My top 5 TED Talks of 2021

There’s no question that the past two years have been highly disruptive. Our daily lives look entirely different than they did in 2019, and we’ve all had to adapt in one way or another.

One thing that I’m grateful for, however, is that TED has continued to share inspiring and innovative TED Talks throughout this time to give us inspiration and insight. Watching these talented individuals on the stage has become a favorite part of my week as someone who misses in-person public speaking.

Here are my top five TED Talks of 2021:

“We were looking for bliss in a blah day and purpose in a perpetual pandemic. But languishing is not unique to a pandemic. It’s part of the human condition.” –Adam Grant, How to stop languishing and start finding flow, TEDMonterey, August 2021

The pandemic created a massive shift in our lives, and many of us found ourselves sinking into “languishing,” which Adam Grant expertly explains in this TED Talk. After spending nearly two years living through a pandemic, it feels validating to put a name to the feeling that so many of us were experiencing. Even better are the solutions that Grant provides in his talk.

“On today’s internet, we don’t get paid for the work we do with our minds. And what’s more, the content we upload to these services is trapped there. These services not only make money from our content, they control it. Until NFTs.” –Kayvon Tehranian, How NFTs are building the internet of the future, TEDMonterey, August 2021

NFTs surged into popularity in 2021, and people have been trying to explain them ever since. This TED Talk from Kayvon Tehranian does a brilliant job of explaining what NFTs are, as well as their potential to bring the internet into its next evolution.

“This wouldn’t just be better for chickens and cows and pigs and the people who have to farm them and slaughter them and process their meat. This could be better for the whole world.” –Isha Datar, How we could eat real meat without harming animals, TEDMonterey, August 2021

One of my daughters is vegan, and she’s always making creative meals for us to enjoy (like this vegan turkey). She’s inspired me to look into vegan options, but I have to admit that I love real meat, which is why the development of lab-grown meat is fascinating. This TED Talk from Isha Datar dives into the science behind lab-grown meat, as well as all of the incredible benefits that could result from this new means of food production.

“The future of work is not going to be created with top-down, opinion-driven edicts from senior leaders whose day-to-day realities don’t match those of us dual-career, time-pressed and income-pressed people. Of course, senior leaders want to go back. That worked for them. But they have to recognize that for 18 months now; their people experienced unprecedented agency, control, flexibility, trust, and accountability.” –Debbie Lovich, 3 tips for leaders to get the future of work right, TED@BCG, September 2021

There’s no question that the future of work has changed drastically, and the post-pandemic world is likely to see a somewhat permanent shift to remote and hybrid work. As Debbie Lovich says in this TED Talk, it’s time for leaders to embrace the change and learn new methods of leadership and teamwork.

“It’s not just about your commutes. It’s really about changing everything in terms of how we move people, goods and services, eventually.” –Aicha Evans, Your self-driving robotaxi is already here, TEDMonterey, August 2021

Self-driving cars are not a new subject, but Aicha Evans believes their technology has the potential to shift how our world moves entirely. In this TED Talk, Evans discusses how robotaxis could create a high-tech, sustainable, and convenient mode of transportation.

These were some of my favorite TED Talks of 2021, and I’m looking forward to more educational and inspiring talks in 2022!

Share your favorites in the comments.

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Preparing for Gen Z as a Futurist

As a futurist, my job is to anticipate change and stay on top of current trends. There’s a new generation entering the workforce – Generation Z. Following Millennials, this generation includes those born between 1995 and 2010. While being defined as the most ethnically-diverse and largest generation in American history, Gen Z also grew up surrounded by technology, also making them the most tech-savvy generation.

I’ve previously provided some thoughts on thinking like a futurist and today, we’re diving deeper into the role Gen Z plays in the future. Here are my tips for how to collaborate with Gen Z:

1. Put yourself in their shoes

It’s important to acknowledge the obvious differences that divide each generation. For example, Gen Z grew up in a post-9/11 world with new technology and completely different childhood experiences than those of previous generations. With technology constantly at their fingertips, this generation of “digital natives” have had nearly lifelong access to boundless amounts of information at the drop of a hat. In fact, 97% of Gen Z have smart phones and spend more than 4 hours a day online.

And because they’ve never spent a day offline, they are acutely aware of the issues and challenges happening in the world around them. As a result, they are 54% more likely to say they want to have an impact on the world as compared to millennials. Also noteworthy is their attitude towards work and employers; almost half consider what the company does to make the world a better place as important as the salary.

By becoming familiar with Gen Z, and by understanding the different era and experiences they’ve grown up with, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to effectively collaborate with them. Whether it’s through asking questions, doing research, or understanding current trends, you won’t fully see eye-to-eye with this generation until you put yourself in their shoes.

2. Pay attention to what’s important

In the next decade, Gen Z is expected to cause an influx of roughly 60 million job seekers, effectively transforming the workplace. Concerning their careers, Gen Z-ers are very driven and competitive. Nothing motivates them more than achieving success and being rewarded for their good efforts. They value skill development and appreciate feedback, as they are always hoping to improve their performance. A controversial topic amongst Gen Z is the debate over work-life balance. It can be argued that this generation struggles the most with this – 24% say they feel guilty for taking time off work. On the other hand, 39% view work-life balance as a top priority when choosing an employer. Knowing these statistics as an employer can help foster a healthy work environment for future employees.

