‘Without sharpening your weapon, standing on the battlefield would not increase your chance of winning’ – is a wise quote I read recently. Today skills are the weapon we have, to protect ourselves from the vast uncertainties that the future may have in store. We all hear about acquiring skills in the domains of cloud, data science, quantum, cyber security, and so on, but we need to understand that these technologies are not limited to engineering students alone. A lot of these are becoming a part and parcel of education in general.
While until a few years ago the prevailing view of ‘decision-making’ was hierarchical, today decision-making at all levels has become prevalent.
Medical students are trying to understand how technology is being applied to the vast domain of healthcare including data collection through devices, all the way to analysis and prediction of the health of individuals. Lawyers are looking at not just automation and simplification of complex processes but also how vast amounts of data help in better decision-making. Technology in education has become the basis of holistic learning. It is hence important to take learning technology head-on, no matter which profession you are in. Adding to technology are many other skills, or maybe we can even call them traits, that one needs to be successful in the 21st century.
Make better decisions with negotiation skills
While until a few years ago the prevailing view of ‘decision-making’ was hierarchical, today decision-making at all levels has become prevalent. Previously, people at the top of the pyramid (be it at work or family or even politics for that matter) took decisions and people at the bottom of the pyramid were expected to follow. Today it has become increasingly necessary to have good decision-making skills at all levels, given that the world is now flatter and more global. One has to accomplish work by relying on several individuals and organisations over which we exercise no direct control.
Be it employees, peers, or even children we cannot accomplish anything by giving orders. We are compelled to negotiate and negotiating skills hence become one of the must-have skills today to aid good decision making. One of the books I read recently on negotiating skills, ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fisher and William Ury, opened my eyes to how negotiation is one of the key learning ones needs for work or life. Negotiation is not about winning. It is about coming to a win-win solution and no one goes out winning or losing. The three main mantras it focuses on are: ‘Don’t Bargain over positions’, ‘Separate people from the problem’, and ‘Insist on an objective criterion.
Strategic thinking is the key to success
Coming to the next facet that I discovered as the very key to being successful in any profession is strategic thinking. One needs to split strategic thinking, strategic planning, and strategic execution into three different buckets. Spending time executing more than thinking or planning is how most of us end up just leading our lives because there is always an arduous, growing list of tasks around us that can keep us busy from morning to night. What we do is play ‘catch up’ all the time.
I decided to make a shift in controlling how I spend my time and how I work. Let me explain both of these as they really are different. At work, I started reading more and staying more up-to-date on what was current. Remember, you can become an expert at anything on which you spend even 30 minutes a day for many days or months. Researching an area or staying current on a topic of interest, knowing what competition is doing can make one improve strategic thinking drastically. Having the clarity of the big picture and seeing how one’s work fits into the overall scheme of things such as a company’s strategy, government’s vision, and so on can have much more meaningful results.
Researching an area or staying current on a topic of interest, knowing what competition is doing can make one improve strategic thinking drastically.
On how I spend my time more strategically, I realised that if I were to let my mailbox drive me, I could spend years and I would have done just that but if I took control on where I wanted to head five years or 10 years from now and made little steps towards that, I would be strategically aligning with my own larger mission or goal. Remember to spend the largest amount of time in strategic thinking and then in planning and least in execution for a perfect mix. For freshers who are just starting work, it is the key to have a goal of where you see yourselves five or 10 years from now and ensure you make time every week to read, research and think more than you plan or execute.
Make yourself visible and network for greater impact
Last, but not least, you need to create visibility for yourself and your work with the right stakeholders. Many of us believe that making work visible is something that does not need focus or happens on its own. Remember we are not alluding to bragging here. We are talking about ensuring that people know about what you do, to be able to get the right attention of stakeholders, customers, managers, peers, mentors, and so on. Gaining visibility also helps in being part of relevant networks. Networking goes a long way in shaping one’s career. For example, The use of social networking platforms like LinkedIn helps establish visibility both for you and your company. But that also does not mean one should be posting just for the sake of doing so. Posts need to be meaningful and read-worthy, if I may call it so.
Having said that, it is important to understand that key technology skills supplemented with the skills of good decision-making, negotiation skills, strategic thinking, creating visibility, and networking create a distinguished combination for an accomplished career. To top it all, follow this quote by the famous philosopher Confucius: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
By Mona Bharadwaj, Global University Programs Leader-India, IBM India