Future of Work: Professional skills needed before 2020


Posted on: June 8, 2017 by Peter Kalmijn

Already now certain skills make a real difference in our current society and professional environment and providing for the skilled with opportunities. And will need even more in the 4th industrial revolution. As talent is a scarce commodity and the knowledge of the workforce is the most valuable asset in organizations, getting the right professionals is a major concern.

Some special skills make the difference in addition to the technical skills of any professional. These skills enable professionals to stand out from the crowd – and prepare for what is to come. In this blog, we look into a special and discerning capability: Visual thinking.

Visual analysis and modeling capabilities

These capabilities draw heavily on visualizing structures, behavior, and interactions. For example, visual Business Model Canvassing (BMC) is used in professional strategic management to explore and develop new and existing business models. And visually establish models of business processes and business decisions, in order to enable Automated Decisioning. Models to provide Data Scientists with the Decision Requirements using the Decision Model Notation (DMN) to professionally analyze Big Data and IoT generated Fast Data and to visualize the results in yet another models predicting customer behavior and prescribing business actions. Models like Value Chain Mapping and process models using the Business Process Model Notation (BPMN) helping to perceive the whole quickly and to recognize patterns more easily.

Visual thinking capabilities

Visual thinking research by Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, and only about 5% is a visual-spacial thinker, thinking primarily in pictures. Visual thinking is very fast, complex and not sequential. The great inventor Nikola Tesla was a visual-spacial thinker, and so were Thomas Edison Edison, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs.

Visual-spacial thinkers often naturally exhibit skills like seeing and predicting trends, dealing with complexity and grasping the big picture quickly and accurately. They by nature outside-the-box thinkers. And they solve problems with unique strategies in fresh and creative ways. Visual-spacial thinkers also can be talented reading people well and combine strengths with others’ to build a strong team.

Already in 2002 Linda Silverman hinted in the book "Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner" that the visual-spatial thinker will have an edge in near (then) future. And even earlier, Tom West (1991), author of In the Mind’s Eye, suggested professionals will require strong visual skills in the 21st century: cit. “ready recognition of larger patterns, intuition, a sense of proportion, imaginative vision, the original and unexpected approach, and the apt connection between apparently unrelated things”.

However, often visual thinking was suppressed by 20th-century education (as I pointed out in my blog “Future of Work: Spotting future talent”) and is not yet developed to its full potential by the current educational system. Some visual thinking children, however, will survive and will develop their visual skills against all odds. Professional visual thinkers can imagine, draw and diagram the path to follow, but often people choose to walk first and then figure out the direction to go.

Visualization and Visual Communication, 21st-century skills

Visuals create a deep, shared understanding that’s a lot more effective compared to conveying thoughts verbally. Creativity and engagement skyrocket as well. The skill to think graphically, understand dimensional, connecting concepts or to visualize data is another high priced skill of the 21st century. The spatial contextual understanding, imagination of 3D objects and structures, and other spatial activities will be of tremendous value for things like Augmented Reality3D printing, holographic imaging and the like. There is something magical about using visuals that cannot be duplicated by pure verbal dialog. The human brain craves for visuals to enhance any verbal part in conversations.

Many career fields are great choices for people who have strong visual and spatial skills. The 4th technical revolution is driven by people with the ability to comprehend complex things and patterns visually.

Some examples:

  • Business Analysts need visual thinking to create visual decision- and process models.
  • Big Data Analysts and Data Scientists require capabilities of visuals expression to create interactive data visualizations, and to provide a better understanding of the important information contents.
  • Robotics: spatial insight including timing of motion is required to analyze and model physical trajectory planning, placement of sensors and movement of the robot;
  • Robot technicians profit from visual and spatial skills reading the technical drawings and using them to build and repair the electrical and mechanical parts of robotic units;
  • VR/AR specialists use their visual and special imagination to design 3D interfaces, to be used with Oculus or HoloLens. And to design models for 3D/4D features like room-scale tracking and visualized time travel creating an immersive experience and delivering a first-hand experience.

The big management challenge

The biggest challenge probably is to recognize special gifts in people. This requires awareness and education of management and recruiters since the valuable skills needed in the 4th industrial revolution differ significantly. Tapping into these specific gifts, exploring personality types, visual learning styles, and multiple bits of intelligence requires a different, new approach:

  • Invest to spot and develop hidden talent among the current workforce;
  • Certifications do not automatically indicate readiness for the 21st century;
  • Experience counts, especially when combining new technology and existing IT;
  • Spot the Visual-Spacial thinkers. They have a natural creative talent overseeing the broader picture, for envisioning innovation and showing the direction to go;
  • The flexibility of mind makes the difference. Let the experienced coaching youngsters. They both will benefit;

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About Peter Kalmijn

Business Engineer of the Digital Transformation and member of the Scientific Community
IT Consultant at Atos, Netherlands. Peter is a visual-spatial thinker with an international multi-cultural background. He has a special interest in IoT, Automated Decisioning, Enterprise Decision Management and Business Rules. And combines his interest in creative ways with over 30 years of IT experience gained with business- and software engineering. Peter authored various papers and articles and speaks at events. Additionally, he is lead-trainer of the Atos EDM related courses. He dedicates his time helping organizations with Digital Transformation. Peter is thought-leader of the Atos competence Business Information Analysis (BIA) and Guild Master of Atos "Enterprise Decision Management". He is a member of the Scientific Community and the Atos expert network with a focus on Model Driven Development, Business Information Analysis, Process Modelling, Decision Modeling and Automated Decisioning.

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