Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about robots and computers, and how they’re taking over jobs at a crazy rate, but I’m not trying to make the point that the future of work is a tale of Man vs. Machine. Instead, I think it may be a story of great scarcity and hardship, amidst remarkable abundance and opportunity. More importantly, I’m arguing that how that story unfolds is up to us. We have a choice in the matter.
I think that in the future, abundance will live where it always has, at the very top, but it will also be found in the frontier and border towns of innovation, where gifted and creative risk-takers feel at home.
The great middle—once a lush and welcoming paradise of opportunity for those who played by the rules—will become a no-man’s land, a vast desert of broken dreams and broken promises.
More and more, we see that the rules change so quickly that there might as well be no rules. In such an environment, excessive waiting, trying to fit in, or dancing to someone else’s drumbeat, is a mistake. Not taking (calculated) risks is no longer safe—that’s actually the riskiest bet in town!
Those who choose to stay in the middle, because that’s what they’ve always done, or because that’s what they’ve always been told to do, will be caught in a vicious race to the bottom.
I don’t want that to happen to you.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about to change everything you think you know about work and how to earn a living. And the revolution has already begun, though lots of people still don’t see it.
But we do, and it’s time to start thinking and doing things differently.
Here are the 5 critical things we should be doing to get ready and stay competitive:
1. Do Work That is Deeply Human
In a world of omniscient algorithms, dexterous automatons and people willing to work for peanuts— what work will be left for you and me to earn a handsome living?
Plenty, it turns out, but only if we understand that in an automated world still run by human beings, knowing how to plant, nurture and grow human connections and relationships will be everything. Your humanity can’t be automated. Everything else can indeed be done better, faster and more efficiently by smart machines.
And unless the world goes the way of the Terminator or Matrix movies, we are not likely to see robot CEOs, judges, oncologists or platoon leaders. So, in matters most human, humans will prevail.
That’s the work you need to do. Your most human work yet.
Be a leader. If you don’t know how, go learn. There’s no shortage of resources that can teach you.
Learn to communicate with power, using all available media.
Develop your powers of empathy.
Do work you deeply care about and which only you can do, everything else is cheaper to automate, or not worth doing at all.
2. Embrace Lifelong Learning
With the world changing as quickly as it is, we don’t even know what precise skills will be required in the future. And by the time we develop the curricula or training programs for those skills, the need for that work will have shifted or changed altogether.
We will still need people with deeply specialized knowledge and experience but we won’t need enough of them to employ everyone.
So how do we proceed? What should we get good at?
Well, it helps to understand that we are entering the age of the generalist. We are going back to the future—to the age of Classical Greece or of the Rennaisance Men. What I mean is that Aristotle knew a little about everything. Leonardo da Vinci did too. We need to become more like them.
We need to become omniskilled (sorry, I just made that up).
That means that even if I don’t know how to do something, I am good at finding the resources and learning how to do it myself, or, alternatively, I am skilled at connecting with people that can help me get it done and I marshall those resources in order to do so.
Saying things like “I don’t know how to do that” or “That’s not my job” or “What am I, an engineer?” will be the equivalent of cursing in church.
We have to become deeply curious and even nosy about everything. The great philophers like Aristotle thought about, experimented with and waxed philosophical about everything under the proverbial sun. Let’s be more like them.
We’re actually familiar with this process of learning about things we hitherto had no business learning about.
Remember the days (sorry Millenials) when printing documents like newspapers was the work of a specialized team of artists, writers, typesetters, printers, etc. Then came a thing called a Macintosh computer, loaded with a program called PageMaker, that connected to a box called a laser printer. All of a sudden, in just a few short years, we all learned about graphic design, clip art, typefaces, image editing, and typesetting. We became desktop publishers!
Something similar is happening today with CAD and 3D printing. You don’t know it yet, but soon you may be designing things on a CAD program and printing it on your own 3D printer or going to local print facility to pick up the item you just designed or downloaded. This is what’s being called the Maker Movement. Things that were par for the course for engineers (like AutoCAD) may soon become everybody’s business and the supply chain will be forever changed.
So what I’m asking you to do is to stay curious and hungry for knowledge. Be nosy. Learn how to learn. Read books. Take classes online and off. Acquire all manner of new skills because in the future everything will be connected to everything else and it doesn’t matter if that particular skill will be in demand or not.
What matters is that your brain stays sharp—a finely honed problem-solving machine!
What also matters is that you practice persevering when acquiring a new skill gets hard. This is important because lots of things will seem weird and unnatural at first, like riding your first bike, or taking your first baby steps, or designing your first widget in a CAD program. But with perseverance you will improve and become highly skilled at things you never thought you could do.
This ability to experiment, innovate, learn and solve problems is a critical skill today, and will become more critical with every passing day.
In the future, when we graduate from college, we are merely at the beginning of our learning journey, not at the end.
In fact, having a college degree will be better than not having one, but don’t think that it will guarantee you any kind of great salary or job security over the long haul. It used to, but not any more. You may soon find yourself doing work with only a remote formal connection to what you actually studied in school.
Embrace life-long learning my friend and you’ll always be uniquely competitive.
3. Be More Entrepreneurial
If capital, as economists currently suggest, has finally found a way to substitute for labor, then there’s no point in crying over spilled milk, is there? And if you can’t beat them, why not join them?
Why not get on the capitalist side of the equation?
