“The future belongs to the super-techies, the conscientious, and the thick-skinned.”

"The future belongs to the super-techies, the conscientious, and the thick-skinned." | Modern Mrs Darcy

I’m fascinated by cultural trends and generational shifts. Will knows this, and brought home this highly quotable line from a recent conference he attended.

The topic was the future workplace. While it would be foolish to take one proclamation from a single presenter on a conference stage as gospel, I think it’s an interesting theory, and worth exploring.

The future belongs to the super-techies.

We need dreamers, but we also need do-ers: skilled workers who can bring ideas to life. Coding and design work are in high demand these days, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon—especially for the specialized, high-skill work that’s difficult to outsource.

If you (like me) couldn’t code your way out of a cardboard box, take heart: being able to put technology to use is almost as useful as being able to design it yourself. (Phew.)

The future belongs to the conscientious.

Simply put, conscientiousness is the ability to regulate and direct impulses. The famous Marshmallow Test measures conscientiousness; it is one of the traits in the Big 5 theory of personality.

Conscientiousness is largely innate, though it can be cultivated to some degree. We would all do well to cultivate a bit more of it, because numerous academic studies show it to be a top predictor of positive outcomes in all facets of life

Conscientious people are good at getting things done. They are reliable and persistent. They plan purposefully, and follow through. Conscientious people live longer and are happier at work.

Innovation takes a good bit of dreaming, but somebody has to give those ideas legs. The conscientious will be the ones to do it.

The future belongs to the thick-skinned.

This is the trait that is most evident to me, and the one that comes the hardest.

Innovation is hard, and is inevitably linked with failure. Those who seek change make themselves vulnerable to questions, criticism, and outright contempt.

Because our world is moving online, this means innovators are subjected to censure in that same public, unfiltered sphere.

Most of us are vulnerable to critic’s math, the formula that says 1 insult + any number of compliments = 1 insult. I certainly am. This makes having an appropriately thick skin even more important.

The solution is simple, if not easy: keep your head down and do the work. The future belongs to those who do.


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  1. Emily says:

    I definitely see the how the first is becoming more and more true (there are coding classes and games now for kids!), but the last two of course seem more timeless. Something that strikes me is whether our increasing reliance on technology could help with your last point. Is it easier to develop a thicker skin when (to grossly over-simplify) because of the possibilities of technology, you have more frequent and more broad contact from the get-go? Are you less susceptible to the critic’s math when you routinely are communicating with many, many people? I’m sure most bloggers would tell you no, but then again, most bloggers are not from the newest generation.

    • Anne says:

      Hmm. Maybe. I can see how having a broad experience would help one realize that there’s plenty of variety in people’s opinion. But then again, technology makes it really easy to criticize, and get criticized in return.

  2. Jamie says:

    Mark Gungor has a great quote about how some personality types handle criticism or opposition: they just assume the other person is wrong, and get on with their lives. My husband laughed out loud when he heard that, because it’s totally me! (I’m an ISTJ.)

    I cannot tell you how often I have wished this ability was something I could bottle and hand out to some of my beautiful, more tender-hearted friends when they’re distraught over unkind words spoken by someone who (from my perspective) is clearly an idiot not worth listening to.

    Also, I think it’s interesting that many people are using/substituting the ability to concentrate and single-focus for conscientiousness in discussions like this. My mom recently read The Digital Invasion: How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships and told me one of the things that stood out to her the most was that CEOs and other industry leaders “in the know” in Tech Valley, etc. are sending their children to schools that don’t use iPads and intentionally focus on reading/interacting with real books because they recognize how important the ability to deep focus is to success. Random interesting fact. Sorry this got long!

  3. I’d always felt bad about being thin-skinned until someone pointed out to me that people who are thin-skinned are also usually very sensitive and empathic toward other people, and people who can easily brush off criticism can tend to struggle a bit with that.

    That helped a little…to see the upside of something that tends to mostly feel like a downside.

    (Not that we shouldn’t work on developing a thicker skin!)

  4. Janet says:

    Very interesting. I’m afraid my husband and daughter got the geeky genes in our family, but I am very conscientious and always follow through. Unfortunately I’m very thin skinned and any kind of criticism will make me withdraw. The Critic’s Math is so true!

  5. Allison says:

    I am not sure I agree 100% with this quote. While it is true that techies have something of an advantage, and certainly conscientiousness and thick-skin are traits to be cultivated, to say that the future BELONGS to such as these is a bit of an over-reach, don’t you think? I think the future also belongs to the merciful (as noted above, those with less than reptilian skin). It also belongs to those of us who STILL prefer face to face contact, the warmth of human touch as it is shown in a hug, a meal delivered on a cold night, a newly made baby blanket, or personal presence at a graveside. Conscientiousness is to be highly sought, but NOT at the expense of putting work to the side to listen to a co-worker, or maybe even to the voice of God.

    • Anne says:

      Ha! Yes, it’s definitely over-reaching, which is part of what makes it so quotable. 🙂

      I’ve been reading more and more about how the qualities you mentioned—empathy, face-to-face contact, interpersonal understanding—are going to be increasingly valuable in the workplace in the years to come. Those things can never be outsourced.

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