The pandemic has taught many of us to work in isolation. The recovery will require us to work in teams like never before.

The world is too complex, and changing too fast, for us to keep going on our own. Even the lone genius can’t solve today’s challenges.

Just ask Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft and a big thinker on the future of work.

“To get anything meaningful done, you have to be able to work in teams,” Nadella told a forum of Canadian students, educators and employers.

He points to the demand for business apps that’s greater than the supply of techies to build them, and how teams of people with ”low code, no code” skills will be needed to bridge the gap. Often all that’s missing are “bridge skills” like design thinking to connect a bunch of generalists and specialists.

Design thinking is fundamentally about empathy, to listen and go beyond words, to understand context and use empathy to innovate.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

“Design thinking is fundamentally about empathy, to listen and go beyond words, to understand context and use empathy to innovate,” Nadella said.

I joined the forum to share a bit of what RBC is listening to, how we’re learning and what we’re looking for.

We know the hard skills are easy enough to identify: data analytics, cyber-security, artificial intelligence, among them. But we’re also focused on soft skills — we call them human skills — like the empathy Nadella likes. It’s one reason we’re excited about creativity as a power skill for the recovery.

We see creativity as more than an artistic pursuit. It’s the ability to combine novelty and value, to both invent (an idea, even) and find a sustainable use for it.

Then we need to code it.

Such an approach could be critical for millions who have lost jobs, especially displaced workers — bartenders, hair stylists, book merchants — with an abundance of human skills that are growing in demand.

Such a need is one reason we joined forces with Microsoft Canada and Seneca College to launch a short-order course in cloud computing, to help people from many backgrounds develop in-demand hard skills. Once on board, they’ve already got the soft skills to move from one good job to another.

Nadella told the forum this is a signal of the future of work, that we’ll all need to be continuous learners. Doesn’t matter if you’re a forester or a pharmacist, you’ll have to keep adding to your skills mix, and can do so with a foundation of human skills — call them learner skills — like critical thinking, communications and collaboration.

You might even call it a creative solution.


John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.

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