A wise leader said that we need to eat other people’s lunches to survive. We agree completely – the inexorable trends of globalisation and computer automation will completely transform your child’s future in a world built for the global 1%. Our suggestion for future-readiness is simply to be smart: to choose the ultimate future-proof lifestyle.
Nobody knows for sure what the world will look like in ten or even five years, but one thing is sure: computer automation is going to radically wipe out both blue and white collar jobs. (Our Secondary school students downloaded and read a McKinsey report on the future of jobs in an age of automation and while there were some positive takeaways, the general atmosphere was quite sombre and pensive. Even for unflappable eye-rolling teenagers.)
Nobody has a crystal ball but for Generation X and Millennial parents, the urgency is even more palpable. Yet the paradox is that the latest and greatest generation of children born into late capitalist societies, Generation Z, are more pampered and generally shielded from the harsh reality that awaits them. Call it the curse of economic development – Singapore has, finally, caught up to the West in at least some aspects!
So many parents are still stuck in a paradigm where they believe they can plan for their children’s future twenty years down the road – when the jobs that will exist have not even been conceptualised yet. (Who knew ten years ago that data scientist and social media manager would be actual jobs?) That paradigm didn’t even exist for my generation of Millennials, let alone future generations!
Here at Academia our prediction is simple: only the smartest will survive in the future.
1 Technology has enabled individuals to achieve historically unheard of levels of personal scalability, leading to winner-takes-all outcomes. This means that in most industries and the general economy at large, only the fastest and smartest individuals will flourish.
2 Global inequality is reaching a tipping point at which point the gulf between the top and the bottom will be impossible to bridge. The difference between the global elites and the rest of humankind is not just economic, but systemic and ideological. It may ultimately even be genetic. Those at the top will have access to the most opportunities and be able to transmit those opportunities to their future generations. (An outcome, we note, predicted by the classic Victorian novel by H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, in which the human race ultimately divides into two distinct classes.)
3 With technology substituting for repetitive or programmable human labour, the demand will be for innovators and thought leaders rather than administrative white-collar workers or repetitive cognitive work. The internet will enable said thought leaders to rapidly emerge in each industry and conquer large swathes of territory, squeezing out the rest of the extraneous players into low-value jobs as blunt instruments of labour.
In short, if you’re not the smartest, we believe the global future is going to be tumultuous. Influential tech leaders such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have proposed universal basic income as a solution for the dispossessed – but do you really want to, basically, be a welfare queen of the 21st century?
Our suggestion: you need to protect yourself by being smart. We call being smart a deliberate lifestyle choice because we really do believe you can train yourself to be smart. Intelligence may be part genetics, but environmental factors play an outsize role too. However this requires a complete redesign of how you live your life and a total commitment to your intellect.
Here’s a starter pack of five ways you can learn to be smart.
1 Push yourself harder. Don’t settle for anything less. The world is getting more competitive, not easier. We see a lot of the brightest kids emerging from the region and working their way up to become the cream of the crop. This is the harsh reality of the world we live in – deal with it.
2 Hard work and deep thinking won’t kill you. Yes, I know you have a headache from all that reading. As a child, I too used to suffer from debilitating headaches when I worked too hard. I would deal with them by taking short ten-minute naps when the pain was too severe. Now, I never have any headaches. Ever. I like to think of that painful period as my brain training years.
3 Don’t be afraid to be different at a young age. Sometimes, being intelligent or even gifted as a child can be alienating. It’s fine – you’ll pick up mainstream social skills later on in life as a young adult. (If you know enough about human psychology and neuroscience, it’s even easier to socialise yourself as a young adult!)
4 Be adaptive and flexible. Read up on everything, voraciously. I’m eternally grateful to my parents for making me read twenty books a week as a child. Today I enjoy vibrant conversations with students who read literally everything and can discuss anything under the sun from crackpot theories of ancient astronauts to experimental methods of modding their nerf guns to make them more aerodynamic. (Seriously!) I don’t know which part of their extensive and rambling knowledge is going to propel them into the ranks of the intellectual elite in the future, but I do know that their intellectual curiosity will push them to the front of the line.
5 Cultivate a sense of aesthetics and human understanding which, ultimately, will open up a neural pathway to thinking like a designer. Design thinking is one of the most essential skills and yet so hard to develop without an intuitive grasp of what is beautiful – and what makes us human. The two, naturally, are inextricably intertwined. It’s for this reason that I’m always grateful I fell in love with the humanities as a teenager. Also, nobody wants to buy ugly things.