Each year, at graduation time we ask ourselves, “How well have we prepared our students for the future?” Given the unprecedented rate of change in the world, this is a question with no easy answer. My graduation address to the class of 2015, at the stunning Palac Zofin in Prague, was an attempt to perhaps point them in the right direction:
Every parent wants their child to be happy and successful, or as we say at ISP to “lead healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives.” Each year when graduation time comes around, we consider how well we’ve been able to prepare our children and our students for the future. These days we may also wonder, “What does it take to live a successful life in the twenty-first century?”
10 years ago, two books which became international bestsellers, attempted to articulate how the world had changed, as well as identify the skills necessary to navigate today’s new world. In The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Thomas Friedman argued that the twenty-first century is more than an evolved twentieth century, but is a world transformed.
Friedman begins his book with a sense of discovery:
Columbus reported to his king and queen that the world was round, and he went down in history as the man who first made this discovery. I returned home and shared my discovery only with my wife, and only in a whisper. “Honey,” I confided, “I think the world is flat.”
Friedman goes on to explain:
“It is now possible for more people than ever to collaborate and compete in real time with more other people on more different kinds of work from more different corners of the planet and on a more equal footing, than at any previous time in the history of the world.”
In other words, how we interact and how we work has turned each of us into global neighbors and has irrevocably altered how we communicate and how we relate to one another.
Roughly at the same time that The World is Flat was published, Dan Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, set out to articulate the new 21st Century skills that are required to function in the flat world.
Here’s how Pink put it:
“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind—computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”
Pink challenged us to question whether the traditional paths to success are still viable. He challenged us to question whether today’s graduates can really map out and predetermine their future paths.
What does this mean to you, our graduates? You have a better grasp of the world you are entering than any generation before you. You are tech savvy and well-connected to the digital world and to each other. You are interconnected in ways we could only dream of just a short decade ago, when the World is Flat was written. But the world requires more than technologists and well-connected digital citizens, and it also requires more than the 3Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, that were considered crucial when my generation went to school.
To be clear, I still believe that the traditional literacies are important. But I would argue, that in today’s world where change is the new normal, what you might call the 3I’s, Imagination, Innovation and Initiative, is imperative.
- Imagination, to foresee and dream about what might be and to think creatively
- Innovation, to prototype and take risks with new ideas
- Initiative,taking an entrepreneurial approach to one’s endeavors.
Now more than ever, the new literacies such as the 3I’s can open new pathways to not only how we work but even how we live our lives. Over 50 years ago futurist Alvin Toffler foresaw the new literacies when he said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
But dear graduates, there is a critical 4th “I” which I believes carries even greater weight, and that is Integrity, or as the dictionary defines it, “the adherence to moral and ethical principles.” Of course maintaining a moral compass is not a new concept, in fact it is as old as humanity. But while change is everywhere, a consistent set of values and principles, will not only keep you afloat, but like a ship’s rudder will help guide you and truly serve you well in good times and in bad.
Graduates, in the rush and excitement to get on with your lives and succeed, don’t lose sight of your values. Know what they are and hold them dear like a precious jewel, especially when you are challenged with the inevitable moral dilemmas that you will face in the future. This I believe is the main ingredient of a healthy, fulfilling and purposeful life.