University Degrees of the Future

Futurist guru Thomas Frey recently posted a list of 52 university degrees that we will need in the future. His insights reminded us of two important leadership strategy lessons.

Leaders Think Forward

While this idea seems obvious, I believe we understand it much better than we practice it. To prove the point, consider these facts:

  • When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies.
  • When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models.
  • When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design (Frey).

Experience and history indicate that gifted future-thinkers are not typically the popular people at the table. They push boundaries. They identify problems with your business model (and are the ones who actually talk about it – over and over and over!). They are not content and often become isolated because they make us uncomfortable. However, in an era where we love buzz-word disruptive technology, we must embrace the reality that disruptive ideas are sourced from disruptive people. Disruptive leaders know how to think-forward.

Leaders Take Calculated Risks

In addition to anticipating the future, we must also discern when it is time to act in advance of a market need. Frey noted that the Colorado School of Mines has begun to offer a degree in Asteroid Mining. Yes, you read that correctly – asteroid mining. Since it takes 6-8 years to launch new degrees and train students, we must become adept at offering programs (or products or services) before they are in high demand. However, the term innovative and universities are often at odds. As a whole, universities tend to offer the tried-and-true (as do many other industries). We are more apt to copy what is working elsewhere than to boldly go where none have gone before. However, we will need more degrees like the groundbreaking asteroid mining program!

Imagine how educational and entrepreneurial effectiveness could change if they worked in tandem!

For your interest, here is an abridged list of the degrees that Frey believes we need to offer to prepare for the future:

  1. Space exploration: space tourism, planetary colony design, non-earth human habitats and space infrastructure.
  2. Smart cities: autonomous traffic and construction integration, next-gen municipal planning and mixed reality modeling.
  3. Autonomous agriculture: robotic and drone systems, supply chain management and systems theory.
  4. Cryptocurrency: digital coin economics, cryptobanking design and regulatory oversight, and forensic accounting.
  5. Blockchain: Design, systems and application, biological blockchain technology, and municipal blockchain design.
  6. Unmanned aerial vehicles: filmaking, command center operations, and emergency response systems.
  7. Mixed reality: experiential retail, three-dimensional storytelling, game design, and therapeutic systems design.

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Contact him today to find out how he can help enhance your personal and organizational effectiveness –

Source: Thomas Frey

The Future of Sports – 19 Trends

Today’s blog provides several fascinating insights about the future of sports developed by the Shaping Tomorrow organization. You will find that these upcoming changes are rooted in several key drivers which include shifting demographics (Gen Y), technology invading markets which are not traditionally linked to tech (like sports) as well significant shifts in the economic priority of consumers. So, without further adieu, here they are.

  1. Broadcasts of virtual reality (VR) sports could become the norm.
  2. An estimated 27% of U.S public high schools will not be offering any sports programs by 2020.
  3. E-skin displays could become a direct competition or a replacement for sport watches.
  4. eSports revenues could surpass $1 billion as early as 2018. One Activision exec says it’s a potential Olympic sport.
  5. In the U.S there are more eSports fans than baseball fans and it’s predicted it will exceed any other sport in US.
  6. Millennials are projected to spend about half what all adults in the US and Canada spend ($50) on live sporting events.
  7. Adding sensors to sports equipment will continue to revolutionize the way athletes train and compete.
  8. Body sensor shipments are expected to increase from 2.7 million in 2015 to 68.0 million units annually by 2021.
  9. Parents will increasingly want sports equipment that helps protect their children from injury.
  10. Whoop is the first scientifically-grounded system designed for continuous wear that provides athletes with data to reduce injuries and predict peak performance.
  11. The activewear industry is expected to add $83 billion in sales globally by 2020.
  12. Demand will grow for products and services that help prevent or rehabilitate injuries in growing bodies.
  13. Sports-science insiders have predicted the imminent arrival of gene doping in sports.
  14. Annual smart clothing shipments will grow from 968,000 units in 2015 to 24.8 million units in 2021.
  15. By 2020, global shipments of VR headsets are expected to hit 64.8 million per year.
  16. A new app developed by Scottish start-up Sansible Wearables will let players and coaches track the intensity of a collision and the effect it has on the body.
  17. Similarly, a mouthguard with motion sensors can analyse concussion risks after a player contact.
  18. Rugby could find itself alongside American football as a sport fast losing support among a new generation of parents and young families.
  19. Intelligent robots will publish sports commentaries.

