Are today’s learning systems conditioning us to survive or create? You may ask, what’s the difference? When we operate from survival, we see the world as a dangerous and unfriendly place, any inspiration gives way to apathy and we experience a sense of going through the motions. When we operate from creation, we drop all pre-conceived notions of how something “should be” allowing us to see, once typical situations from an entirely different perspective and therefore knowing that “thing” much deeper than name or form.

This may start to sound a little esoteric, however, the difference between operating from a mode of survival vs. creation is as practically important as the ability to earn a living.

I saw a film, “Most Likely to Succeed” being screened at the local High School, in order to raise awareness about the changing nature of work and education. The film, featured a School in San Diego, California demonstrating a new approach to learning which, seeks to depart from rote memorization and the practice of teaching to the test to an approach of learning experientially. The new methods incorporate many of the standard course topics such as English, math and sciences yet, delivered in an integrated style that many students and parents are still not used to. The Instructors facilitate student led discussions of real world problems, propose theories and build models that visually demonstrate their teams’ respective theories. Once the models are built they are exhibited to parents and teachers. The entire process is said to provide a much deeper, more experiential learning that is entirely more relevant to the experiences they are expected to have in the workplace, rather than rote memorization of the Map of the Middle East, for example.

Not surprisingly, the movie narrators went on to say, the shift in learning delivery hasn’t been implemented without some trepidation by students and parents who are concerned about preparedness for college entry. Yet, the Teachers committed to molding this more experiential, project-based learning approach quickly point out, to those naysayers or parents nervous about college preparedness, this process, by the very merit of how it is conducted teaches the students to operate effectively in a team, problem solve, collaborate, engage in public speaking, perform calculations for modeling, stay motivated, manage conflict and inspire others. These are the experiences, the teachers say, we expect our students to encounter in the current and future workforce.

As a HR Professional of 20 years, I can affirm, the chief complaint from employers is difficulty finding skills and competencies in applicants needed for their industry. There remains a gap between industry and education, fixable by conscious effort on both sides. I can also affirm, the industrial era has ended, a Knowledge or Information Economy is present and the implications are much more urgent than you may think.

Why the Urgency for Developing U.S. Talent?

Without adaptions in the preparedness of our current and future workforce, we don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of competing in a global market, let alone remaining viable and competitive in the U.S. Market. Point of Fact, we are operating from an education model created 124 years ago, according to the film, “Most Likely to Succeed”.

Our brawn was replaced by the mechanized-robot and our knowledge is being replaced by computers, leaving us with our behavioral competencies to differentiate services in the workforce. The behavioral competencies such as, relationship building, problem solving, conflict resolution, grit, collaboration and creativity to name a few are no longer referred to as “Soft Skills” in workforce circles, they are now referred to as “essential skills”.

The urgency to “catch-up” has increased! Education may have a long and arduous task to formalize a new approach to learning. Yes, it could take years to implement! However, our current Workforce is even worse off than education. Failure to adapt (immediately) could mean a company’s demise. The quarter to quarter, financial focus of many corporations must shift and adapt to a culture of growth, collaboration and sustainability for any real chance of long term existence, let alone success.

The workplace is changing and just as in education, many are beginning to realize the methods that worked in the industrial era, are no longer effective for attracting, developing and retaining a quality workforce. A stark example is Google and their legendary campus of conveniences for employees.

However, far too few have yet to see the proverbial writing on the wall, “Industrial Age, command and control, authoritarian-style, “I’m your boss that’s why”, type of leadership is completely lost on the next generation of employees, the Millennial Generation”. Millennials buck convention at every turn, yet will produce at an extremely high level, if you let them… do it when they want, where they want. Remember, Millennials are the digital natives, having grown up with tech, they can deliver on tasks which used to take weeks, now in only minutes and having done so from their home at 3am.

There are limitations to every situation. Some jobs certainly do not lend themselves to virtual offices. Yet, we must be open to a new way of performing our work if we are to keep up with consumer demands and hope to attract quality talent. As Tony Robbins says, “It’s all about results”. Does it matter whether performing a 9-5, 40 hour work week or a flexible schedule via a remote work location, as long as we achieve the desired results?

The matter stands whether we use flexible schedules, permit telework or virtual offices, if employees are managed through control, rather than support and growth as the focus, they will quickly leave or become a liability.

Millennials are expected to have 15-20 careers over a lifetime! Employers who fail to adapt will no doubt fail to attract and retain talent, when it will be most in need, as the Boomers vacate long-held roles and retire.

Leaders, (we who have been chosen to operate in these roles for the benefit of those we lead) have the opportunity to model creativity and the problem solving skills we expect from our employees. What better way to influence employee behavior than model what you expect of employees? Systematize the culture of learning and growth by supporting through policies that expand employees, not limit them.

There is no doubt in my mind, that we are on the precipice of a sea-change in how education and work are performed. Practicality rules the day, we must turn the page and begin teaching what is most beneficial to one’s ability to learn, grow, adapt and create. These “essential skills” will always be in high demand, no matter the type of economy. Leaders, entrepreneurs and business professionals of all walks of life, I can simply suggest, model that which you wish for yourself in business and relationships and you will create a legacy of growth for others to follow.

Finally, I offer my heartfelt support for those who choose creativity over simply survival. It is not the easier path but, the abundant path.