Funny, isn't it? When two people solve a problem together in the workplace, it's called "collaboration." But when school kids do the same thing, it's called "cheating." At least, I used to find it funny. Ha-ha. Now, I'm dead-serious about kids working together.
The World Economic Forum's 2018 Future of Jobs report summarized 10 job skills that are on the rise. Among them are three flavors of collaboration: complex problem-solving, ability to influence, and idea generation. Notably, rote memorization is trending downward as a hot skill (thank goodness).
For young people looking to land their first "real job" around 2022-2025, developing these collaborative skills now is critical. And they'll need to break from current norms to do it.
Problem-solving as a team sport
With a handful of notable exceptions, individuals aren't good at teasing out the solution to a complicated problem all by themselves. And let's face it: The problems organizations are tackling these days are pretty gnarly. In fact, roughly 90 percent of companies are solving problems so complex that they rely on collaboration to get the job done.
So, unless a kid is the next Ada Lovelace or Albert Einstein, best get some practice solving problems in cooperation with others. As a bonus, building muscle memory around collaboration in middle and high school helps make the dreaded group projects in college less dreadful.
One point of light is the trend toward replacing school science fairs with STEM fairs. Whereas traditional science fairs focus on individuals following the highly-regimented scientific method, STEM fairs encourage teams of students to work together in exploring a problem space. Even getting help from--*gasp!*--teachers is encouraged. (Somewhere, my old headmaster is rolling over in his grave.)
Social influencers--but not the kind you're thinking of
Collaboration doesn't necessarily mean consensus, although consensus is nice when it happens organically. Most often, competing ideas exist within the group. You have to be able to convince the majority that your idea is best and get the dissenters to commit to it anyway.
Leadership is less about what position you hold, and more about your personal behaviors. This means even those at the bottom of the org chart must be able to articulate their ideas in a compelling way. But therein lies the rub: What one person finds compelling is different from another person. You need to understand your audience and how to reach them.
Building the required emotional intelligence takes time, but kids can give themselves a boost by taking advantage of opportunities to work and play with people they don't know yet. The more exposure to disparate perspectives and experiences, the better.
The exploration generation
The easy questions have been answered. The obvious solutions are now stale. That's why the ability to generate fresh, creative ideas is becoming more valuable by the minute. Here too, a wide variety of life experiences and exposure to many perspectives is your friend.
So on the one hand, it's a shame that well-rounded education has fallen out of fashion as parents obsessed with brand-name colleges railroad their kids down a single, linear educational track. On the other hand, it's a golden opportunity for kids whose parents are more flexible. These days, exploring a wide variety of subjects feels like cheating because you're bucking the trend. But viewed through the lens of future employability and success, going broad instead of deep is downright savvy. Not to mention a whole lot of fun.