What, If Anything is Forever?

7 June 2019

My favourite part of being a restaurateur is the incredible people I meet every day.  I love learning their stories and I love learning from them.  Two of the amazing people I have met are Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory. Through my very inquisitive questioning (you'll know what I am talking about if you've ever been on the receiving end of it) I found out that they run a company called the Impossible Institute. Kieren is a global thought leader in commercial creativity and Dan is an expert in behavioural Strategy. I love this shit (excuse the French). Step forward a few years and many takeaway coffees later and they have very kindly included me in their newly released book, Forever Skills - the 12 skills to future proof yourself, your team and your kids. Here is the short version of what this fascinating read is all about and of course, how they use Bitton as an example of 'nurturing your community'.  

Most futurists tend to increase our sense of anxiety with dystopian images of the not-too-distant future characterised by Artificial Intelligence (AI) stealing your job, social media algorithms hacking your most private moments and Austrian-accented cyborgs raising your children. 

Perhaps the real issue is that human beings, by our nature, are a little bit resistant to change. And with good reason. Changes in our environment threatened our food supplies, changes amongst the ruling classes often lead to ordinary folk dying in wars they scarcely understand and visitors from foreign shores have only recently started arriving as tourists. In other words, we’ve traditionally had good reason to be suspicious of change.

However, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus posits, “Change is the only constant in life,” so we’d better learn to do it well.

Actually, truth be told, the hypothesis that underpins our book challenges Heraclitus’ bold statement as we wondered, in a world of change, what will be unchanging and evergreen?

This led us to two years of interviews and research for our new book, Forever Skills – The 12 Skills to future proof yourself, your team and your kids.

Obviously, every epoch and industrial revolution we experience (we’re currently in number 4) throws up a range of technical and era-based skills. Once it was riding a horse or being a skilled archer and hunter, later it was more industrial skills. Today it might be considered coding or even social media prowess.

However, these technical skills tend to come and go like fashion. Coding, for example, is something we largely already off-shore to the developing world and as AI develops a capacity to code more swiftly and efficiently than any human boffin, this too will fall from favour.

In fact, “Can AI do it?” is a game we like to play with audiences and industries to help them understand the limits of specific technical skills… but back to reducing panic!

So, what do we mean by “skills”? There is a great deal of overlap between skills, traits, characteristics and roles, but for our purposes, we defined skillsas, “Capabilities that can be learned and developed that provide social or economic value.” We then defined foreveras being, “an activity that will always require human intervention or else will always be considered as ‘worth the human effort.’”

Our research identified twelve skills that clustered into three different categories: 1. Creative Skills 2. Communication Skills and 3. Control Skills. 

 These included such things as insight creation, problem solving, influence and team building as well as self-control, an ability to manage resources such as time and information and a willingness to implement and bring projects to life.

We now spend most of our working days as conference speakers and trainers helping leaders, teams and organisations to develop these forever skills in order that they might “make change positive!”

Within the communication skills category, an ability to engender trust and build communities emerged as a critical Forever Skill.

This observation led us to include an interview with Bitton proprietor, David Bitton. 

If we’re being totally honest, a great deal of the content created for our book was written and discussed over a coffee and a hot chocolate whilst enjoying the atmosphere at Bitton. 

However, what specifically sparked our interest, was the realisation that Bitton had become a “destination café”. In other words, the community at Bitton was not so much geographically defined, as most cafés tend to be, but rather had become the “local” for many non-locals, including one of the authors, Dan, who commutes from near Round Corner Dural for his morning cuppa, a sparkling water and French omelette a few times a week.

So, over more of the aforementioned coffee, we asked David how he had come to build a community that commanded such loyalty and a willingness to travel some distance in the patrons he served.

David revealed that early on, one of his mentors advised him to get out of the kitchen and to talk to the diners he was serving, to get to know them and understand what was important to them. This, as it turns out, was to prove more important in Bitton’s success than any secret recipe or culinary skills he picked up throughout his apprenticeship and professional career.

David’s charisma and “front of house” personality are certainly one of the key factors in his restaurant’s success, however, what is also immediately apparent is that the regulars are connected, not just to David and his team, but to each other as they acknowledge each other with a friendly familiarity. 

It often reminds us of the US sitcom Cheers, where the regulars greet each other with a familiar, “Hey Norm…” This is a key distinction, in our opinion, between Bitton and many other cafés with friendly staff and personable owners but where the customers never really feel connected to each other.

In the end, people come to Bitton to feel connected, to be recognised and to know that they are going to be welcomed.

Ultimately, it’s all about community, even if that community is not always so local. 

We believe that this is one of the forever skills that will remain relevant as long as human beings are in the mix. 

We also think, that if you’re going to invest in your education, or in that of your team or your children, it’s worth adding forever skills into your curriculum. But then we would, wouldn't we?

TheImpossibleInstitute.com/forever-skills