Upskilling for Post-growth Futures, Together

A list of skills to develop as we co-create a world beyond economic growth.

Donnie Maclurcan
Jun 23, 2020 · 6 min read
ThisisEngineering via Unsplash

When I was seven, I was given an Apple Macintosh in the hope that Mavis Beacon would teach me how to touch type. It was an unreasonable expectation, for I was more interested in escaping to the fantasy lands of computer games such as Dungeons and Dragons, and Lode Runner. Yet these games had a lasting, unexpected impact on my thirst for learning. In playing Dungeons and Dragons, I remember being particularly excited each time my archetypal characters would gain ‘experience points’ enabling them to upgrade their abilities.

I still feel that childlike thrill each time I learn something new. A giddy rush that comes from effort going in and a new skill coming out. And, as the acquisition of knowledge or skills opens new doors of possibility, the world around me continuously changes; like reaching the next level on a computer game. What’s more, I’ve discovered I get the same rush watching others learn, and that my experiences are enriched when I participate in learning alongside others.

We are now heading into a time when generalists — people who can see the big picture and connect seemingly disparate skills and fields of knowledge — are needed just as much as specialists.

As my work has expanded to explore how humans can flourish within the planet’s biophysical limits, I’ve also become painfully aware that, in some aspects of my life, I’m not well-equipped to flourish in an uncertain future. In retrospect, my formal schooling gave me a base in certain skills such as public speaking, writing and analysis, but did little to prepare me in other areas of life, such as growing food, relating to animals and building things. I was being prepared for labor specialization, often at the expense of learning practical skills that will likely matter for us all in years to come. We are now heading into a time when generalists — people who can both see the big picture and possess a seemingly disparate set of skills and fields of knowledge — will be needed, just as much as specialists.

What range of skills might we collectively need in order to thrive in post-growth futures?

But the rising value of the generalist does not mean we each need to know how to do everything ourselves. Voids in our individual skill-sets are actually critical to building harmonious communities. As Bill Kauth and Zoe Alawan say, “We need each other, and we need to need each other”. Caroline Woolard of the New York City barter platform OurGoods elucidates, sharing that “When you take a class in a barter system you know the teacher needs you too”.

Thus, I recently found myself wondering, what range of skills might we collectively need in order to thrive in a post-growth world? Or, if the Post Growth Institute were to develop a platform for ‘resilience training’, what existing efforts should we be promoting? What would we include were we to extend beyond ‘traditional’ areas of sustainability re-skilling — such as growing food, building off-grid energy systems, and learning techniques to effectively bring communities together?

Loosely sorted into nine categories, the list below contains areas of knowledge and skills I consider most important for collective thriving in a range of possible post-growth futures. I’ve linked to explanations and guides for things that may be unfamiliar, and I acknowledge that certain skills, such as hunting, are justifiably not seen by everyone as necessary for human flourishing.

While long, this list is far from exhaustive. What’s more, it is understandably influenced by my thinking as a privileged White male living in the Global North— just one of the reasons I’m interested to know what you, dear reader, might add, change or remove.

  • Life hacking
  • Upcycling and making things from scratch (including dyes, soaps and shampoos)
  • Mending, knitting, sewing, crocheting and weaving
  • Tanning (to produce leather)
  • Homemade cosmetics
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Pottery

The above ‘kitchen sink’ list appears, at times, focused on individualistic approaches to self-sufficiency that are more about surviving than thriving. Yet resilient leadership has little to do with creating bullet-proof, invincible fortresses of individuals. It’s more about engaging with others in vulnerable ways that drive human connection.

By sharing personal experiences we open up to greater sharing of passions, knowledge, skills and resources, as well as discovering more clearly what work remains to be done, both together and alone. What makes the entire system strong is in understanding that everyone has something to offer; that, as in nature, complimentary diversity within a community’s skill sets creates greater resilience.

Resilient leadership is less about creating invincible individuals and more about engaging with others in vulnerable ways that drive human connection.

Fortunately, it’s increasingly easy to locate places and means by which to seed and nurture new knowledge and skills, especially with the explosion of online training. The Skillshare platform, for example, offers visitors the ability to find ‘project-based classes anytime, anywhere’.

Sure, there are times when it’s important to learn things alone. It’s just that there is a great deal to be gained from more of our learning happening together, building shared resilience in the process. As Eric Brende, in his book documenting his time within Amish communities, notes, there is a powerful spin on an old proverb, rather than ‘many hands make light work’, it’s worth considering how ‘many hands make work light’.

Originally published on on the Post Growth Institute (PGI) blog in December 2013. Find out more about the PGI here.

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