The Most Important Skill You’ll Need to Succeed at Work

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As the workplace changes, so do the skills necessary to succeed. And boy, according to a report put out by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, things sure are changing fast.

The next five years will bring the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the WEF posits. Building upon the three Industrial Revolutions that came before (which the WEF defines as “water and steam power to mechanize production,” “electric power to create mass production,” and “electronics and information technology to automate production,” respectively), the Fourth will see groundbreaking technological breakthroughs in the fields of robotics, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and energy storage. It will quickly and drastically change the world—and the workforce. 

To survive and thrive in this changing environment, we, as workers, will need to change as well. With increased automation and improved robotics, interpersonal skills will become more important than technical proficiency. “Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control,” the report states [PDF]. 

As seen in the graphic above, the WEF ranked the top 10 skills workers need to succeed in 2015 and 2020, and in both cases “Complex Problem Solving” came out on top. “Critical Thinking” and “Creativity” also climb the list as “Negotiation” and “Coordinating with Others” slip. In 2020, “Emotional Intelligence” and "Cognitive Flexibility" will also be vital to success, while “Quality Control” and "Active Listening" will fall by the wayside.

So, you want to get ahead at work in the next five years? Demonstrate how you, as an individual, are unique and irreplaceable (by other people and robots alike).