If you, like us, are excited by innovation, ingenuity, and adventure, chances are you are a fan of NASA. And if you’re a fan of NASA, you will know that they have been making the news over their astronaut-selection process. Once they have whittled down the thousands of applicants for each astronaut position, they stop focusing on hard sciences as differentiators for candidates and, instead, look at the uniquely human skills that are becoming ever more important in the 21st Century.

Let’s take a quick look at five of the skills NASA looks for, and why they’re important.


If you want to stay relevant, you need to be able to adapt to change – not only on a day-to-day basis, but also month to month and year to year. NASA personnel need to be able to survive in all kinds of environments that could change at a moment’s notice – that’s why they’ve been simulating interplanetary exploration in the Mojave Desert.

This skill isn’t just important for space explorers – the rest of us can learn from it as well. Workplaces change – more and faster every year. You have to recognise the need for change and be flexible enough to respond to it, which will help you cope with career transitions, unexpected setbacks, and even positive changes.

Here are three powerful TedX videos that give insight into why adaptability is an essential skill for the 21st Century and how to achieve it:


To work well with others, you need to be able to understand and relate to them. That’s the best way for you to build and maintain workplace relationships, which can foster a more positive culture at work and, in turn, a more productive environment. NASA is a particular proponent of this – empathy is right near the top of its essential skills list, not least for its positive effect on cultural competency.

Take this quiz to find out if you know how to listen with empathy as a leader: Take quiz now

Regardless of the results, empathy is a skill that can be constantly developed as your business develops and as people develop. Forbes unpacks 11 ways that leaders can develop empathy here. They go as far as to say that empathy might be the key to helping businesses grow.


Being able to communicate clearly in a variety of situations can get you through all manner of hardships. The benefits for people in NASA are obvious – and they’re actually obvious for the rest of us, as well! It ties into the relationship building we’ve already mentioned and can be useful for managing diversity in the workplace and dealing with problems. Listening well is also a prime skill for good leadership.

If communication is such an important part of any business, why do so many companies struggle with it? Our days are filled with ongoing communication – email, messages, phone calls, but how do we get better at it? Mike Kappel gives us 7 tips for improving communication in the workplace in this handy article.


For NASA, teamwork is as important as technical expertise and leadership skills. If you are empathetic and communicate well, chances are you’ll be good at working in a team. Problem-solving, collaboration, support, and morale are all easier to come by for people who work well together.

At Red & Yellow we often quote the phrase “Teamwork makes the dream work” and although it’s often said in jest, we mean it sincerely. When team members work in cohesion, the business operates cohesively.  In an effort to illustrate this, watch this lighthearted animated video about how important it is:


NASA’s new focus on human skills puts a lot of emphasis on EQ and teamwork – but leadership is also high on their list, as it is for most businesses. A good leader can look after their team, communicate well, take the initiative and be proactive, and inspire confidence in their team. No wonder they are so highly prized!

Yes, machines are moving in on many of the jobs that most of us have taken for granted our whole lives. No, that doesn’t mean people are obsolete. It just means we need to be able to adapt – which is lucky, since that’s one of the qualities businesses are starting to find very valuable! Take it from NASA – human skills are essential for career success in the future.

~ Robyn Hazenkamp, Red & Yellow’s fabulous Instructional Designer