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Source: Shaping Tomorrow
Photo Credit: Bob Smith


[Infographic] Anticipating the Ripple Effects of Change (Part 2): Driverless Cars

Last week I posted a fascinating video which illustrated the need to anticipate the ripple effects of change (see Cats in Borneo). The sidebar below provides you with a quick summary of the video. It reminds us how our decisions impact, and are impacted by, the complex systems that we live within.

Systems Thinking Summary

Today we are continuing that theme by illustrating some of the anticipated ripple effects of future change from driverless cars. As a futurist, I am wired to look to the future in order to help businesses anticipate changes which will impact their organizations. The impending changes that driverless cars will bring reveal significant changes in the next decade.

Graham Winfrey provides an insightful list of five industries which will change as a result of driverless cars:

  1. Fast Food. Believe it or not, 70 percent of sales at McDonald’s come from drive-thru customers (Bloomberg). When people enter their destination into a driverless car and press “go,” they’ll be less likely to change course mid-route to grab fast food. Why? When it’s just as convenient to go anywhere for food as it is to go to McDonald’s or Burger King, people will likely choose fast food less (CB Insights). On top of this change, fast food locations near gas stations are also likely to attract fewer customers, as driverless cars will probably refuel when they’re not transporting passengers.
  2. Entertainment. Freeing up people from operating motor vehicles will present consumers with new blocks of time to read the news or enjoy entertainment. This will create opportunities for broadcasters to send video content to screens inside driverless cars and for advertisers to serve location-specific ads about products and services passengers will be near on their trip.
  3. Hotels that derive a significant amount of business from single-night customers during road trips are set to lose a lot of business. Why? It’s likely that many travelers will simply decide to sleep in their cars rather pay for an overnight stay. To be sure, it may take 20 years or more for this to become commonplace, but the roadside motel seems like a less viable business proposition as driverless cars take over.
  4. Property Values. When commuting substantial distances to work in a car becomes less of an inconvenience, property values will likely shift. Instead of the highest values concentrated in urban areas, home values will likely spread out more evenly across cities and into suburban areas. Parking garages and other spaces built around human drivers may also be converted to serve other purposes, as autonomous driving technology gradually reshapes city planning.
  5. Short-haul flights: Though most people prefer flying to driving due to the quicker travel time, shorter flights will likely see a drop in customers. The convenience and lower cost of sitting in a driverless car will begin to appeal more to people who don’t want to go through the hassle of waiting in line at the airport, going through security, and paying for ground transportation once they’ve arrived at their destination (Winfrey).

The following infographic addresses the same topic but provides some fresh insights (Owyang).














While there are many news stories which focus on driverless cars we are still in the early changes of thinking about the ripple effects of the changes they will cause in other industries. Successful companies and leaders will learn to anticipate changes such as the ones noted above. The ability to move more quickly than your competition is a key ingredient to strategic agility and  future-readiness.

In the past month our oldest child received his drivers license. I cannot help but wonder if this traditional adulthood right-of-passage is on the verge of becoming obsolete. Perhaps the DMV is yet another ripple in the pond of changes that driverless cars will bring.

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:


Jeremiah Owyang (Feb. 10, 2016). Chart: Autonomous Cars Change Every Industry, Even Yours.

Graham Winfrey (Feb. 2, 2016). 5 Surprising Industries That Will Be Transformed By Driverless Cars. Inc. on-line.

Image Credit: PBS

MegaTrends: 16 Things to Watch for in the Decade Ahead

Whenever I receive an email from the trend-watching organization called Shaping Tomorrow I get excited! Yesterday’s content was particularly insightful and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you in today’s post! I trust you will enjoy them as much as I did.

