Project 20/20 empowers CMC institutes to put the future in focus

Project 20/20: Envisioning the Future through a Multidisciplinary Lens
February 21, 2020

Big questions, bold solutions

With a new decade upon us, Project 20/20: Envisioning the Future through a Multidisciplinary Lens launched recently to encourage institute-wide research and dialogue about issues that are contributing to growing uncertainty in the world. The collaborations are also an effort to amplify how CMC’s liberal arts approach to problem solving can best influence multiple spaces in society.

“Liberal arts colleges lend themselves to more interdisciplinarity, but it’s not always obvious what can be done with that approach,” said Shana Levin, associate dean of the faculty, Crown Professor of Psychology, and George R. Roberts Fellow. “But those key liberal arts perspectives of critical inquiry, the importance of cross-communication, and—with CMC, in particular, our mission-specific focus of leadership in government and the professions—provide a tremendous opportunity.

“Our research institutes and academic departments are uniquely equipped to engage in programming that asks the larger questions we need to tackle as a society. And above all, we want to set up our students to think about these local, national, and global problems from various perspectives—to then ask the right questions and go about finding real solutions.”

While several of the institutes have collaborated in the past, Levin said there is more intentionality to the future-oriented approach of Project 20/20. “There is so much each institute can contribute, and the 20/20 approach provides a framework to the larger questions we are choosing to ask together,” she said.

Levin said working groups have further convened to discuss several big Project 20/20 themes that will be announced soon.

So, when are we all going to be replaced by machines?

Any discussions about the future of work inevitably touch on the explosive impact of technology—and how it’s not a matter of if, but when everything humans do will be made obsolete by advanced innovations. A February presentation on the “Future of Work” certainly leaned heavily on technology to explain rapid change, anxiety, and displacement in the modern workplace. But there’s also a lot to be optimistic about. CMC alumni Faye Sahai ’90 P’22, Stacie Yee ’99, and Arjun Lall ’07 took turns sharing advice at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum about how students (and really, anyone with a liberal arts mindset for lifelong learning) can make the best of evolving workspaces.

Faye Sahai speaks at Project 20/20
Faye Sahai ’90 P’22

With an eye on asking big questions, tackling complex problems, and offering CMC leadership solutions to benefit our collective future, “Future of Work” marked one of the first Project 20/20: Envisioning the Future through a Multidisciplinary Lens collaborations from CMC’s 11 research institutes. The presentation was facilitated by the Berger Institute, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the Kravis Leadership Institute.

“Estimates show that the lifetime of a skill used to be good for 30 years. That has now been cut down to six years,” Sahai, partner and co-founder at digital transformation consulting company Mirai.Global, informed the crowd of students, staff, and faculty. Yet while jobs or trades may no longer last a lifetime like previous generations, Sahai is excited by the “careers that haven’t even been invented yet.” It’s up to the modern employee (and current college student), she said, to be at the forefront of those new pathways.

For instance, Sahai said CMC’s dedication to the data science frontier is one example of a booming skillset that wasn’t available to her while in college. Another trend to heed: Businesses are becoming less hierarchical. Sahai pointed to the entertainment industry—project-based, with teams working together for a few years before disbanding—as a model for the future. Soft skills will always be in demand in those fluid environments, she said.

Arjun Lall speaking at Project 20/20
Arjun Lall ’07

“It’s really about creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking, which I think the Claremont Colleges do an awesome job (of fostering) because of small class sizes and work with your professors,” Sahai said. “Well-being and emotional intelligence are also very important. It’s all about being more human in the future. … agility, flexibility, and embracing change.”

Lall, co-founder of Rocket, a next-gen recruiting agency powered by machine learning, echoed Sahai’s emphasis on a personal growth mentality amid changing work dynamics. As studies continue to show that technological innovation is outpacing human adaptability, Lall implored the audience to embrace “something you’ve never done before.”

He offered three tenets for success: “Be adaptable.” “Do more at once”—perhaps an inevitability since Deloitte consulting predicts that a decade from now, 70 to 90 percent of jobs are going to be comprised of what were previously two or more jobs, he shared. And finally, “It’s your responsibility”—don’t wait to be told what to learn. He used the example of an employee at Rocket who taught himself programing language online and approached Lall with a desire to do more data analytics, which is now 50 percent of his job.

“You have to start and create your next job. … just start doing it. Don’t wait until it’s handed to you,” said Lall, who started his first business with friends while at CMC.

Yee, a partner in employment and business litigation at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, also left the room mindful of how technology is leading to more data collection. She asked some key privacy questions: What is being collected? Who has access? How will it be used? Workers should not only be thinking about what they can gain from technology, but how their employers (and in some cases, entire countries) may use it against them, Yee said.

Stacie Yee at the podium
Stacie Yee ’99

“There’s certainly a focus on privacy issues, both from consumers and employees. More board committees are being put together to focus on ethics and responsibilities in respect to collecting all of this data,” she said. Yee also noted the growing influence of social media on how businesses respond to crises or cultivate their reputations, especially when trying to appeal to young people and their sense of morality. That will continue to impact the future of work since “companies have to really understand what their social goals are, what their ethics are, and be able to respond instantaneously. … to complaints,” she said.

KLI academic director David Day, who moderated the alumni panel discussion, said “Future of Work” was a promising look at what’s to come. Day is also spearheading plans for the KLI 25th Anniversary on March 6, which will feature institute synergies around democracy (Salvatori Center), the environment (Roberts Environmental Center), and the economy (Lowe Institute of Political Economy). As with “Future of Work,” he is thrilled that CMC is capitalizing on expertise and enthusiasm from the institutes in a collaborative way.

“The spirit of Project 20/20 is built around interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives about various problems in the world,” said Day, professor of psychology, Steven L. Eggert ’82 P’15 Professor of Leadership, and George R. Roberts Fellow. “By bringing several of the institutes together, it lets us play off of pre-existing strengths, facilitates great discussion about important issues, and ultimately, highlights the great promise going forward of co-branded, co-hosted CMC events.”

—Thomas Rozwadowski


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