What Google Tells Us About Preparing Students for the Future

Lee Dieck (October 2019)

A number of years ago, Google conducted two studies about the attributes that make individuals and teams most successful in their company, and both have implications for the work we do with students. The first study, named the Oxygen Project, sought to identify the most important qualities of Google’s top-performing managers. The results were surprising to some observers because while STEM skills were expected to dominate, these ended up last on the list of eight:

The Eight Qualities of Top Managers

  • Being a good coach
  • Communicating and listening well
  • Possessing insights into others (social awareness)
  • Having empathy/being supportive
  • Being a critical thinker
  • Being a problem solver
  • Being able to make connections across complex ideas
  • Possessing STEM skills

“The surprising thing Google learned about its employees and what it means for today’s students.” (Washington Post, December 2017)

The second study, dubbed the Aristotle Project, sought to identify the qualities of the most effective teams at Google. Here again, the results supported the importance of developing “soft” skills in employees. 

“Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.” (Washington Post, December 2017)

Charles Fadel, a thought leader in global education and founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, wrote an article outlining the critical competencies our students will need in the 21st century. Breaking down these competencies into knowledge, skills, character and meta-learning, the author builds the case for many of the same findings we see in the Google studies. He points out that knowledge will need to be relevant and interdisciplinary, incorporating modern and traditional knowledge, as well as thematic knowledge (e.g., global or environmental literacy). Necessary skills include creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and meta-learning – the awareness of how we learn, including metacognition (the awareness of how we think) and growth mindset (the belief that we can learn and grow).  Finally, he defines character as “how we behave and engage in the world,” and includes leadership, ethics, mindfulness, resilience, curiosity, and courage as important qualities. (Independent School Magazine, Winter 2016)

What are the implications for what we do in schools? Here are a few examples:

  • It is critical that we create an environment in every classroom that encourages deep, active listening to understand and appreciate the perspective of others; critical thinking; and making connections across complex ideas.  
  • Students must feel safe to share their ideas, even when they disagree with others. 
  • The project-based learning that is an essential part of so many of our classes is also important for preparing our students for the future; assigning group projects isn’t enough, though—we must help students learn how to collaborate effectively and intentionally.  
  • We must use available tools to help our students learn how to give each other feedback in real time. 
  • Instruction in effective collaboration can teach in-the-moment adaptive communication that helps to build an understanding of different perspectives, as well as empathy and safety within the group. 
  • When coaching our students about leading, we must create safe spaces where students develop a sense of belonging and collaboration, so that our students can learn to grapple with difficult real-life scenarios and build an understanding of how each person’s story contributes to their values and decisions. 
  • Finally, as school communities, we must be committed to celebrating the authentic and unique personhood of each student and community member.