How Future-Proof Are You?

May 07, 2019

By Jesse Sostrin, PhD

The Hidden Curriculum of Work
Everyone wants to be successful and reach his or her full potential. Although the world of work continues to evolve, the challenges involved in getting great work done remain elusive. The economic stress of the last decade has only intensified the pressure on workers. Retirement is delayed for most people, if it happens at all. The hypercompetitive job market leaves most people looking over their shoulders, wondering whether someone younger, smarter, and more talented is right behind them. And challenges from the inverse equation of increasing demands and shrinking resources are matched only by the demands of constant change and mounting complexity.

In today’s competitive landscape, standing out, staying ahead of the curve, and staying relevant at work comes from the ability to go beyond your job description and continuously improve your learning and performance as you confront the hidden demands of work. These two factors—the need for continuous learning and performance and the presence of performance barriers—form what I call the hidden curriculum of work®.

A hidden curriculum exists anytime there are two simultaneous challenges where one is visible, clear, and understood and the other is concealed, ambiguous, and undefined. For example, professional athletes master the fundamentals of their sport and excel at the highest level on the court or field of play, but they still have to learn how to deal with wealth, fame, and the many other challenges and distractions that come with professional sports. Similarly, when children enter school, they have to master the educational standards in their curriculum, but reading, math, and science lessons do not prepare them for the peer pressure, social dynamics, and developmental challenges of youth that they inevitably face. In the same way, there is a hidden curriculum of work that we all encounter.

The hidden curriculum of work is different for everybody. Because no two people are the same, there is no single formula for cracking the code. Learning to reveal and transform your hidden curriculum of work can make you future-proof and give you the best chance at a long, successful working life.

What it Takes to Be Future-Proof
What do future-proof people do that others may not? There are four characteristics that distinguish these professionals from those who fail to continuously add value to their team and organization through their on-going learning and performance.

Future-Proof People:

  1. Not only perform the duties outlined in their standard job description well; they define their “job-within-the-job” and fulfill those demands too. The impact of this, including the perception to others, is that of a double contribution, which sets the tone for their elevated performance.
  2. Are able to listen to others, determine what is necessary and important while observing the changing conditions around them (spotting the challenges and opportunities that emerge), and invent ways to make value-added contributions based on what is most important.
  3. See challenges and obstacles they face each day as teaching moments that hold clues to potential improvements.
  4. Use this cycle of continuous learning and performance to stay ahead of the change curve.

In order to exercise these capacities consistently, future-proof people rely on a set of focused skills. Among other things, these include the ability to:

  • Recognize priorities, then follow through on them to make an impact
  • Relate to and collaborate well with others when it counts
  • Communicate a point of view to generate compelling ideas
  • Learn to make creative connections by synthesizing diverse, contradictory ideas

Highlighting just one of these, we can see how the intent and approach to something as familiar as “collaboration” tilts with the future-proof mindset. Here is a breakdown of the concept, practice, and results from future-proof collaboration:

The Concept: Future-proof people know that great things are seldom accomplished alone. While it is true that most of them rely on and actively exercise their intuition, wisdom, and sense of purpose at a personal level, they also understand that partnering with others is an essential ingredient of accomplishing large-scale change. However, future-proof people are selective and disciplined when it comes to when, how, and with whom they will collaborate. They engage in future-proof collaboration, which is intentional partnering that maximizes the chance of success by aligning the needed strategic skill or resource with the essential contributors in the most efficient way.

The Practice: Not all collaboration succeeds, and so instead of relying on partnerships and contributions from others that are dictated by circumstance and opportunity, future-proof people deliberately seek out future-proof collaboration opportunities that serve a specific purpose and match their highest priority in the moment. Sometimes the missing piece is motivation, and that can be found through a partnership with some individual or group who is driven, focused, and inspired. At other times the missing piece may be technical, strategic, or organizational. In these instances the mix of skills, abilities, and access to resources serves as the driver for future-proof collaboration. There is reciprocity with this as well. Future-proof people are often invited to collaborate with others. They accept these invitations only when the best mix of skill and contribution can be aligned in an effective way. They are not selective because they “have better things to do;” they choose the moments where their impact can be the greatest.

The Result: Learning how to exercise future-proof collaboration will help you take advantage of a hyper-connected world and use collaboration as a tool to accomplish things that would not be feasible alone. The discipline of selective collaboration allows you to avoid wasting time when collaboration is a substitute for lack of creativity, vision, or accountability for individual follow-through.

If you’d like to further explore the ideas discussed in this article, consider these AMA seminars:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®

High-Performance Accountability: Guaranteeing Success for Yourself and Others

About the Author(s)

Jesse Sostrin, PhD, is founder and president of Sostrin Consulting, a leadership and organization development firm. He is the author of Re-Making Communication at Work and Beyond the Job Description. For more information, visit