Get ‘smart’: Preparing the next generation of disruptors

With each technological revolution, future business leaders have had less time to prepare for the changes ahead. The era we've entered — the Internet of Things — is bringing the greatest disruptions yet. Preparing the next generation to thrive in this new era demands swift adaptation of our educational system and business models.

The Internet of Things is a global network of billions of "smart" physical objects: machines, cars, buildings, appliances, power grids, medical devices, smart phones, supercomputers, robots and even people, all embedded with sensors, software, controllers and communications chips capable of sending and receiving data. Just as steam, electricity and ultimately computing transformed business and daily life in earlier revolutions, so, too, will the Internet of Things — except the transformation will occur faster.

internet connectivity multi media platform
Romolo Tavani | Getty Images

Businesses that can mine this unprecedented stream of "big data" for real-time insights will improve their productivity and efficiency and have an advantage in an increasingly competitive global market. The businesses that thrive will be the ones that can analyze instant feedback from customers to create new products and services.

Every business will become a tech business and those that don't recognize this will undoubtedly be in trouble. Colleges and universities are businesses too, of course, and they face their own unique trials.

The Internet of Things presents academic administrators with two challenges: They must adapt their schools to take advantage of the opportunities and at the same time revamp curriculums and methodologies to produce the next generation of leaders.

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The leadership skills most prized in the coming era will be the abilities to adapt to constant change, to collaborate across disciplines and to make quick decisions based on torrents of real-time data.

Besides teaching those skills, educators must learn them.

Let's start with incoming students. This fall's incoming freshman class has never known a world without the World Wide Web. From adolescence onward they have spent more time on social networks than they have in the classroom. They cringe at the idea of being out of communication at any hour of the day or night. They expect instant feedback.

Facebook, Snapchat and Google know far more about them than you do and deliver information to them based on intimate, algorithm-based insights into their needs and desires.

The Internet of Things gives educators the opportunity to know each student every bit as well, gathering — with appropriate permissions and policies, of course — real-time data and feedback on attendance, teacher skills, course material, progress on classwork, tests, and strengths and weaknesses. By analyzing the data, teachers can devise and deliver a better product to each individual student.

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At the same time, these incoming students know far more about technology than you do. They expect technology to be up-to-date, and they expect technology to change and improve. They are familiar with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and other professionally produced "anytime, anywhere" learning opportunities from such new forms of educational enterprises as Coursera, the Khan Academy, and even YouTube. If something better comes along, they will be the first to discover or even invent it.

Which brings up another key point about the Internet of Things: It is causing widespread disruption in the workplace, in academia and beyond.

Jobs that can be digitized will continue to be.The top jobs and salaries will go to those who are most skilled at cognitive, creative and decision-making tasks. Employment will also grow for low-paying service jobs. Endangered are the jobs in the middle — those that slow down decision-making processes.

While the Internet of Things is poised to change nearly everything in the workplace, some basic skills will continue to be highly prized in all industries:

  • Data analysis and not just confined to computer science labs
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills to rapidly solve complex problems
  • Presentation and communication skills from the job interview to the boardroom
  • Change management and learning how to embrace the flexibility as a core competency

Our collective goal is to prepare all students for the world we live in today and, perhaps more importantly, the world they will live in tomorrow.

Commentary by Scott McGregor, who has been thepresident and chief executive officer of Broadcom since 2005. Follow the company on Twitter @broadcom.