Three Harvard scholars wrote a paper in 1992 that predicted exactly how a job candidate in Silicon Valley would be measured today. In its maturity, Silicon Valley has become famous less for engineering (though that remains paramount) than for its problem solving. The first thing venture capitalists ask an entrepreneur about her business is: what problem are you solving? As Elon Musk says, “When you struggle with a problem, that’s when you understand it.” To struggle, you have to engage. It’s that engagement with ideas that new economy jobs demand. Technical skills can be taught, but strong thinking strategies are more valuable. Plus with everything changing so rapidly, the ability to learn is more critical to success than what one already knows.
The Harvard scholars anticipated all this in 1992, labeling this ability to continue to pursue learning–the inclination to learn–a “thinking disposition.” They asked the same question that drives every innovative company hiring today, “What characterizes a good thinker?” The answer, if you fit the mold, will get you hired; “What sets good thinkers apart is not simply superior cognitive ability or particular skills; rather, it is their abiding tendencies to explore, to inquiry, to seek clarity, to take intellectual risks, to think critically and imaginatively.” That’s what Elon Musk, Apple, Google, Uber and Facebook are looking for today.