When choosing where to work, Gen Z will base their decision on the company’s values. This generation’s passion for sustainability, diversity, and inclusion reflects in their expectations for their future employers. Studies show that 77% of Gen Z believes a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there.

3. Stay up to date on trends

As any futurist knows, one of the most important ways to prepare for the future is to stay up to date with the latest trends. This applies to Gen Z trends as well. The more informed you are, the more prepared you will be to work with this generation.

Here are some resources for futurists to better understand Gen Z:

  1. After the Millennials
  2. Gen Guru
  3. Gen Z Insights
  4. Generational Differences in the Workplace Infographic
  5. Looking Ahead to Generation Z

We can all benefit from learning from one another. As this new generation enters the workforce, preparing through a lens like this will allow us to better understand and support them in their journey as they embark on this new chapter.

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Why Robots Aren’t Our Competition

In 2016, I wrote an article titled “Robots Aren’t Taking Our Jobs, They’re Transforming Them,” in response to a flurry of articles I read about robots taking over the workforce in the coming years. Now, nearly four years later, we see the same headlines.

While innovation is happening at an astonishing rate, we’re still nowhere near a Westworld-esque future where robots and automation rule. Robots have come a long way, but still need human expertise and skills to function. Therefore, the outcome is less likely a replacement of humans, but rather a reskilling.

There is a valid concern over the possibility of increasing inequality in our automated future. Once robots enter the workforce fully, most highly-skilled, educated workers are likely to experience a smaller shift in responsibilities than their less-skilled, educated counterparts. In order to adapt, those with fewer skills and education will likely have to expand their abilities to either empower them to work with robots or fall within the realm of abilities that robots currently lack, such as emotional intelligence and creativity.

For those that adapt to work alongside robots and automation, most will experience an increase in job quality, or even safety. For example, customer service professionals have been using AI chatbots for a few years now, and chatbots like bold360 allow the AI to answer the simpler questions, giving the humans more time to focus on complex customer issues. For example, HP’s virtual agent helps its support team sort through nearly 600 million technical support requests each year. There are also bomb disposal robots that use VR to allow soldiers to pilot them while disarming bombs from a safe distance.

It’s predicted that, despite disruption, there is still a net positive outlook for jobs. In other words, though 75 million current roles may be displaced by technology, 133 million entirely new roles may emerge simultaneously. These roles will likely be of two categories, one that deals predominantly with emerging technologies, like IT Services or AI Specialists, and one that provides the exclusively human touch, such as Designers or Human Resources.

Other reports, like this one from Brookings Institute, find that approximately 25% of US jobs are likely to be affected by automation. At face value, this number can seem concerning, but it’s important to remember that the process of implementation will still take time.

In the time it takes for the world to fully implement robots and automation in the majority of work systems, humans will be able to adapt and learn new skills, especially if they are empowered by their employers. Some are calling this the “Skills Revolution,” which refers to the fact that the skills required in the workforce are changing at a rapid pace. In the face of this, workers must embrace continuous learning opportunities, and employers must provide ongoing training to future-proof their employees.

To do just that for your employees, consider the following steps:

Pay attention to trends

As a futurist, I am constantly on the lookout for new Megatrends and patterns that may affect our future. This skill has served me and many others well over the years and has helped HP prepare itself for the years to come.

When it comes to future-proofing yourself in the face of automation, pay attention to new careers and job opportunities. It’s predicted that 65% of the jobs that Gen Z will perform don’t even exist yet. If you are able to spot a job trend and properly prepare for it, you could help usher in an entirely new career field.

Embrace lifelong learning

Gone are the days where you could learn a set of skills, perform them for the rest of your life, and earn a living. Nearly all careers require the occasional training or upskilling, but soon it will be necessary to dedicate time to learning on an ongoing basis. For some, this could mean improving their existing abilities and adding complementary skillsets, but for others it could mean learning an entirely new skill. It’s predicted that 42% of required skills will change by 2022, requiring the average worker to adapt to new tasks such as analytical thinking and negotiation. To adjust to these new skills by 2022, employees will need 101 days of training on average.

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources that will help, like Coursera and Lynda, as well as an emergence of recognized online higher education.

Maintain a growth mindset

How do you cope with challenge and difficulty? Do you give up when you feel that something is out of your range of abilities, or do you accept it as a learning opportunity? To maintain a growth mindset, you must learn to embrace challenges and failure as opportunities for growth, rather than letting them stop you in your tracks.

Read “The Power of ‘Yet’ – Developing a Growth Mindset” for more information!

When you develop a growth mindset, you’re able to have the confidence to push through challenges, and this persistence will help you prepare for our automated future. Whether this is a small shift in your career or a larger transition to an entirely new field, a growth mindset will help you see things through a positive lens.

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