2018 Innovation Issue: Centric’s Jason Williams says ‘soft’ innovation skills matter

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williams-jason-sig.jpgVirtual reality. Artificial intelligence. Blockchain technology. It’s no secret that the world around us is changing—fast. But ask most employers today and they’ll still probably tell you people are their greatest assets.

It is more important than ever for the workforce to keep up with the job skills needed to lead their organizations down a path of growth. From corporations to state governments, there has been no shortage of attention given to the 21st century or innovation skills people need to compete today and into the future.

However, far too often, this conversation is limited to just the technical or hard skills, such as coding and computer programming. It is true these skills are increasing in importance and in the volume of roles where they are required, but not all jobs require mastery of these skills.

I prefer to think about it like mathematics. It is certainly important to understand math to succeed in most work environments. However, only a limited number of roles and industries require mastery of advanced skills such as calculus.

In fact, a growing number of industry leaders agree that simply an understanding, not a mastery, of technical skills will be necessary to compete in the future. It is mastery of soft innovation skills that will greatly increase the people asset in your organization.

“While the leaders of the future won’t necessarily need to be the ones writing code, experts suggest that they will at least be required to demonstrate a robust understanding of the capabilities, applications and future potential of emerging technologies,” says freelance technology journalist Jared Lindzon.

In a column for Fast Company magazine, Lindzon goes on to suggest that skills needed to lead the company of the future include: the ability to think of new solutions, being comfortable with chaos, high emotional intelligence, and the ability to work with people and technology together. This premise is supported by several job-skills and research reports.

A 2017 Job Skills Report by Bloomberg asked 1,251 job recruiters at 547 companies about the skills they want in their professionals but can’t find. Four skills stood out as the sweet spot: communication skills, strategic thinking, leadership skills, and creative problem-solving.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum published The Future of Jobs report. Findings are based on an extensive survey of chief human resource officers and other senior talent and strategy executives from 371 leading global employers. According to their report, the top four skills needed for 2020 are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and people management.

Finally, “Critical Skills Surveys” conducted by the American Management Association in 2010 and 2012 identified four critical skills that 74.6 percent of managers surveyed said will be important for their organizations into the future. The “Critical 4C Skills”: critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication, collaboration and team building, and creativity and innovation.

Despite slight differences from report to report, necessary skills for the future can be grouped together as “innovation skills.” Successful innovation requires creative problem solving, leadership, strategic thinking and effective communication.

Technical skills are important, and we do need more students and employees developing an understanding and mastery in these areas. However, innovation at heart comes down to problem solving. The strategic, creative and people skills will drive growth.

At Centric, our mission is to increase recognition of the state of Indiana as a global center of innovation by equipping individuals and organizations with the critical thinking skills and cultural frameworks needed to drive innovation forward. We host monthly innovation workshops in Indianapolis and the annual Day of Innovation conference. This month, we will expand our workshop programming through a partnership with Launch Terre Haute.

Centric’s programs are focused on teaching the soft innovation skills to Indiana’s workforce. Topics such as Design Thinking, Customer Experience Mapping, Jobs to Be Done, Visual Thinking, and Game Play for Ideation help increase the ability of our state’s workers to problem-solve and think critically.

Bottom line: A state of problem solvers is a state that innovates.•


Williams is executive director of the central Indiana innovation group Centric.

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