In previous articles such as eLearning and Soft Skills: What Went Wrong? and New Directions in eLearning Soft Skills, I covered the historical challenges encountered in trying to figure out how to teach soft skills in the eLearning environment, and how such new approaches emphasizing speed, thin-slicing, and coaching orientation are overcoming those historical challenges. But those articles also raise an additional important question: What are the soft skills that are most important for an eLearning focus in the 21st century?

Bringing the Right Soft Skills into eLearning’s Focus

The kind of creative thinking needed to gain and sustain competitive advantage in the modern world requires a set of skills that many might characterize as more right-brain skills, although that is an oversimplification. These are the skills that enable people to envision a bold new future that not only challenges but completely disrupts the status quo, seeing ripe opportunities in change where others see anxiety and uncertainty. The include the following:

Active Imagination. It should come as no surprise that the monotony of left-brain tasks so common in organizations have dulled people’s ability to exercise their imagination in ways that can lead to all sorts of grand possibilities. People must be given the opportunity to break their normal routines and mix things up in a way that spurs new thinking. TED talks are one great way to get people’s wheels turning in a forward-looking unconventional thinking sort of way.

Disruptive Inquiry. Asking great questions is one sure way to get people to think differently, especially when it flies in the face of obvious long-held opinions and attitudes. A disruptive question is one that shocks people into new avenues of thinking that would otherwise not surface at all. Sometimes it’s just asking a question that hasn’t been asked in a long time because they answer seems so obvious. For example, if you asked what could our rivals do that would really hurt our company? The creative answers you get could very well form the basis for a new strategic plan of what your company needs to do. Disruptive inquiry is about asking questions that make people curious to explore the answers, which can be very revealing. This can drive both innovation and solutions.

Problem-Solving. But this isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill problem solve. What’s needed in the 21st century organizational environment is highly creative problem-solving that can find solutions in unexpected and surprising places. Once again it’s about breaking habitual or traditional lines of thought in order to see solutions wherever they may be, often from sources that seem only tangentially related to your company, if at all. It’s about seeing the whole world with fresh eyes.

Nimbleness. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick… Never before in the history of business and organizations has agility been more needed. Leadership guru Peter Vaill describes the modern organizational environment as permanent white water, where the pace of change seems to keep accelerating beyond belief. People need to be incredibly resourceful when unexpected change comes along, as it inevitably will. This is about planning for success in spite of all kinds of potential constraints.

Resilience. Nimbleness is great, but when the changes just keep coming in rapid-fire succession, some people get worn out very quickly. People must learn to keep tackling the challenges head on without flagging. This is about perseverance in the face of constant and changing obstacles. It takes tenacity to turn the seemingly impossible into reality.

The above list represents five essential soft skills that eLearning must focus on if organizations are to navigate the rapids of the permanent white water of the 21st century. By infusing these skills throughout your company, you’ll emerge a stronger organization that can handle the next set of rapids on the journey to lasting success.