There’s an old saying from the sport of ice hockey that’s been bouncing around my head this week. As the story goes, Wayne Gretzky (considered by many as the finest male ice hockey player of all time) was asked for the secret of his success and he replied:

“I skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.”

It’s both beautiful and insightful advice. And it applies far wider than any one sport. So often, we fixate on where we are and try to understand the current context before getting to action. This is a bit like trying to hold water in our hands – it’s always running away from us.

Skating to where the puck’s going is about timing and anticipation, of course. But it’s also about playing the long game: staying focused on what matters and trusting our instincts even when we feel we are moving towards a future we cannot yet see.

This week, I revisited a 2017 report from NESTA and the Oxford Martin School, titled The Future of Skills: Work in 2030. There is heaps in it about the future of work, complex environmental challenges and the ways in which our working lives are changing. Among the most valuable skills they identify for 2030 are:

  • Judgment and decision making: Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Learning strategies: Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Originality: The ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem.
  • Fluency of ideas: The ability to come up with a number of ideas about a topic (the number of ideas is important, not their quality, correctness, or creativity).

The increased prominence of these “adaptive” (rather than purely technical) skills provides a radical opportunity to re-define which professions we most value and why (in terms of prestige and remuneration). It may also be a lens through which to think differently about how we describe our professions (such as nursing and midwifery) to future generations.

Re-reading the report reminded me that, only by looking beyond our current context will we start to make sense of possible futures that we cannot see clearly yet. It reminded me to be bolder in my current work and in my conversations.

And on International Women’s Day, this feels apt. As the great social reformer Jane Addams once said, “beware the snare of preparation”

Keep taking action and believe that change is possible. Keep your eye on that tiny piece of ice where the puck has yet to go.