  1. More change will result from advances in technology in the next five years (by 2021) than has occurred over the past 50 years.
  2. Electricity generation will become a new small business.
  3. By 2030 the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants each (there are currently 30).
  4. By 2025, more than 70% of Africa’s population is expected to be living in cities.
  5. Facebook’s aggressive move into publishing will disrupt many marketing plans and jeopardize the traditional inbound marketing model (inbound marketing produces interesting content that draws customers to your business – like this blog!).
  6. Human-induced climate change will increase storm intensity by between 2 percent and 11 percent by the end of the century.
  7. By 2022, one in every 10 people will be wearing clothes connected to the internet.
  8. Drones will increasingly do many delivery, security and measurement jobs.
  9. Hydro, wind and geothermal energy could see Africa leapfrogging other continents by developing thousands of small-scale “virtual power stations” that distribute electricity via mini-grids and would not require transmission lines.
  10. Mankind will need to get much better at recycling agricultural inputs (like animal feeds and fertilizers) and growing food more efficiently.
  11. Three concepts of urbanization will emerge: megacities, mega regions and mega corridors. [Note: A megaregion is a large network of metropolitan regions that share several of the following: Environmental systems, topography, infrastructure and economic links. A megacorridor is transportation links between large cities, megacities or megaregions].
  12. Greater information flows will enable more people to become aware of opportunities for work both nearby and in distant places.
  13. Some of today’s large global managers will become mega-managers. A mega manager has the capacity to manage a much high level of complexity than traditional managers.
  14. The global production of battery EVs (electric vehicles) will grow from 273,000 in 2015 to 1.3 million in 2022.
  15. By 2050, the world’s urban population will have increased by some 72%.
  16. By 2020, 40% of existing jobs worldwide will be lost but many new ones will be created in the high-growth industries.

What megatrends would you add to this list?


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:


Michael Jackson (March 24, 2016). Megatrends report. Shaping Tomorrow.

Image Credit: Jarling-art

The Future of Working: Dystopia or Utopia?

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Philip Foster. You can learn more about him and his work below.


Recently I read an article from The Verge by Rich McCormick (2016) regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The focus of this article was a picture of Mark Zuckerberg walking past attendees who are wearing Samsung’s new Gear Virtual Reality headsets. Rich states that the image,

“…looks like concept art for a new dystopian sci-fi film. A billionaire superman with a rictus grin, striding straight past human drones, tethered to machines and blinded to reality by blinking plastic masks.”

Normally I would chuckle and move on, however this picture represents deeper insights about the future of our workforce and leadership. In fact, last year my colleague Dr. Jeff Suderman and I published a similar scenario in our paper “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios.” In our article we presented four scenarios which depict how we might engage human capital by the year 2050. Two of these scenarios explored the possible dehumanizing effects or impact of technology in the future workplace.

One scenario focused on something we called Bio-Circuitry Leadership. It was represented by an image found in the movie Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers were partnered with armored body suits. We imagined a scenario in which there would be “minimal separation between humankind and machinery/technology and very often, humans must adapt to the needs of technology instead of technology being adapted to meet our needs” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).  In this scenario, organizations and their leaders become “a complex blend of the best of both worlds: machines and humanity. The era of bio-circuitry leadership means that organizations have leveraged people and technology into a seamless system. It is difficult to distinguish between who people are and what they do because of how effectively human capacity is enhanced and blended with technology” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

The second scenario presented a contrasting view and was titled Automaton Leadership. “By definition, an automaton is a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being. As a result of the relentless progression of technology, human capital will be shaped into a group of robot-like devices to accomplish the betterment of our world” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). As this scenario unfolds we find a world in which the “economic collapses of the early twenty-first century coupled with a decreasing full-time workforce led to a wide acceptance of technologies in everyday life” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). Under this scenario we imagined a world in which individuals of working age “…apply for and are fitted with docking harnesses which permit them to connect directly into the work grid. The Internet of everything now includes humans themselves. Individuals strap themselves into a work pod and the docking harness connects their entire body into the Internet” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). In this world the lines between “reality and virtual are merged as individuals spend most of their waking time connecting to the network” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

Dr. Suderman and I recognize that our storylines are no more than best guesses about how our future will unfold.  However, the usefulness of scenarios about the future is not how accurate the stories turn out to be, but rather, how they help us shape the possibilities of the future. Twenty years ago few of us knew or even thought about the impact a smart phone would have on our lives. Today, we find mobile technologies impacting everyday decisions such as grocery shopping, taxi services and hotel accommodations. The seemingly innocuous introduction of ubiquitous technology has shaped a new economy right before our very eyes.

