When my children were young, I used to tell them to study anything they wanted in college, as long as it gave them quantitative skills. I was effectively telling them to become a “quant” in some way. While I can count on one hand the number of times my kids have actually listened to me, my son did end up getting a degree in Applied Mathematics and my daughter a degree in quantitative Economics. Somehow, I must have influenced which majors they chose.
Today, in retrospect, I wonder if I was influencing them in the right way and giving them the right guidance. I had always thought that if you are good with quantitative problem solving, you will be fine in life (at least the career part of life). However, today, even as we are in the midst of the data-science boom, I am not sure I would throw the word “quant” around like the word “plastics” in the famous 1967 movie “The Graduate.”
The simple fact is that no one knows which discipline-specific skills will be required to be successful over the next 20-50 years. And while predicting the future has always been a shot in the dark, at no time ever has the future of work and careers held more uncertainty. With many experts believing that in a few decades machines will do most jobs humans do (and just as many experts believing the opposite), what do you tell your kids to become good at? What skills do you ask them to focus on, how do you ensure they learn the essential competencies that are required to be successful in life.
The only thing you should do is to ensure they are ready to face any scenario they encounter, and you can do that by ensuring they learn the skills that we know will stay essential over the coming decades, no matter which direction technology takes.
This essential set of skills are called “Social and Emotional Learning” (SEL). With decades of research on SEL we know these skills are linked with nearly every measure of success in life and are neither “soft” nor “intangible.” These are essential skills and failure to develop them impacts your quality of life in every way.
Social and Emotional learning has a social component and an emotional component, and both of them are equally important. The good news is that both can be learned, adopted and improved upon, by everyone and at any age.
The social component is the ability to effectively interact with, empathize with, gain perspective from, positively influence and elevate the performance of others around you. This is important because increasingly success in any endeavor involves collaborating with other people.
The emotional component is the ability to regulate yourself and get the best out of yourself. It is ruling the moment and not letting the moment or the situation control you. It is being socially aware and making the right choices. It is the emotional maturity that many individuals may have and understand, but don’t know how to harness at the right time.
I don’t want to minimize the importance of being skilled in a domain. We do know that success in life will certainly be influenced by how good or how skilled you are at a task. Knowing and doing something well and developing competency or mastery in an area, is the first step towards being successful in any endeavor. But that is not nearly enough, you need to bring that talent to life, make it usable and apply it in a way that increases societal value. And you can do this by enhancing your social and emotional skills.
So, as you think about the set of skills to focus on for yourself or your children this year, start with social and emotional learning as this is the one skill set that will always be necessary and you can be certain these skills will serve you well over an entire lifetime.
- Dr Kumar Mehta is the author of The Innovation Biome com/163299156X