It seems that wherever I go today and talk to people about the future of work, there are a lot of conflicting narratives, debates, and opinions. From artificial intelligence, robots, and automation, to universal income and the inevitable new division of labour, this discussion is becoming more and more important; not just for the future of work, but for the future in
“Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.” – Adam Smith
I always thought that the word work represented a desire for freedom and the ability to rise and create value. As such, ever since the first people used their skills to exchange value with each other, we can’t talk about the future of work without talking about the future of the economy. We originally designed the economy as a set of tools to help individuals to better manage their resources. While some will define “resources” as a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization to function effectively, (Oxford English Dictionary), I tend to like the idea that resources are a set of actions and collaboration strategies we devise, adopt and use to better reimagine ourselves and push the boundaries of productivity and efficiency.
The economy is the deductive system we use to reward the inductive work of the body and mind to generate growth. The relationship between the system and the worker has traditionally been defined by the tools developed to better the desired outcome of the task in hand.
Since the invention of the axe, through Watt’s steam engine, sewage systems, elevators and shipping containers, to screens, smartphones, processing power and machine learning, it has always been actions that were reasoned in creativity, imagination, and invention. Human curiosity has literally designed and built the very world we live in. And now, when we enter a new era in human and societal evolution, it’s more crucial than ever that we do not lose this reasoning.
We live in a world where technology is augmenting almost every aspect of our lives and enabling us to enhance our virtual presence using code. Empathy, freedom, wellbeing, intelligence, education, governance, creativity, economics, and politics are primary benefactors of the exponential growth and impact of technology.
For the first time in the history of mankind, natural evolution has reached the zenith of its potential. There is no place to go from a biological point of view. Yes, we might become a little faster and jump a bit higher, but we have reached a point where our organic structure just cannot evolve anymore. Even with genetic modifications – sooner or later – we will hit the limit of our evolutionary potential.
It is not only our organic structure that is facing evolutionary ends; our mental abilities are also severely limited. This is evident in the narratives through which we create the reality around us. From geopolitics and global c-suites we have managed the world with a limited understanding of the challenges that lie ahead and thereby under-utilized our evolutionary potential in almost every arena.
Winter is coming. What does this mean?
It’s easy to jump to conclusions given the parade of tech celebrities and the list of studies, surveys, and op-eds that present us with apocalyptic scenarios for the future of work:
- “AI will make jobs kind of pointless” ¬– Elon Musk
- 75 million jobs are going to disappear. Robots will take over our factories. Millions of truck drives will lose their jobs.
- Oxford academics, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, estimated that 47% of American jobs are at high risk of automation by the mid-2030s.
- McKinsey Global Institute: between 40 million and 160 million women worldwide may need to transition between occupations by 2030.
- Oxford Economics: up to 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide will be lost to robots by 2030.
Alternately, we can take a deep breath and understand that automation and algorithms will define the future of work. At the end of the day, machines are good at finding creative ways to perform better in human environments, and as the economy should be driven by growth, we shouldn’t fight technology – rather find a means to partner with it and together cross the Rubicon and define a new beginning.
A new beginning
Change always comes in waves. While the wave itself carries uncertainty, the gaps in between are filled of hope.
I meet a lot of entrepreneurs and often talk about the importance of curiosity in their journey, and with the same breath, I remind them that curiosity is not mastery. You can’t learn entrepreneurship: it’s an emotion more than anything. The trick is to harvest that emotion to drive your learning and experimentation. We are nothing without knowledge – it defines our ability to navigate life. And today, more than ever, knowledge determines our place alongside technology.
Our current education system was designed to take us from frames into factories. And as such, I can’t consider it as the only platform we can offer to face “tomorrow”. It’s essential to open-up the education system to the idea of knowledge through experience and experimentation.
There is a need to link business, academia, and policymakers, to establish a new playground; a sandbox where the next generation of teachers, engineers, businesspeople, political leaders, lawyers, artists, nurses, and doctors can find new ways to become better at what they do rather than simply being replaced by technology. A sandbox where we experiment with the idea that thus far we have used technology to upgrade ourselves – maybe it’s now time to use our humanity to upgrade technology.
The current generation of decision-makers base their values on the principles of efficiency. As such, they are locked in an endless loop of “thought fixation” regarding their views on the environment, sustainability, work-life balance, technology, and more. We live in a world that is continually being modified, yet rarely transformed. The questions we keep asking ourselves are questions that were relevant to a reality that obeyed the laws of physics. And we’re ignoring the fact that most of our economic interaction occurs in a reality that is anchored in code, where physics is obsolete (yes, I know I’m over-simplifying).
We can easily list the skills that today’s children will need to successfully navigate the future:
- Critical thinking
- Analytical thinking
- The ability to solve complex problems
- Emotion and passion
But why is that list different from the skills we have always needed to excel in life and rise to the apex of our own potential? The truth is it’s not!
We do, however, need a set of new ideas for these skills:
- We can’t use code the same way we use bricks
- We need to move from managing for-profit, to managing for impact
- Experience should be measured by the quality of choices and not by the number of its functions
- Don’t confuse symptoms with the appearance and root cause
- Assets need to build up into properties and capital to deliver value to society
- Think of technology as a legal system. The legal system was designed to be used (and sometimes abused) by lawyers – entrepreneurs use technology – technology is never the end goal, but simply a path
- Innovation is an ecosystem, not a job title
- Engaging in iterative change ensures you follow the pack as opposed to reap the rewards of being a thought leader
- You can never look into tomorrow using yesterday’s eyes
The intricacy of behaviours between human and reality is about to enter an unclear space. To navigate this space, we must remember that only when we face the unknowns can we excel beyond imagination; that fear is the spawn of ignorance. If we only consider what has already happened – or worse, what is currently happening – we can’t design our collective tomorrow. We must learn from the past, be present in the moment, and let those insights allow us to think differently about the future and its endless possibilities.
My advice for those who are willing to embrace that challenge to build a better tomorrow:
- Your careers should be driven by an internal need and not the predefined expectations of your chosen career
- It’s okay to be unstructured. When you’re too structured and play defence by the book, you’ll lose
- It’s okay to take time off. It’s in the gaps we often notice opportunities
- The traditional education system can’t teach you everything (think how Apple, Microsoft, FB, and others were built)
- Learning doesn’t end when you finish studying. It’s a constant journey of self-discovery that will last you a lifetime
- Learning is a painful process. That is why most adults don’t do it anymore:
“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” – Aeschylus
- At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you choose to study. Let it be engineering, nursing, computer science, art, or teaching. Make sure you’re happy
- Compensation for work is always an incentive – as long as you never compromise your moral values for the sake of money
- The time you spend working is not as important as why you spend it
- Life is short. At least until we can figure out how to transcend
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
By Aric Dromi