What is 21st Century skills? Business, as usual, is not the new normal…… 

“So what”, I hear you think. “Tell us something we don’t know!”  

Fair enough, fair enough – we hear this all the time. The reason being is that it’s true. Change has always been happening but the current pace of change is faster than ever before. It’s not about what’s happening in the future, it’s what’s happening in the now.  

And right now, thriving means a new way of thinking and behaving. The skills that enabled us to thrive, ( like way, way back in 2015…) are not the skills that will enable us to thrive and adapt right NOW.  

The great news is that humans are ready to adapt and thrive, we have been doing it since day 1.  

I came across a great story that showcases a great example of a new way of thinking and a perfect example of the type of behaviours/skills/attributes that we need to develop to thrive in the 21st Century.  

It’s a story deeply set in human empathy that evolved out of the Ebola Crisis in Western Africa. It’s a wonderful example of how thinking differently can drive innovation.  

You can watch that film here:

My Thinking

An Art Professor from Los Angeles, was watching the unfolding Ebola crisis and it dawned on her how lonely and vulnerable the patients must feel. The only interaction they were having was from people who were covered head to toe in frightening, sterile and completely impersonal protective gear.  

Imagine being in that emotional and physical state and not having a friendly face? 

The Professor thought, “Why don’t they just put photos on the suits?” and then, “Hey, maybe I am the person to make that happen.” She made that happen.  

And this is the premise for the wonderful little film I have been watching called The Adaptable Mind.  

As Automation, AI and Technology drive change like never before, certain skills that were once important (like 5 years ago) are no longer so. The repeatable,  mundane tasks are being done for us and most of our kids won’t need a licence. The need to memorise isn’t as important when we can literally Google anything,. And look, we all know this stuff. We hear it every day. 

So what skills are becoming important? It’s the human-centred skills that will enable people to  thrive in the 21st Century. 

It’s this interaction of humans and technology and the positive change that it can drive that I get ever so excited about. 

As the film producers unpacked all the cognitive skills, soft skills, hard skills, life skills needed by an American Art Professor to create a different experience for Ebola patients in West Africa, they came up with a set of traits (not yet in every textbook) essential for thriving in the 21st Century. 

The key 21st Century skills are:  


The difference between skimming information and truly engaging. Science shows that being curious activates a number of different parts of our brain and turns our mind into happy sponges. As we ask more questions, we open more pathways and open more possibilities.  


Whilst we often think of it in an artistic sense, It’s important in every context: Looking around and repurposing ideas, taking different research and finding connections, creating new ideas and new synthesis. Harvard Psychologist Howard Gardener says creativity is liberating human energy. As we have so much information at our fingertips, getting the information isn’t the challenge. It’s how we connect that information in unique ways that will differentiate us and that’s the important stuff. 

Taking initiative

If we don’t take it and make things happen,  our ideas will float away. #GSD (Getting shit done)  requires initiative, intuition, judgement and working through which ideas to move on. 

Multi-disciplinary thinking

Whist multi-tasking is proven to be ineffective, we need to be undertaking multi asking. Our mind is designed to connect and collaborate. It can be messy and takes time but it’s where great things happen. To get started, reach out to see what would others not related to your problem would think. What would someone not in your field think? Ask for their help and create new connections and make sure your mind is open to being changed. 


This is at the heart of everything.  Imagine what it’s like for others.Sense the motive and feelings of others. Understand where they are coming from. Connecting is meaningless unless we connect deeply. Imagine what it’s like to be a patient taken away from your family in a health crisis. Empathy is at the core of our ability to communicate, to work together and be part of our rapidly changing world. 

The film finishes saying “we are now moving from the knowledge economy to another seismic shift called the human economy.”   

These human skills that make us unique from machines are just as important as our knowledge 

It’s that combination of wonderful human traits combined with amazing technology that can enable us to solve the most wicked problems and what I get ever so excited about.  

Do yourself a favour and watch this wonderful film – you will get a warm fuzzy feeling and find yourself just a little excited about what’s possible when we embrace the wonderful human skills we were all born with.  

Here’s to a more creative world.  


If you want to know more about my work, or you need to inspire your team to kick start their thinking, drop me an email. I would love to hear from you.

Or check out my book on kickstarting a culture of innovation in your workplace, you can download the first 2 chapters FREE here. 

Chat soon,

Simon Banks

Simon Banks

About the Author

Simon Banks is an Author. International Keynote speaker and Podcaster on creativity and innovation and recovering Artist. He’s delivered over 1400+ events across the globe and is known for running innovation workshops, conferences and design sprints to brew fresh thinking and solve wicked problems. His book A Thousand Little Lightbulbs: How to kickstart a culture of Innovation in your Organisation is out now.

Get in touch here

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