The future belongs to “hybrid figures”, “managers of complexity” capable of “spanning across what we now consider the limits and borders between different areas of knowledge”. A university professor and professional trainer, Piero Dominici teaches Public Communication and Intelligence Operations at the University of Perugia. For the past twenty years, he has been dealing with complexity and with systems theory, with a particular focus on complex organisations and on issues concerning education, innovation, citizenship, democracy and public ethics. He is the Scientific Director of the Complexity Education Project, and writes a blog on the Nòva website of Il Sole 24 Ore, entitled “Fuori dal Prisma” (Outside the Prism). During our interview, he shared a number of tips on what young people should expect from school, university and from education and training institutes in general. Starting with those who study communication sciences.
The World Economic Forum has been saying if for quite some time, but the idea has finally made it into mainstream thinking: when they grow up, 65% of today’s primary school children will have a job that doesn’t yet exist, and that we can’t even imagine. In such a scenario, where knowledge and skills are rapidly becoming obsolete, on what training areas should young people concentrate?
First of all, young people should explore and live out their passions. Not their interests, mind, but their passions: what warms their heart, what allows them to work even until late without feeling tired or overwrought. We should have the courage to look beyond that misleading vision that impels us to find a usefulness for everything we do, also as regards our personal and intellectual growth. Passions should be uncovered, stimulated, evoked and developed through an educational path that starts in the early years of schooling, making space for both reason and imagination, thought processes and emotions – aspects that are often overlooked in education and training. All this leads to what I consider a matter of crucial importance, albeit one that is severely underestimated; that is, rediscovering the value of authenticity and returning to authenticity in education. All this may seem disconnected with the world of work, but in fact there is a very close link between the two.
At first sight, what you are saying may appear a little generic and value-driven. How is it important with respect to employment?
We must remember that, before being workers, citizens or consumers, we are people, and therefore subject to personal relations. Underlying our every conversation is the urgent need to restore the (complex) dimensions of educational complexity, in the systemic perspective of a socio-emotional education. There would be plenty to say on this point, also as regards the absence of “true” guidance policies capable of accompanying young students in the transition from school to university. In concrete terms, it is important to focus on increasingly interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning paths, therefore overcoming the idea of separation, particularly between the so-called “two cultures”. What we currently consider boundaries and limits – between different areas of knowledge, between know-how and competence, between rationality and creativity – should become openings, directions, opportunities. There is an increasing need for hybrid figures capable of imagination and rationality, creativity and methodological rigour, the human and the technological. The complexity, ambivalence, speed and unpredictability of the change that is currently taking place has revealed the inadequacy of the current educational and training system, but also the flimsiness of reductive explanations and linear models of interpretation.
We need to awaken a sense of empathy, of critical thinking; a systemic vision of events, an education driven by communication, a collective consciousness.
How should schools, universities and other education and training institutes change?
Focusing on interests, on passions, on that which excites and stimulates creativity, involves rethinking our educational and training processes with a view to rediscovering the social – and not just the individual – construction of the person. This would have major repercussions on the lives of young people, and not only in the professional sphere. Instead, to use an old expression of mine, we continue to feed – and to base our education and training system on – a “false dichotomy”, especially between thought and emotion, rooted in the concepts of rationality and useful knowledge. Today, like never before, it would be important to retrieve the complex dimensions of educational complexity: empathy, critical thinking, a systemic vision of events, an education driven by communication; and dimensions we have deliberately removed, such as collective consciousness and creativity. This means rethinking relational and communicative aspects within training and educational institutes, relaunching education in a systemic perspective rooted in a social-emotional dimension. The “great misunderstanding” involving education in our hyper-technological age is precisely that of thinking that education and training should be purely technical and/or technological – precisely the opposite of what we desperately need, and will need going forward.
So, on what educational paths should we focus?
