The futureNET events are designed to inspire young professionals that there is more to being a professional than just the technical aspects of their role. This keynote presentation was addressed to over 200 young professionals from a variety of professions within the built and natural environment domain, including town planners, architects, engineers, environmental consultants, surveyors, scientists, construction professionals and more, and focuses on the concept of the “complete professional”.
It’s all about your point of view. Each point of view creates a different story, and in each story we play out different roles and different characters all resulting in different outcomes. Some interesting questions are: “what is the story of your self that you tell yourself and other people? What are the roles you take upon yourself as you tell yourself these stories?” What we often forget is that the stories we tell and the roles we adopt can sweep us away to an ending that is out of our control. Another way of looking at this, is that where we end up was decided long ago, by the choices we made in those moments.
So how is it that we come to tell ourselves these stories? And how is it that we end up in particular roles? Simply, it’s all about our skills and our preferences. What we prefer to do, we tend to do more often. The more often we perform these skills, the better we get at them. Before long, our skills and preferences evolve into strengths and values. What we prefer, place value on and are good at (strengths), we like to do, so we keep on doing them, practicing them and polishing them until we are extremely proficient in these skills. The more proficient we become in these skills, the more likely we are to use them all the time, because we feel skilful, confident in our ability and powerful. By this point in time, we have created sophisticated neural networks and mental maps throughout our mind and body and what was once a preference has now become a habit of being and doing. Our habits then come to define our world, the way we think, feel and act and before long, we are swept into a pre-determined future.
Technical skills are easier to form habits around than non-technical skills because they are less ambiguous. Technical skills have specific functions are comprised of defined processes and procedures and can be learnt, internalised and taught much easier than non-technical skills. Non-technical skills have a higher degree of ambiguity in terms of when to use, how to use successfully and how to quantitatively measure. For example, how do you measure the impact of active listening? When do you use ownership skills? What are the specific elements that make up resourcefulness? What is confidence? From one point of view, non-technical skills may seem out of place in technical environments and contexts, like engineering, construction and planning.
So, we are where we are today because of the choices we made and the roles we played in the past. Now, we could take a limiting point of view around this, or we could take a point of view that empowers us. The empowering point of view says that if this is true, then we create our future simply through the choices we make and the roles we play right here and right now. If we imagine what future it is we would like to create, then we can imagine what choices we might need to make and what roles we might need to play and what skills we might need to develop from this point going forward.
In the context of the complete professional, technical skills get us into the job. But non-technical skills get us out of the job and into much more exciting places. And interestingly, it is never this simplistic. Technical skills can evolve. Non-technical skills can become technical skills. Why? Because everything in our world is constantly changing. New building technologies are constantly being discovered. New policy and legislation is constantly being developed and implemented. Our culture and values evolve as generations come and go. The professions and the industries continually evolve.
So, where does that leave us? I think that of all the skills, both technical and non-technical that are worth developing, the most valuable is flexibility. We need to be agile and flexible in the roles and perspectives we take. We need to strive for the type of flexibility that enables us to adopt the most useful role and point of view for the particular context and moment. I class it as a meta-skill – a skill that determines the success of all other skills, both technical and non-technical. I believe that for many young professionals, flexibility is not a difficult meta-skill to master: the culture in which young professionals are performing and excelling is far more malleable than the culture of 100 years ago, when societal expectations firmly locked people into particular roles and stories.
So in conclusion, for all those young professionals out there… Be more than your degree. Be more than your profession. Be more than your organisation. Be more than your job description.
Be someone who realises their potential, in leadership and life, and change the world.