The idea of a future workforce strapped into some kind of technology may not be as farfetched as we would like it to be. In fact, most of us are already invisibly tethered to our smart devices. Laugh if you will, but the picture of Mark Zuckerberg and the audience of drones could very well be a glimpse into what is to come.



Philip FosterDr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman, E-mail:


Image Source: (McCormick 2016).

McCormick, Rich (2016). This image of Mark Zuckerberg says so much about our future. The Verge. Retrieved on February 21, 2016 from

Suderman, J.L., &Foster, P.A. (2015). “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios. A Case for relevant 2050 leadership – preparing for change.” Building Leadership Bridges. Sage Publishing.



Is Your Future Singular or Plural?

This week I asked someone a rather simple question:

“Is your future singular or plural?”

At first glance, it appears to be a rather innocent sentence. However, as you peel back the onion-like layers that enshroud this question, your answer provides significant insights about your beliefs. The easiest way to define the difference between a singular and a plural future is to tell the stories of Josh and Katie.

A Singular Future

Josh has always wanted to be a firefighter. This dream germinated when he was a young boy watching his neighbor’s house burn down. The idea has grown with him as he has matured. As a young adult, he has invested his time and training doing countless hours of physical and mental preparation. Yesterday, he finally got the letter he had been waiting for from his local Fire Department. But it held devastating news. He was not selected. Josh’s dream has come to an end and he found himself drifting as he was cut off from his anchor.

Josh struggled with his circumstances because he held one view of what the future would look like. The pursuit of a singular future can focus us, but it can also leave us without an anchor when dreams and reality collide.

A Plural Future

Katie is young college graduate, energetic and full of ideas. At times, her ideas overwhelm her because there is simply too many things that she wants to do. Yesterday, she got an unexpected letter in the mail. It was an invitation to join the Peace Corps for the next 12 months in the tiny African country of Burkina Faso. The place is so obscure she had to use Google to discover where it was! Despite her many dreams, she had never considered the Peace Corps. However, with time and consideration, she has come to realize that this opportunity aligns with her dreams, albeit in a way she would never have scripted. She has always wanted to travel, to help people and to make a difference in the world. Burkina Faso does all of these rather well and she decides to pursue this unexpected opportunity.

Katie embraced an unexpected future because she held many views of what it could look like. A plural future can feel confusing because it often requires us to hold onto conflicting ideas at the same time. However, when we understand the core values that drive our dreams, it can lead to wonderful and unexpected results. Like a year in Burkina Faso

Do you understand your personal future bias? How about your companies? Each of these two perspectives brings different strengths and weaknesses. Individuals with a singular future often pursue their goals with remarkable doggedness! But when those goals become unattainable it can cause the painful death of a dream. Future pluralists can often find unexpected success amidst an ocean of options. They can also have difficulty making decisions because opening one door often requires them to close another.

Our view of the future, whether singular or plural, significantly affects how we live. It shapes our view of risk. It defines how we perceive change. It quietly defines our views of right and wrong. It guides who we choose to spend our time with. It even affects how we manage our finances. So as Socrates once advised, “know thyself”. Is your future singular or plural?


Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgDr. Jeff Suderman plural futurist, consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Becoming a Future-Ready Organization: Moving Your Dot

This week I have the privilege of conducting some workshops with higher education professionals in Florida at the NACCAP ‘15 conference. I will be speaking about developing organizations which are resilient amidst change. Today’s blog shares three Future-Ready principles that we will be speaking about.

Principle 1: Strategy defines your preferred future.

