Why the twenty-first century is different and why developing young people to prosper is different
One of the greatest challenges facing society today, at the start of the twenty-first century, is that of developing young people ensuring that they can play a full and productive part in the economic and social development of the world.
An important sub-theme is the need to take a long-term view of the way society develops and how those who make up society shape it. So the challenge is not just to develop young people so that they can secure their own futures but also to educate them in the importance of passing that continuous development message on to their children. Each successive generation must do better than what its predecessors have done. It's always been this way and always will be.
So … what is special about now?
The need for change has always been there. That's the nature of things. As Darwin pointed out, adaptability is the key to survival. The ability to embrace change is the key to growth and development.
If we look back at history there have been changes, for those in their time, which will have seemed to have been every bit as big and dramatic as the changes we now face. The Industrial Revolution changed the ground rules for society in almost every way, as did the move from serfdom to individual freedom. If you look closely at these changes, it has generally been the most adaptable who have survived and thrived. Survival alone can be an achievement but thriving is a much more important and valuable aspiration.
What is different about now: Blink and it has moved on! It's simply that someone has stepped on the gas pedal.
Firstly there is a technological revolution which, although very accessible, is impacting on change in a very dramatic way. It has accelerated the rate of change to what now feels like a breathtaking pace. Fifty years ago, my father would have sat down at the end of the day and read his newspaper and would have watched the daily news on TV. Most of that “news” was already several days old. He was a scientist. Learning about new developments in other parts of the world often took months if not years to get to him. If he wanted to communicate with people in another part of the same country, let alone another country or continent, he would have written or typed a letter which would have been carried physically to its recipient. The person at the other end would then have to do the same to respond.
I am sitting here at my PC with an iPhone and iPad alongside me. Every so often they go “ping!”. In the last hour I have received messages from colleagues in Australia, Canada, and the Arabian Gulf, and I am keeping an eye on text updates on how my football team is doing.
I no longer have a camera—it's in my phone … . Which I carry round with me wherever I go. My phone also doubles as a computer. I can carry out lots of tasks on it.
Only ten years ago this wouldn't have been possible. It's just over twenty years ago that I learned to email. But I didn't know anyone to whom I could send an email!
I am sure my father would have marveled at all of this but we no longer do. It's the way we live our lives now.
If I want to know something, I Google it and it's there—superfast. If I want to know something about a troubled part of the world I “search for it” and I see what is happening right now because someone will almost certainly be capturing it on the camera phone, uploading it onto the world wide web and relaying it around the world.
In another ten years we'll look back at this and think “how quaint!”. I will speak to the screen which will be wall paper thin and carried rolled up so that I can stick to any convenient flat surface. Not only will it respond to my commands but it will speak to me to guide me in my work and suggest where I can find better information. We are on the whole better educated, better informed, and much more knowledgeable than any of our ancestors. That too will continue into the future, and it is accelerating for a whole variety of reasons.
One of the most important factors to be considered in the context of a young person's development is the pace of change itself. We have already spoken about how fast technology changes. There are other changes coming through which are equally impactful.
Once upon a time (it does now feel like an old time story) you were encouraged to see a career as something you did through finding an employer and a job for life. Once again my father, typical of his generation, only ever worked for two employers in his whole working life.
If we pay attention to the YouTube clip, Shift Happens,1 we learn that forty per cent of graduates will, at the age of thirty be doing jobs that didn't exist when they were twenty-one! In North America it is thought that a person working today will have typically ten to fourteen jobs by the time they are thirty-eight and twenty-five per cent of all employees will have less than twelve months service with their current employer. Simply standing still today will mean moving at a completely differ-
ent pace to that taken by previous generations.
And what about those jobs? We operate in a genuinely global economy. Those jobs can arise anywhere as the world order changes, and the competition for the job you seek can come from anywhere.
Is this a good or bad thing? The answer will be “yes” and “no” depending on your personal perspective. Those who are up for this level of change and challenge will relish it. Those who aren't will find this intimidating. As time goes by, the answer for more and more will be a positive one. Attitudes towards employment are changing along with everything else.
No-one can keep the promise of “a job for life” anymore. Employers have long restructured and reorganised as they face the challenge of responding to market forces. Measuring staff turnover used to be a key metric in organisations—the lower figure the better. It's not possible to expect unwavering commitment if the employer cannot honestly reciprocate. The old norms no longer apply.
