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To Deal With the Future, Look to Your Past

Rediscovering a childlike sense of curiosity can be your best defense in a world where everything, especially technology, is changing.

By Lisa Ryckman  |  November 20, 2023

Stressed out trying to keep up with the latest technology, the hottest gadget, the new and improved way of doing everything?

Try channeling 8-year-old you, futurist Crystal Washington says.

“In an environment that’s constantly changing, which is very similar to a child’s environment where they’re constantly being bombarded with new things, the way to survive is not to adopt this attitude of having to master everything,” Washington told a session of NCSL Base Camp 2023. “It’s just enough to be curious.”

The problem is, most people can’t remember being 8. The trick: Think about your favorite childhood toy, Washington says. Was it Legos? Barbies? “(This will) help you ground yourself in that place of curiosity.”

“Many humans, actually most humans, prefer the situation they’re in now to something that is uncertain in the future. It’s a brain thing, where, literally, that’s your comfort zone.”

—Crystal Washington

Quick access to a universe of information means the days of having to be the expert on everything are over, she says. “The thinking was, if you’re going to do something, you do it right and master your domain, and you are the one who knows everything. You don’t have to know everything anymore.”

Here’s the bad news: “You will never, ever, ever be caught up again when it comes to technology specifically, ever. It’s impossible.”

The good news? “No one else is caught up, either,” Washington says.

She says you might have noticed it has become increasingly difficult to communicate with certain people. The reason: “It’s because of all the constant change that their biology just cannot deal with, and we’ve never ever had this amount before.

“When humans do something the same way over and over and over again, it is very difficult to get them to switch up how they do those things,” Washington says. “That thinking doesn’t work anymore. Now, that does not mean that we throw everything to the wind and just always adopt new things. That’s not a good way of living either. But we do have to be open.”

Washington says demanding that people have to simply “be positive” to adapt to change doesn’t cut it. “That’s stupid. Here’s why: If positivity was enough, then most of us wouldn’t fail.”

Resistance to change comes from a variety of places, she says. “One of them is the status quo bias, which is the fact that many humans, actually most humans, prefer the situation they’re in now to something that is uncertain in the future. It’s a brain thing, where, literally, that’s your comfort zone.”

Humans also do poorly with planning for the future, Washington says. “Recency bias”—favoring recent events over historic ones—is reflected in how most people plan for a time like now. “So, 10 years from now with a few small tweaks, that’s what we cognitively do. But that resistance keeps us from being open to new ideas.”

Another problem: cognitive overload.

“(When) we’re faced with too much information and change at once, we get overloaded and we stop being able to absorb new information,” Washington says.

With change coming so fast and furiously, what’s the best way to make sure you stay relevant and valuable? “Learn how to calculate your value, refresh your resume with this information and share during your performance reviews. Really start to think about your value in terms of numbers,” Washington says. “Maybe you’ve improved a certain department. Maybe you cut expenses in this way over here. Just start thinking about the impact that you’re having.”

She suggests taking non-required internal trainings within your own area and then participate in external trainings. Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your career path and where you’re headed next. Finally, Washington recommends picking one podcast or blog from a thought leader or other timely content that you will consume at least once per week.

And don’t forget to embrace that inner child—maybe in a tangible way that helps you rekindle the ability to be curious, Washington says.

“I want to encourage you to buy that toy. Get the toy. Put it on your desk if you work from home or even the office. If (someone asks about it), you tell ’em, ‘Mind your own business. I’m working on something. I’m future-proof.’”

Lisa Ryckman is NCSL’s associate director of communications.

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