6 Ways to Prepare for the Future of Work

As many jobs of yesterday are automated away and new types of jobs take their place, we have to be ready to adapt to the new landscape of work. Bill Burnett, author of the New York Times bestselling book Designing Your Life and the new book Designing Your Work Life alongside co-author Dave Evans, says we can’t do anything about the fact that what our work looks like is changing. What we can control is our response to that change. He says you have two options: accept whatever happens and do the best you can, or proactively design the future you want.

In an interview with Bill and IDEO U Dean Suzanne Gibbs Howard on the IDEO U Creative Confidence Podcast, he shares insight into crafting a career that brings you happiness and gives these tips for preparing for the future of work.

Get curious

Explore your curiosity about what you want to learn and what skills will be relevant for the jobs of the future. Just because you want to learn something doesn't necessarily mean the job market will value that skill. Bill advises tapping into your empathy and asking “What does the world need?’”

Prototype your ideal job

Prototypes are low-fidelity tests that can surface valuable insights before taking a product or idea to market. In your career, a prototype might look like going to a meetup or having a coffee with someone who’s in a role you’re interested in. These tests don’t have to be expensive. Bill throws down a challenge: Find five things you can do in the next two weeks for less than $20 that will help you test out some of your ideas about the career you want to build.

“Get curious, talk to lots of people, and start prototyping your way into jobs that you think will be resilient, even in an industry that's changing,” Bill advises.

Become an expert at something

“Passions occur when you dig deep on something you're interested in and you become an expert,” Bill says. Surfacing your passion will enable you to find greater happiness at work and differentiate yourself from others. We've become so addicted to novelty and trying new things that we've forgotten how satisfying and rewarding it can be to learn deeply about something. It’s good to stay a generalist in some ways and have a breadth of skills, but consider developing your depth in one area. Maintain a growth mindset and take small steps to build your confidence and expertise over time.

Design your service experience

If you’re a freelancer, as many people are or will be in the future as work shifts toward the gig economy, you are providing a service to your clients. Have you considered what the experience is like for your customers as they journey through your service? If you deliver great service, you’ll have lots of referrals, and that’s valuable currency in the job market. Designing Your Work Life expands on journey mapping as a way to design your ideal career.

Practice storytelling

The way we connect to each other is through stories. “Get good at storytelling and talking about what you like to do,” Bill says. “Almost every one of my jobs has come from somebody referring me to something.” One of the easiest ways to find out if the direction you want to take with your career is something the world needs is to go out and tell your story—then pay attention to the response.

It’s in these moments of human connection, driven by stories, where we end up having interesting conversations that lead to something, that lead to something else, and maybe even to an opportunity. Plus, Bill cites research in his book that storytelling makes you sexier. What’s better than that?

Build your creative capacity

Creativity is one skill that can’t be replicated by computer programs or machines. “The more creative you are, the more social emotional learning you have, the more empathy you can bring to your work, the least likely you are to be automated out of a job,” Bill says. Make time now to build your creative skills and it will pay off in the future.


Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’s new book, Designing Your Work Life, is available now. To take your learning further, gain a practical understanding of the essential design thinking skills and mindsets with IDEO U’s Foundations in Design Thinking Certificate program.

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