Furthermore people do not necessarily want to do the same job for their entire working life. The employment bargain seems to be shifting to one based on “I don't expect you to guarantee me a job for life. But whilst I am working for you I will give you my loyalty and commitment. In return I expect to have a purposeful job, to develop myself, to earn a reasonable wage and to be treated with a significant degree of respect and trust”.
This is a key part of the mindset of those that we are beginning to know as Generation Y.
Other elements include the motivation for work. Generation Y people aren't necessarily money orientated. Self actualisation and doing something worthwhile are emerging as important motivators. This brings ideas like Maslow's hierarchy of needs back into vogue.
There is an important consequence to all of this. Lifelong learning and continuous professional development must become a permanent and consistent facet of a person's life. One's education cannot stop in your early twenties with only the occasional top up through attendance at a rare course or conference. Moreover the learner has to take responsibility for this. An important part of a young person's development will therefore consist of learning how to learn. That is a transferable life skill. It will determine employability—particularly in an environment where individuals may have to consider several jobs in their lifetime.
Another is realisation that learning to work hard is a necessity … not an option. Dweck (2012) in the US shows that developing a work ethic is more effective than developing a talent or ability ethic. The mantra of “work smarter not harder” is being replaced by “work harder and smarter”.
One of the most interesting and most important of the changes we are seeing is the closing of the gap between aspiration and expectation in the minds of the young. At one time the young would have dreams and aspirations but only a few would dare to believe that these aspirations could be realised. So they would settle for something less. This generation and the generations that follow appear to see things in a more positive light. Their vision of the future is one where they can live their dreams to a much greater extent than before.
Shift Happens tells us that the ten most popular jobs in the US didn't exist ten years ago! If true, and it seems it is correct, how do you prepare young people to manage themselves in the world that they will inhabit?
What we are seeing is change, change and yet more change. Some of this change is already within view. We see it coming and we can at least try to understand it. Some of it is still unclear and appears only as a question.
How will all of this affect key issues such as social mobility? Can we really afford to have sections of society believing they cannot aspire,
never mind expecting never to improve their lot because of some twist of fate means they are disadvantaged in some way—whether it is socioeconomic, physical, or mental.
If one group of people in society believe that they can aspire and also achieve their aspirations but another significantly large group believes the opposite, what will this mean for developing the capability of all young people to fulfill their potential; to be productive engaged citizens; to believe they live in a fair and equitable world and to contribute to the wealth creating processes which will meet society's needs.
And therein lies the purpose of this book. At least that explains our interest in it.
Peter is a noted psychologist. He is concerned with performance in adverse conditions. He works in organisations, educations, and in sport. In all these areas he is interested in how to ensure all individuals can meet their potential. This is not necessarily about coming top or winning an award. It's essentially about identifying what matters to a person and helping them achieve this. There is no simple target for everyone to aspire to, but everyone can set a worthwhile and personally satisfying target. As the work discussed in this book has developed so has the concept of mental toughness. It is undoubtedly an advantage in many, if not most, circumstances, but not necessarily all.
All characteristics of personality have two ends, we speak about mental toughness at one end and mental sensitivity as the opposite of mental toughness. This is not a weakness—it's just another way of being. It offers challenges, but like all things in life, it offers advantages as well. At the core of all of our work are two things: First, a way of understanding and assessing toughness. Second, a set of skills, techniques, and approaches that might be drawn upon to allow a person to deal effectively in many pressure situations. This doesn't necessarily mean about changing the person. Rather it is about providing choice. It is about knowing yourself and doing all you can to help yourself through the bad times and allowing you to thrive in the good times.
Doug trained as an economist. Economics is the study of how wealth, in the widest sense of the word, is created and how it is distributed to those who need or want it (the two are not the same). If the population of the world is to double over the next thirty years and we are to improve the standard of living for all without reducing the standard of living significantly for anyone, society has massive challenges ahead of it. It's a challenge that will be faced not only by our generation but by future generations. If they are not educated and developed to understand this and to adopt and apply solutions which are identified but, most importantly, to learn how to solve problems for themselves then the future will be a dull and difficult one.
We can however shape, support, and influence that from here by doing our best to foresee what those challenges are, what might be solutions and proposing ways of applying those solutions.
Some things we can begin to anticipate with an increasing sense of confidence that we have in our ability to grasp of the issues and in our ideas for their resolution. In some instances we are only beginning to ask the questions because we don't yet understand what the issues are. We'll raise those nevertheless to provoke thinking.
Some of the best solutions may be difficult to develop and implement. Some will cost money, often a lot of money, and will require political will to accomplish. Many will be capable of being implemented at the micro level—by committed practitioners who will hopefully become role models for others and inspire their engagement.
