Ten competences urgently required

Originally published on 22 June 2020.

The UK is leading the world in Covid-19 statistics. The wrong sort of statistics.

Ranking countries by deaths from Covid-19 per million of the population, according to official statistics, and excluding those small countries with populations under 200,000, the UK features as second placed, with 628 deaths per million. Only Belgium outranks the UK on this grisly measure.

Worse, according to recent analysis of the data, the actual number of deaths from Covid-19 in the UK has considerably exceeded those reported in daily press briefings by government ministers. Officially, the most Covid-19 deaths in a single day in the UK was 980, on April 10th. However, there is evidence that the actual death toll exceeded 1000 on 22 consecutive days, peaking at 1,445.

Sir David King, the country’s former chief scientific adviser, who now heads an independent alternative to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), commented that the shortfalls in the figures released daily at the Downing Street briefings were “an attempt to play down the adversity that the country was faced with”. Sir David continued:

“They didn’t say we have to add on all these other numbers which would have been a more honest thing to say. They were saying things were more rosy than they actually were. The most important thing when you are running any crisis of this kind is truth and honesty. [That’s] the only way to maintain the moral authority of the government.”

There’s clearly something flawed in the way the country is being led. The politicians in power are pursuing the wrong values.

Here’s the analysis from Transhumanist UK. When politicians have been selected to ministerial roles, too much priority has been put on:

  • Their level of ideological commitment to the ruling party’s mantras
  • Their level of loyalty to the official messages of the day, regardless of how much variance there is with the plain facts of the matter
  • Their readiness to pour scorn on alternative points of view.

What’s been missing is a focus on:

  • Respecting objective data, even when it challenges current political dogma
  • Sharing information honestly and fully
  • Building bridges with groups with diverse opinions who, nevertheless, could provide significant assistance
  • The basic competence of being able to get things done.

In terms of the competence of being able to get things done – and bearing in mind the fast-changing circumstances of the world in 2020 – Transhumanist UK highlights the following ten areas of skill as those where competence is more critical than ever:

  1. Recognising both the opportunities and risks in the powerful technologies that are increasingly at hand – technologies of deeper connectivity (and hence greater vulnerability to contagion), and technologies providing groups of people the world over with ever greater force and ever greater intelligence
  2. Understanding and evaluating scenarios for how trends can converge and magnify each other, how radical disruption can accelerate in pace, and how public opinion can change more quickly than expected
  3. Monitoring developments in real-time for any outcomes different from what was expected, so that alerts can be promptly raised, and new paths of action considered
  4. Being open to information that is unwelcome – information that goes against prevailing opinions, ideology, or wishful thinking – or information that appears to favour an opposition view more than one’s own
  5. Collaborating to build bridges with the wider community – finding ways to recognise and support the legitimate concerns and insights of those in opposing groups, in order to reach a fuller understanding of the landscape of looming issues and potential creative solutions
  6. Agile pivoting to revised courses of action – so that new insights can be taken into account quickly, rather than being pushed aside by systems and processes with high inertia
  7. Learning how to learn and how to embrace failure – understanding how to break down areas of large uncertainty into smaller, more manageable topics, how to conduct safe but valuable experiments to resolve uncertainty, and how to embrace any failure constructively rather than trying to cover up any involvement or to hide any disappointments
  8. Protecting and boosting emotional resilience and mental wellbeing – so that actions are chosen based on universal values rather than tribal instincts, with a clear mind rather than a distressed spirit, and in order to lift up and cherish, rather than to mock and tear down
  9. Embracing the wise of technology to assist collective decision-making – technology that can assist individuals and groups to aggregate the most relevant data, to set aside biases and prejudices, and to share the most important insights widely and clearly
  10. Envisioning and communicating truly inspiring pathways forwards – communicating credibly, vividly, and openly, in ways that respect the experiences and apprehensions of diverse audiences, and which, rather than generating cynicism or contempt, bring out the best in listeners and inspire them to apply their skills and insights in service of that vision.

Ideally, at future elections, candidates to become MPs will be assessed by the electorate according to their competences in the above skills, rather than on their willingness to contort themselves to echo official party proclamations.

These skills are far from being centre stage in today’s educational syllabus or industrial training programmes. There’s a large gap between the education that’s needed, urgently, and the education that our prevailing systems deliver. However, with approaching 70 million people in the country, there are lots of people to help address the shortfall quickly – each in their own way.

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