What the Next Generation Needs to Thrive in Exponential Times
How do you raise kids today during these exponential times?
Should they learn a second language… in a world of instant translation?
Should they ever memorize any fact… in a world of ubiquitous Google?
Will college even exist in 10 years’ time?
Which is more important? Learning to code or learning sports?
As a father of twin 4-year-old boys, these questions are on my mind. (My wife may have a different point of view as an artist).
This post is one parent’s opinion.
When I was 10 years old...
When I was 10 years old, the first electronic calculators came out, and my dad didn’t want to buy me one because he felt it would weaken my math skills.
Eventually he did buy me one, and rather than dampen my skills, I learned programming on my Texas Instruments TI-58.
But times do change.
Compared to the basic curriculum 100 years ago, the basics no longer include:
- Growing our own food
- Making our own clothing… needlework
- Greek, Latin or type setting
If predictions come true, namely that robotics and artificial intelligence will displace 50 percent of today’s jobs in 20 years’ time, what should your kid(s) study today?
I often keynote Fortune 500 events and one persistent question from the audience is: “So, Peter, what will you teach your kids given this explosion of exponential technologies?”
Near-Term… Coding or Physics
In the near term (this next decade) the lingua franca is coding and machine learning. Any kid graduating college with these skills today can get a job.
But this too, will be disrupted in the near future by A.I.
Long-Term… It’s Passion, Curiosity, Imagination, Critical Thinking, and Grit
I imagine a future in which robotics and A.I. will allow any of us, from ages 18 to 108, to easily and quickly find answers, create products and accomplish tasks, all simply by expressing our desires.
From “mind to manufactured in moments” — in short, we’ll be able to do and create almost whatever we want.
In such a future, I believe there are five critical attributes our children need to learn to become successful in their adult life:
1. PASSION: You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a mission in life. A calling, something to jolt them out of bed every morning.
For my kids, I want to support them in finding their passion or purpose. Something uniquely theirs.
For me, it was exploring outer space. I LOVE space. Apollo and Star Trek ignited my flames. As much as my parents wanted me to become a physician, I was truly (and still am) a space cadet.
My goal for my 4-year-olds is to expose them to as many ideas as I can, and then fan the flames on whatever they want to do. (One of my closest friends loved playing video games in high school. Today he’s one of the world’s top video game designers. You can create a career from any passion!)
2. CURIOSITY: The next attribute that is critical during exponential times is curiosity. It is something that is innate in kids and yet something that most people lose over time.
In a world of Google, robots and A.I., raising a kid that is constantly asking questions and running “what if” experiments can be extremely valuable.
This is mostly because running constant experiments is fundamentally necessary on the path to success.
As Jeff Bezos said about success and innovation: “The way I think about it, if you want to invent, if you want to do any innovation, anything new, you’re going to have failures because you need to experiment. I think the amount of useful invention you do is directly proportional to the number of experiments you can run per week per month per year.”
I constantly ask my kids “what if” questions.
And if they ask, “What if…?” encourage them. Help paint the picture… And try to help them create an experiment to test that hypothetical situation.
3. IMAGINATION: Entrepreneurs and visionaries imagine the world (and the future) they want to live in, and then they create it. Kids happen to be some of the most imaginative humans around… it is critical that they know how important and liberating imagination can be.
Imagination goes hand in hand with curiosity and passion.
Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, writes: “Imagination is one of humanity’s greatest qualities – without it, there would be no innovation, advancement or technology, and the world would be a very dull place.”
To my kids, the world is certainly not a dull place.
4. CRITICAL THINKING: In a world flooded with often-conflicting ideas, baseless claims, misleading headlines, negative news and misinformation, you have to think critically to find the signal in the noise.
Critical thinking is probably the hardest lesson to teach kids.
It takes time and experience, and you have to reinforce habits like investigation, curiosity, skepticism, and so on.
If you have ever talked to four-year-olds, you’re probably familiar with the “Why?” game.
It goes something like this:
Parent (enthusiastically): “It’s time to go to school!”
Parent: “Because you have to learn how to read and do math.”
Parent: “Because knowing how to read and do math is important.”
Parent (starts to get agitated): “Because… I said so!”
You get the idea.
My advice: Try not to BS them! Try to play this game and help them reason through complicated ideas and topics.
This game, though they don’t even know it, is the basis for critical thinking, and it’s up to you as a parent to encourage them and guide them through the questions.
5. GRIT: One of my favorite phrases these days is from Ray Kurzweil: “You’ve just got to live long enough to live forever.” Though I take it quite literally, it’s also a metaphor for persisting through challenges until you succeed.
Grit is seen as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals,” and it has recently been widely acknowledged as one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success.
Teaching your kids that they can’t fail… is critical.
Heck, much of my success comes from not giving up. I joke that both XPRIZE and Zero-G were both “overnight successes after 10 years of hard work.”
You have to make a conscious effort to encourage your kids to keep trying, even if they mess up.
Our kids are growing up in the most exciting time ever. You’re living in it too.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com
He is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions.
Diamandis is also the co-founder and vice-chairman of Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), a genomics and cell therapy-based company focused on extending the healthy human lifespan.
He is also the co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University, a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution that counsels the world’s leaders on exponentially growing technologies.
In the field of commercial space, Diamandis is co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, a company designing spacecraft to enable the detection and prospecting of asteroid for fuels and precious materials.He is the also co-founder of Space Adventures and Zero Gravity Corporation.
Diamandis is a New York Times bestselling author of two books: Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think and BOLD – How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.
He earned degrees in Molecular Genetics and Aerospace Engineering from MIT, and holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.
His motto is, “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”