What I Learned By Asking 100 School Kids About The Future Of Work

Author

Theo Priestley, Contributor

June 29, 2015

In May this year I gave a different style of presentation at an Ignite event in San Francisco to the ones I normally do. As an analyst and someone who gets excited by telling stories about the possibilities of technology I do a fair bit of research and digging around, but I needed something different. Simply regurgitating the same facts and numbers over and over in meme fashion that we read every week wasn’t enough.

So I went back to school. Literally.

I approached the Head Teacher of a local primary school and asked her help, I needed to find out from the kids what they expect their future to look like when they enter the business world. She graciously agreed and roped in the other teachers to coordinate. Bear in mind we’re talking a vast age range here, from 5-11 year olds, girls and boys. I really didn’t have any expectations, save for feedback like ‘flying cars’, ‘moon based offices’, like a cross between the Jetsons and Star Trek.

What I got back was so grounded and well thought out its made me challenge just how we seem to approach our own thinking about the future.

I, Robot

Kids love robots but there wasn’t a hint of Optimus Prime anywhere. They wanted helpers in the office, assistants to help them achieve their work in a more productive way. They expect things like virtual assistants we are learning to live with in Siri, Cortana, Google to be completely woven into the fabric of business, ambiently aware of our needs and not explicitly called into action. They understood that robots have a purpose and they should be part of the process, not extraneous to it.

What, no PC and Pa$$w0rd5 ??

There was no mention of the humble PC. In fact, if it has a surface, kids expect to be able to interact with it, be it a table, wall, window. Everything was game. Virtual reality and holography were key to how kids today expect to conduct business tomorrow. Not only that, the notion of passworded security didn’t even feature. Everything was passively tied to a user’s biometrics, whether fingerprint, facial or voice recognition, security and privacy was again an ambient process that wasn’t explicitly invoked.

Children value the idea of privacy long before they understand the full implications of it.

I don’t want E-mail

What child does ? These were no exception. They valued multi-video collaboration and mobile working above traditional methods we use today. Kids collaborate using Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype to complete their homework assignments. At the age of 11. Yet in an office environment we still find it rare to conduct business this way. Kids won’t when they enter the business world, they expect it as a minimum.

Change the emotion of work

Perhaps the best conclusion from the entries was that children expect work to have an emotional connection, not be a hard, grey environment they spend the vast majority of their lives in. The whole office is expected to be crowdshaped according to the moods from the workers, in real-time. Colours, visuals, smells, sounds.

It’s not a bad idea, and beat the ubiquitous bean bag and pinball machine afterthought some companies prescribe to.

Another brick in the wall ?

This became the title of the presentation, which you can find on my Slideshare account and also can view the Ignite talk from the MemSQL HQ. After reading 100+ golden nuggets of inspiration four things became clear:

  1. We are ignoring a key generation in understanding what they want us to build for the future, and not everything they suggest is far-fetched. Millennials are the wrong people we should be talking to if we want to stay ahead of the game.
  2. We are guilty of not taking the business and IT world into the classroom earlier. We surround ourselves in stats and scores to affirm our position around STEM education, genders in classrooms, and wait for the policymakers to change things. We should be the ones to change things.
  3. We need more -eers. There has been an overt focus on developers. Indeed most curriculums are looking into computer science and programming to be part of the education system because of the shortfall in skills predicted. But we need to think broader than this. We need more engineers, imagineers, creationeers. People who can create, build and programme. If we truly are entering an age where 50 billion devices will connect and talk across the internet then who is going to build and maintain them all ? A developer can’t, but an engineer can.
  4. It was the girls who gave the most detailed feedback in the entries I received. Stop creating pie charts about girls leaving STEM subjects and just talk to them.

Kids want to learn about business, IT, and STEM subjects faster than we are prepared to keep up with because we’re so preoccupied about creating a future we want to see but will never inhabit by the time it’s built.

So, my advice. This year go back to school. Search out the golden nuggets that are hidden in the classrooms across your countries. Talk to the real generation we should be building a future for.

You might learn something.

This article was written by Theo Priestley from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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