept characteristics.

Firstly, Cognitive Flexibility is an ability which could imply a process of learning, that is, it could be acquired with experience.

Secondly, Cognitive Flexibility involves the adaptation of cognitive processing strategies. A strategy, in the context of this definition, is a sequence of operations which search through a problem space. Cognitive flexibility, therefore, refers to changes in complex behaviors, and not in discrete responses.

Finally, the adaptation will occur to new and unexpected environmental changes after a person has been performing a task for some time.


The nature of the change will depend very much on the industry itself. Global media and entertainment, for example, has already seen a great deal of change in the past five years.

Change won’t wait for us: business leaders, educators and governments all need to be proactive in up-skilling and retraining people so everyone can benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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