When you make a plan, you place an invisible dot in the future that says, “I want to be here at a defined time”. Sometimes this dot is in the near future such as picking up the kids from school in an hour. Conversely, when an organization sets a five year strategy in place, they are placing their dot in the distant future. Wherever it is, your dot defines your preferred future. Future-Ready organizations have a deep understanding of their preferred future and can tell a robust story about their dot.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Peter Drucker

Principle 2: We have three ways by which we define our preferred future.

Research reveals that individuals view things through one of three time orientations; the past, the present or the future. If you have a past orientation, you make plans by assessing what can be learned from history. Those with a present orientation evaluate their current circumstances in order to make decisions. If you have a future orientation, you think and dream about the future before you make plans. Each of these orientations is valuable for different reasons. As a result, good plans involve all three of these perspectives. Effective leaders learn from the past, leverage the present and prepare for the future.

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are”. Anais Nin

Principle 3: The uncertainty of your preferred future increases as your time horizon increases.

The further your invisible dot is from today, the greater the uncertainty about whether or how it can be achieved. Many things can occur which will affect your plans to pick up the kids from school in an hour. However, this uncertainty is significantly magnified if you stretch your time horizon to 3, 5 or 10 years. This means that Future-Ready organizations must embrace uncertainty and develop the capacity to quickly adjust their dot when unexpected changed occur. This is called strategic agility. It is not the ability to know the future, but rather, the ability to anticipate and respond to it more quickly than others do!

“Change is the way that the future invades our lives. Leadership is the way that we invade our future”. Alvin Toffler, Susan Komives.

Change is inevitable! However, successful organizations invade the future by understanding and applying these three principles. Strategic efforts should define your preferred future. Your time orientation affects how we think and plan for the future. Finally, longer time horizons have higher uncertainty. Through the use of strategic foresight, organizations can develop the capacity to make adjustments when things affect our preferred future. The ability to more dots quickly will be a hallmark of effective organizations in the 21st century!

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Photo Credit

Educational Sustainability: Another Housing Crash in the Making?

Mark Cuban is never afraid to be controversial. However, his latest verbal diatribe aligns with other recent articles which are expressing concerns about the shrinking middle class and the value of higher education.

In a recent article he notes,

“For years the federal government has been subsidizing loans, much like they did with houses ahead of the 2008 crash. This has led to increased tuition costs and lending to individuals who will more than likely never be able to pay back their student loans. The end result, according to Mark Cuban, will be a bursting of the debt bubble, a significant drop in college income, and an outright collapse of America’s institution of higher learning. We saw a collapse in the price of housing and we’re going to see the same collapse in the price of student tuition and that’s going to lead to colleges going out of business.”

In a post earlier this month I noted the trend of the rise of the shrinking middle class (Five Forecasts for ’15). It highlighted that the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 95 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2012. When we combine the trends of increasingly accessible loans and a less affluent middle-class, we have some of the ingredients required for a perfect storm.

This doesn’t mean that college education is not worthwhile. However, it likely means that every college education is not worthwhile! Future hot job projections, financial awards and alumni employment statistics are going to become the metrics which will increasingly be used measure educational return on investment

While both Cuban and the journalistic source of this article lean towards sensationalism, I believe that there is still truth to mine related to student debt. Debt is rising and at some point the risk versus reward ratio will be a negative one for higher education.

According to Cuban, it already is!


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman
Slavo, Mark (Dec. 28, 2014). Billionaire Mark Cuban Warns Of Massive Crash That Will Wipe Out America’s Colleges: “You’re Going To See A Repeat Of What We Saw In The Housing Market”. D.C. Clothesline,  Retrieved from

Article image from

Leading Globally: Understanding Future Orientation

What do the terms Just Do It, Don’t Worry be Happy, Manyana and Hakuna Matata have in common? Each provides a glimpse into a person’s orientation toward the future. Nike’s Just Do It phrase connotes immediacy, importance and the need for self-determination. In contrast, Manyana suggests that we should live in the moment as there is always tomorrow.

Individuals and organizations each possess a bias towards one of these two styles. This is called future orientation and it is an ingredient which defines how we operate, individually, nationally and an organizationally. This blog will focus on future orientation and is part 2 of an 8 part series which will help you develop global leadership skills (click here to review the first blog on Performance Orientation).


