Nothing in the world, and nothing in our lives, is static; if we stay the same, we risk stagnation. Unfortunately, young people and their ability to adapt to change is almost entirely ignored by parents and teachers alike, which puts the next generation of adults at a huge disadvantage once they enter the working world.

In my various careers and business ventures, I’ve always had to learn the necessary skills from scratch. They were developed by happy coincidence, rather than educators having consciously worked to develop them. That’s a pretty risky way to build such foundational skills, one that won’t work in the age of fast-changing technology.

This is where meta skills and adaptability quotients come into play. By learning universally applicable skills as early in life as possible, we can more easily adapt to new situations and succeed at challenges. For this reason alone, young people and their ability to adapt to change should be one of the most-watched areas of life, not one of the most ignored.

Why Adaptability is the Most Important Skill

Adaptability is crucial to the ability of an entity to survive and thrive through changing conditions. That’s been the case since the dawn of life on Earth – survival of the fittest, after all. A scientific methodology for measuring how adaptable we are as individuals is, however, a more recent development.

Adaptability quotient (AQ) is most simply defined as “the ability to realize optimal outcomes based on recent or future change”. It was first discussed by Amin Toufani and his research team at Adaptability.org. It has since been studied and understood by countless people and organisations as a key feature not just in nature, but in human social interactions, business, personal growth, and more.

Source: The Metaskills You Need To Thrive In The 21st Century by Gustavo Razzetti

Without adaptability, a person will fail to thrive, and eventually become unsuited for the environment around them. It doesn’t matter what other talents or skills that person has, if they can’t adjust to meet changing conditions in their world, they will fail.

It’s easy to argue that adaptability is the most important skill one can cultivate, especially for young people. We live in a world filled with changing societies, evolving social norms, and technological advancements that practically reinvent how we interact with each other every decade or so. One can’t succeed in that world if they study outdated skills and neglect skills with broader applications.

Using Meta Skills to be More Adaptive

We can define a skill as meta if it possesses a means by which we can learn other skills more quickly, on a higher level, and across different areas of life.

In the context of sport, a meta skill could be well-developed hand-to-eye coordination. Anyone who possesses this will find it easier to master specific skills across sports, from a golf stroke to the ability to drop a basketball into a hoop or keep a football under control. Having a good tennis serve wouldn’t be considered meta, however, because it doesn’t make learning other skills more quickly, and it doesn’t apply to other sports.

In a professional context, meta skills work in the same way. Possessing meta skills means we can better learn and execute specific skills – often referred to as ‘functional skills’, like knowing a programming language or quickly understanding a new piece of software.

Meta skills are even found in our personal lives. Self-awareness, creativity, and resilience are all meta skills, for example. An individual with strong self-awareness will learn better and continue to improve throughout their life. Similarly, resilience will underpin motivation to succeed, and creativity boosts the ability to innovate and solve problems, which means difficulties will be better overcome.

Boiled down, meta skills give us the ability to learn new things well and efficiently, and then effectively put them to use. One’s adaptability quotient is thus immediately boosted through the attainment of meta skills.

Meta Skills and a High Adaptability Quotient are More Important Than Ever 

Meta skill-facilitated adaptability – whether scientifically quantified and measured by AQ, or more loosely, empirically defined – has always been a professional and personal advantage. Professional conditions have never remained absolutely stable, and professionals able to add value most broadly have always excelled.

The acceleration of technological change and its impact on sectors and individual professional roles over the last 20 years means adaptability and the ability to learn new functional skills regularly and quickly has become more important than ever. Young people and their ability to adapt to change has never been tested more than it is today.

If I think of my own professional background in sales and marketing, that acceleration is obvious. And I like to think that I have developed the meta skills that will allow me to keep up through continuous learning as the pace of change picks up. Everything points to the fact it will.

Meta skills and adaptability are now so important that leaving their development to chance could be considered reckless. And there’s plenty of data to back that up. The World Economic forum calculates that the typical functional skill, or ‘business competency’, now has an average shelf life of just 4.2 years. In the 1980s, business competencies were relevant for an average of 30 years.

By the time today’s primary school children enter the workforce, a staggering 65% of today’s job titles will no longer exist. Unless we keep learning new functional skills, we’ll quickly become professionally obsolete. And the challenge to keep reinventing themselves with new skills that faces the generations that follow will only increase alongside the pace of technological progress.

In other words, if you’re a young person, adaptability is the most important skill you could learn. Sadly, this ability to adapt to change is not only ignored by educators, it’s often specifically taught against as practically ancient functional skills are favored in classrooms. 

Young People and their Ability to Adapt to Change

Adaptability is increasingly recognised as a competitive advantage. The message is clear for both those of us already in the workforce and those who will join it in the near future: don’t leave the development of the meta skills that improve our adaptability quotient to chance. We’ll need them to become professionally successful.

One of our chief missions at Universal Owl is to provide resources to help young people understand the value of meta skills and learn them independently. Outdated learning models and centuries-old teaching methods will not help us thrive in the future. To grow and learn, we must rely on what is universal and proven in the real world.

John Alexander Adam writes for Universal Owl on topics relating to finance. An entrepreneur, he has one successful exit behind him. John has almost 10 years of experience as a writer and editor on consumer finance, investment and tech topics.

He currently writes and consults while studying for his purple belt in SEO and conversion science. In his spare time, he enthusiastically pursues hobbies he’s not very good at, such as football, squash and raising a small child.

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