Both, Peter and I are united by a shared interest and passion. We are products of what we now know to be poor socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Although neither of us knew that at the time because everyone else we knew was in the same position and that seemed to be the norm. Both of us have risen in their professions and lead a fulfilling life. Both of us talk about those with whom we grew up who didn't get this opportunity and experience. Both of us are determined to make a difference.
Together we have worked for twenty years on a concept called “mental toughness” which is now well established as an aspect of personality. It exists in all of us. What is also emerging is that it is a significant factor in performance, wellbeing and positive behaviour. It determines to a large extent how we, as individuals, respond to stressors, pressure, change, and challenge, and that pretty much describes life and the world we know. It describes the quality which enabled us to move from a background of disadvantage to our present state.
We believe that now, in the twenty-first century, those factors are more significant and more relevant than ever before because of the pace of change and the intensity of change. Those who possess and develop mental toughness will, as Darwin suggested and we would argue, be more likely to prosper.
The mentally sensitive (this being the opposite of mental toughness) may find it much more difficult to deal with this level of change and
challenge. Our challenge is to point the way so that they too can survive and thrive, and many do.
This book will look at several factors and elements which are significant in the development of young people and will examine what should be usefully considered and what can be done to ensure that effective development takes place. Some are perennial issues. The role of the parent or guardian is one. Others, like social mobility are issues which have grown steadily in importance. A fair and efficient society cannot accept that the less privileged and disadvantaged should be provided with vastly different and fewer opportunities because of some accident of birth. Morally it's not right and economically it is a huge waste of talent.
We'll see that mental toughness is not actually a new concept. Sports coaches and sports psychologists have been well aware of its existence for a long time and of the value of working on an individual's mental toughness. However for a long time the concept was closely linked to the idea of winning and losing and was often too strongly linked to aggressive and highly competitive behaviour. That has been unfortunate. Mental toughness is about maximising your own potential, and through doing this, hopefully maximising the potential of others.
Our work on mental toughness has taken us on a fascinating journey. We have adjusted and developed the model throughout, and working with other colleagues has allowed us to incorporate new ideas, methods and philosophies. Mental toughness provides a firm foundation and we have found that practitioners and academics have used this to build a whole array of dazzling psychological strategies and tactics which are being shown to benefit their recipient. It applies everywhere where we need to act, behave, or perform as human beings.
In 2012 the Olympic Games were held in London. In the UK we were extremely fortunate to have Michael Johnson commentating for the BBC on many sports. A remarkable athlete in his own right, he spoke about mental toughness repeatedly. He seemed to mention it every ten minutes. However he did something else which was refreshing.
Most sports commentators talk about the winner, the gold medalist as if that was the only winner. Anyone else, even a silver medalist, could easily be perceived and even described as a loser. That often happens in sport. However Johnson focused much of his time on the athlete who has reached a semi-final or for whom the accomplishment had been qualifying for a final knowing that they weren't going to win
the gold medal. He spoke about that athlete's mental toughness even though that athlete might not go any further in the competition.
He linked mental toughness with the notion of being the best that you can be. That semi-finalist was often someone who had achieved a personal best. They had optimised their own performance and had made the most of their abilities. Johnson reasoned convincingly that they were also winners.
This neatly describes a major challenge for education and the development of young people. Everyone has potential and everyone has some form of ability and knowledge. How can each of us optimise these, so that the challenges of living and working in the twenty-first century can be met head on? Can we support everyone “to be the best that they can be”.
We strongly believe that developing mental toughness has a major role to play in creating a society not just of Darwin's survivors but of winners who are people who enjoy life and are a force for good.
Many of the chapters which follow are provided by contributing authors who add their own perspectives to this book. We have learned from each of these, and hope you do too. If we are to talk about mental toughness we need to demonstrate that in our own behaviour and practice and deal positively and willingly with a whole range of comments and feedback.
Some won't like our idea. That's fine. That is what diversity is about. If we provoke thinking then we have achieved something. We are finding that many do like what we are setting out and often become expert at finding applications for this in their work. That is extremely rewarding. We would be very pleased to receive your thoughts ideas and comments whatever they are.
There are two main goals for this book. One is to provoke thinking and start the debate. The other is to offer our ideas and the ideas of colleagues and co-workers, in the hope that some or even all of them prove to be of real value to the reader. They differ in tone, perspective, and methodology, but are united by an interest in the term “mental toughness”.
On then, to those ideas and experiences …