The best (but not necessarily the ideal) are those that pursue an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach. Those that prepare people for current and future complexity. Those that will train critical, elastic minds, at all levels – hybrid figures, open to contamination between knowledge and competence. Figures and profiles capable of seeing boundaries and limits, of whatever nature, as an opportunity to grow and experiment.
The great misunderstanding is that of thinking that education and training should be technical and/or technological, while precisely the opposite is true
In your studies, you state that “in a hyper-complex society, ‘knowledge’ and ‘know-how’ are no longer enough: we must ‘know’, we must ‘know-how’, and we must also ‘know how to communicate knowledge’ and ‘know how to communicate know-how’”. How important is communication in the new employment paradigms? And above all, what kind of communication?
Communication is very important, that goes without saying. Viral communication is one of the factors that determined the shift from complexity to hyper-complexity. Communication has always been strategic for the survival of social systems and organisations, but today it is even more so because this new viral dimension (which has only partly to do with digital technology) has brought knowledge, know-how, and all those areas which so far had been the exclusive domain of scientists, scholars and experts, outside the “ivory tower”, highlighting the strategic importance of issues linked with the representation and perception of events. These issues are of fundamental importance for the very success of modern democracies. The problem is not one of being aware of the importance of communication, but of acknowledging that communication – or rather, a certain idea/conception/view of communication – should be rethought and redefined, taking care not to confuse it with marketing or, even more importantly, with connection.
Once again, therefore, communication is much more than just a technique…
Communication is a complex social process of knowledge sharing, where knowledge doesn’t just equal power (a very old question), given that communication has to do with creating bonds of trust, with strengthening connections between systems and ecosystems. It is important to be aware that, in the communication field, knowledge and competence should not be tied exclusively to the technical ability to manage instruments of communication or connection. We need to try to steer social and organisational complexity and, at the same time, learn to communicate its numerous implications. This requires paying particular attention to method and the organisational culture. There is the very real risk of our universities associating communicators with sellers or with more or less occult persuaders. The main point, in my opinion, is that we must not only train in communication, but also educate in communication.
Communication should be rethought, without confusing it with marketing or with connection
You spoke of the important role hybrid figures will play in the near future. You also wrote that “we can no longer afford the luxury of training technicians alone, precisely because this is a hyper-technological age”: it this not a paradox?
It is not only a paradox, but also the “great misunderstanding” of our technological civilization. We need to focus on training “managers of complexity”, where by complexity I mean a social, relational, organizational complexity; a complexity that cannot be described with a tidy formula, but that escapes all processes of reduction. The organisations in which young people find and will find work are social systems; we need to educate, train and inform them from this perspective, so that they can adapt to a complexity that can never be fully predicted. However, public debate continues to revolve around the (exclusive) need for engineers, for graduates in exact sciences, for certain figures over others. It’s hard to believe, but there is a persistent focus on the “two cultures”, on the false dichotomy between humanities and science. We must strive to overcome these dichotomies.
We need figures that are open to contamination between different knowledge areas, capable of seeing boundaries and limits as opportunities.
What is the risk of remaining firmly attached to the old dualism between humanities and science?
Continuing to pursue the idea that, in our hyper-technological age, all we need are figures who are trained in “doing” and “using”, within a purely technical and technological dimension, is a short-sighted approach that will foster an ongoing cultural backwardness. As I always say, we will continue to convince ourselves that technology is faster than culture – as if the former were unconnected with the latter. I repeat: we need hybrid figures; as I always say for convenience and brevity, we need “managers of complexity”, who see opportunities where we currently only see risks or vulnerability – variables of a dangerous disorder that could end up making our social systems and social living even more unstable and insecure. Extensive use is made of the metaphor “bridges, not walls”, and it applies equally to this context. It is time to build bridges between different areas of knowledge and of competence: between the natural and the artificial (broken down borders), between knowledge and life, between the human and the technological. Adapting to hyper-complexity is not just about knowing how to manage/control technologies, exploiting their potential to the full: it is about much, much more besides.