“Be like water my friend”.

In my last piece on the future of sustainable work I looked at how individuals and businesses could develop emotional resilience. How they could build a level of resilience and appreciation of each to ensure that they are able to accommodate a number of ever changing challenges and situations in the digital (and non-digital) world.

Another component I believe, in the future of sustainable work (and workplaces) is the flexibility, the litheness and the elasticity of not just organisations but specifically individuals. Now, it is very easy to simplify flexibility as being aware of other skills, techniques, markets and technologies — making oneself more attractive to potential employers. But I believe that it goes much, much deeper than that.

Society and politics. Education and knowledge. Developing ability and fulfilling potential. Each of these (and many more) aspects of the world have changed beyond recognition in the last 10–15 years through the increasing use and increasing capability of digital technologies. And at the centre of this storm is us, you, me — the individual.

Why then, should we look backwards in the way the we learn and the way we develop our skills in a world that will only change more rapidly and require ever more fluidity in how we best equip ourselves for more uncertainty and change?

Let’s take an example. Let’s actually look at the market that is at the centre of this change — the digital market — the very one in which Createful have been born and grown into.

For many years there has been a ‘standard’ approach to coming into the market and in all honesty developing a career. A developer. A creative. A project manager. An account manager. Sure, a little movement between some roles could be seen and routes of progression through the specialism could be seen — junior, mid-weight, senior developer etc.

It’s worked up to now. Products have been developed, projects have been delivered, marketing campaigns have been pummelled into the browsers of people all over the world. Specific skillsets that compliment each other have driven the success of the market, clients and individuals.

But is this fit for the future? Is this structure, career-path(s) and clear delineation between skillsets able to cope with a world that is more fluid, faster moving and becoming more individualistic? How can we empower those in the digital (and wider) workplace to design and deliver a better future — you know one that is more empathetic, one that uses technology to really make the world a better place (and clear up our mess!) and one which releases individual and group potential.

Well, I’d argue no. I think we need to look towards equipping ourselves and the workforce of tomorrow with more flexible core skills alongside any specialisms. We need to create a more empathetic and well-rounded workforce;

· One which appreciates individuality and human behaviour in an offline way (i.e. not as a matrix on a spreadsheet).

· One which wants to be a constant student and a lifetime teacher.

· One which is constantly open to sharing their knowledge.

· One that has independence of thought and action.

· One that asks for help without fear of ridicule

Ahhh, some may say good old fashioned soft skills (a hugely condescending phrase). But looking at these skills and applying them to our digital market example we end up with this type of workforce;

· One which understands users.

· One which listens, learns and educates clients and each other.

· One which is always looking to improve.

· One which is not scared to take a risk.

· One who wants to work collaboratively.

A flexible, lithe and elastic workforce that communicate, educate and support each other? Wow, maybe it could happen if we look at skills in a different way.

Bruce Lee’s famous quote (and the inspiration for this piece) was;

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

We all need to become like water and become more than just our existing ‘professional’ skills. We need to be able to accommodate change in a more human way. Instead of linear career paths we need to be able to be comfortable with not being in roles that are black and white but those that are grey — those that blend into each other.

By doing this — maybe we’ll release our human and digital potential.