Future Orientation is the degree to which we encourage and reward future oriented behaviors such as planning and delaying gratification. 

The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between cultures or individuals with high and low future orientation. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific high/mid/low future orientation results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study. Here is a list of the things which distinguish high versus low future orientation:

Future Orientation Overview











As you work with individuals, here are some practical ways to identify whether your coworker has a higher or lower future orientation:

Future Orientation Individual







An interesting lesson from this research is that almost every country places a very high value of future orientation. However, the difference between high and low performers is execution – the ability to act on your plan and delay gratification. The study also revealed that being a rich country does not necessarily correlate to having a high future orientation. There are many poorer countries with high future orientation that are not wealthy.

Overall, higher levels of future orientation is an ingredient for personal and organizational success. For example, my blog earlier this week (Hello My Name is Agility) demonstrated that the most effective companies have time planning horizons of more than 5 years. Therefore, we typically want to help people increase their future capacity.

The ability to identify future orientation helps you work with individuals or organizations more effectively. Here are a few tips on how to use this information as you work with others.

  • Begin with awareness. Is the person/organization you are working with able to self-identify their time orientation? Awareness is the first step!
  • Be positive! Remember that most people/organizations want to have a high future orientation!
  • Stay focused. Help those with low future orientation establish clear future goals. Consistently remind how about these goals and the need to delay gratification in order to achieve them.
  • Keep it personal. Help those with high future orientation maintain healthy social relationships. People matter!

In our next installment of Leading Globally, we will discuss how gender affects cultural norms.

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.

Future Orientation Country

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M, Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Unlearning: The new leadership skill

In order to thrive in the future we are going to need to learn how to unlearn. Amidst unparalleled change, leaders can no longer rely on ‘what they know’. Instead, effective leaders will be defined by the capacity to unlearn outdated and ineffective ways of doing things. More importantly, they will also have the capacity to help their organizations do the same.

A recent article in The Futurist defined this as unlearning and uplearning. The authors note, “one of the most important skills in a time of immense change is to develop the capacity to unlearn old ideas that are increasingly obsolete and learn how to reason, adapt, and act at a higher level of complexity”. Here is what this looks like:

Unlearning: This skill requires us to be able to identify and unlearn ideas and activities that have worked in the past but do not work in today or will not in the future. For example, teachers are no longer sole content providers/experts as a result of the internet. This week, I have observed my children being taught in classrooms (bricks-and-morter as well as on-line) as well as through gamification, Kahn Academy, Wikipedia and Google Translate. Their learning comes from many content providers and experts! However, the teacher as the expert is a longstanding tradition that drives our educational system. We need to unlearn how we teach in order to improve education.

Uplearning: The ability to be comfortable working with complex problems, not because you know the answers, but because you are equipped with critical thinking skills . These skills – such as synthesis, adaptability, systems-thinking and a multidisciplinary approach- enables individuals to ‘pull’ themselves into the unknown. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, demonstrates uplearning in his proposed ‘Hyperloop’, a solar-powered transportation system designed to move people between LA and San Francisco in about 30 minutes. There is currently no way to accomplish this dream. However, he believes that a group of people committed to uplearning can learn how to do so.

This change will be challenging if we rely on historic models of education. Richard Ogle highlighted this in his book Smart World when he noted, “Western education is based on two fundamental principles…rational thinking and content of knowledge that already exists … and, by definition, traditional learning looks backward. In a world of radical change, imagination, intuition, insight and innovation are required …and, by definition, learning looks forward”. Education itself must transform by applying unlearning and uplearning principles.

Alvin Toffler once said, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. While the terms unlearning and uplearning may not be common, you can expect them to become cornerstones of effective education and leadership in the decades ahead.

What are the common barriers you encounter that inhibit uplearning and unlearning?

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Ogle, R. (2007). Smart world: Breakthrough creativity and the new science of ideas. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, p. 113.

Budd, B., de la Tega, M., Grove, B., & Smyre, R. (July-August 2014). Creating a future forward college: What if…Collaborations in transformational learning. The Futurist (Vol. 48, No. 4). Retrieved Octtober 21 from