Why keep thinking like an employee when you can think like a freelancer, business owner or entrepreneur?
Why rely on others to take all the risk and offer you a safe job?
Why wait to be picked?
As Seth Godin says, “why not pick yourself?” Why not build your own asset?
Yes, of course!
Instead of lamenting the injustice of machines doing the work of humans, or bemoaning all the jobs being outsourced, the real question for enterprising individuals is: How can I marshall those same resources in helping me build an asset that I own?
A century ago, during the age of the robber barons, such thoughts would be considered ridiculous. Back then you couldn’t compete with the capitalists and today their advantages grow! However, the digital revolution has opened vast frontiers of opportunity for the enterprising, like you and me. Starting a business or launching a billion dollar start-up is cheaper and faster than ever. You have an unbelievable amount of resources at your disposal, if only you marshaled them in a concerted and cohesive way.
That’s why this is the perfect opportunity to heed your calling and pursue work that matters to you. Actually, that’s the only work that may be left that is worth doing, but you won’t find it if you don’t start soon.
To my eyes, if you don’t have anything unique to say, to contribute, or to offer your fellow man, and you’re not willing to bet on yourself—you’re in trouble. You are a unique and talented individual, won’t you give yourself the permission to let your story be told? Won’t you take a calculated risk and bet on yourself?
You can start today.
First of all, stop thinking like an employee.
Start thinking like the guy or gal who owns the place. How do they see the organization? How do you see it? What would you change? Do you have the power to change it? If so, how will you go about it? If not, how will you get the power to make it happen? And if you don’t love what you do, what is your plan to transition over to work that you do love? You don’t have to quit your job, but you do need to start that transition.
Secondly, ask yourself: how can you grow your responsibility, leadership and sphere of influence? How can you connect more deeply with co-workers, customers, vendors and industry and community leaders? Can you build an asset for all of them? What do they need? If you don’t know what they need, why not go ask them? Then, go build it. What’s that? You don’t know how? Then, see my second recommendation above.
Thirdly, go into business for yourself. Be a freelancer. Or launch a start-up. It doesn’t have to be full time, you can start part-time and you don’t even have to quit your day job. This is the only way to learn how owners and capitalists think. This is the only way to learn how to stop being an employee at the mercy of the boss man. Go be a boss yourself.
Sorry, working for Uber doesn’t count.
Uber doesn’t care about your humanity—your valuable and unique gifts which you (and only you) can share with the world—all they care about is that you get to corner X in the next Y minutes.
And what will happen when Uber cars are autonomous? Or when everyone and their dog is working for Uber?
We all have to pay the bills and its okay to do any work this side of the law to make that happen. But even as we find a way to meet life’s necessities, we have to plant the seeds for the future we want and deserve.
That’s far from guaranteed to you. You’re going to have to hustle to make it happen and hustle hard. You will have to take risks. But it’s riskier to sit there just waiting. Waiting for what?
Go start something. And start it as soon as possible.
4. Save Your Money for a Rainy Day
No one can guarantee you a job for 40 years and a full pension anymore. The average tenure in a job is less than 5 years. That means that in the span of just 10 years of your life, you may very well find yourself working for 3 or 4 different companies.
For various reasons, there may be periods of your life when you will have little or no income because you find yourself unable to find a job or you’re underemployed.
That’s why you need at least a 6 month rainy day fund. Calculate your monthly expenses and figure out what is essential and what isn’t. Cut as much of the unessential as possible. Multiply that monthly budget by 6, 12 or 18 months. That’s your rainy day fund.
Get busy saving that money. The days of keeping up with the Joneses are over because the Joneses are broke! If the Jones’ are going bankrupt, do we really want to be like them?
Also, take full advantage of all 401K contributions your current employer can make, and any other financial benefits for that matter.
Consider your debt situation and try to get debt under control while you’re gainfully employed.
By being proactive about money, you’ll find yourself in a much healthier and productive situation during lean times or when you’re busy being entrepreneurial.
5. Practice Outsight
Last but not least, we have to get out and experience the world around us and meet new people and try new things. We need to come up for air and zoom out. Get out of the four walls and talk to others, in your company, in your industry, in your community. Doing so will give you a brand new understanding of whats going on and you’ll be better able to prepare.
This also includes trying new things, new approaches, and making new connections. It calls for venturing outside of our comfort zones, which means it won’t come easy. But it’s essential that we try and that we stick with it.
If machines are becoming completely interconnected (in an Internet of Things), then we as people need to connect and come together as well, and maybe you’re the one that can connect us.
So build your network of contacts. Find ways to add value to their lives. Take advantage of sites like LinkedIN that make that job easier to do. Be active there. Don’t wait till you need a job to start networking.
Always be networking! You simply can’t afford not to.
Opportunity or Scarcity? Your Choice.
Again, the future will be a time of great opportunity and great peril. The Precariat will consist of people who don’t understand what’s happening and avoid getting ready. Those in the know understand that there will be winners and there will be losers, by the millions. If you think that the last 20 years have completely transformed the world, wait till you see the next 10.
Frankly, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
I implore you to get ready! Make a choice to think and act differently than you have before.
Let’s go take advantage of all that opportunity that stands before us.
Let’s go make a handsome living doing the work we were meant to do.
That is my plan.
What is yours?
photo courtesy of Helloquence via Unsplash