Will the rise of A.I. and automation put your company at risk or make you more competitive?
According to the World Economic Forum’s report on the future of jobs, developments in A.I., machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and biotechnology will transform the way we live and work, and cause widespread disruption to the workplace over the next five years.
This will have a huge impact on media, advertising, retail, finance, and healthcare industries. While some jobs will disappear, others will grow, and new jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. Consequently, business will need to align its skillsets (especially to keep pace with this transformation).
So-Young Kang, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Gnowbe, notes:
By 2022, businesses will require a proactive and inventive workplace strategy to help the 54% of the workforce who will require upskilling or reskilling. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will allow for better forecasting, and employers will be quick to anticipate and map out emerging job categories, redundancies and inefficiencies in processes – as well as the changing skills requirements – in response to the continuous disruption of the modern workforce.
I’ve discovered through my clients that the future is already here. As they embrace A.I., blockchain and machine learning, they still need to master creativity, complex human-centered problem-solving and strategic thinking skills.
Robert Falzon, vice chairman of Prudential Financial, says his company is actively taking stock of the talent it has and the skills it will need to create the next wave of products and services.
This “fourth industrial revolution” that we’re going through is so pervasive both in terms of the breadth of industries that it affects and the breadth of functions. It’s not isolated to any particular manufacturing sector or service sector. It affects all industries, and it affects every aspect of a company. There’s no place where you can’t be thinking about the application of technology and artificial intelligence as a way to enhance the operations. There’s no hiding from it. And as a result of that, the concern is that it could be highly disruptive, and it will be—but how you manage that disruption can result in very, very different outcomes.
How will you and your clients face disruption and flourish in this brave new world?
Falzon warns that if you’re relying on the idea that you can displace your talent through technology, outsourcing and process automation, and then think that you’re going to hire entirely externally for [whatever new needs you have] and not take advantage of that pool of labor that you just freaked out, then you’re kidding yourself. “Big employers that want to evolve are going to have to get comfortable putting people in roles they haven’t tried before,” says Falzone. “Some jobs may not have even existed before. Bridging the skills gap is a major priority at Prudential.”
Richard Baldwin, one of the world’s leading globalization experts, argues that the inhuman speed of this transformation threatens to overwhelm our capacity to adapt. He offers three-part advice in his book The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work (Oxford 2019): (1) avoid competing with A.I. and R.I. (remote intelligence) in the sense that you can’t compete in terms of what they do best, e.g. processing information; (2) build skills in things that only humans can do, in person; and (3) “realize that humanity is an edge not a handicap.”
We will always need heart and soul human connections in the workplace. Dov Seidman, C.E.O. of LRN in a New York Times article says, “Our highest self-conception needs to be redefined from “I think, therefore I am” to “I care, therefore I am; I hope, therefore I am; I imagine, therefore I am. I am ethical, therefore I am. I have a purpose, therefore I am. I pause and reflect, therefore I am.”
Marty Neumeier, branding expert and author of Metaskills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age, says these five meta-skills—our highly human abilities—are the best bulwark against business or career obsolescence:
- Feeling: empathy & intuition
- Seeing: seeing how the parts fit the whole picture (a.k.a. systems thinking)
- Dreaming: applied imagination, to think of something new
- Making: creativity, design, prototyping and testing
- Learning: learning how to learn (the opposable thumb of all other Metaskills)
Interestingly these capabilities are at the heart of human-centered design thinking, and complement the five discovery skills of outperforming disruptive innovators identified in the Innovator’s DNA.
Where are you positioned on the robot curve, and how can you optimize your business or career?
Neumeier’s Robot Curve illustrated above, is a simple model of innovation that shows how new processes, businesses, and technologies continuously destroy old ones as they create new opportunities for wealth. Neumeier says there are two ways you can optimize: 1) By keeping your skills or products moving toward the top of the curve, or 2) by designing or managing skills or products at the bottom of the curve.
Make the shift from collecting dots to connecting dots
While the diagram above is aimed at educators, it applies to leadership and business as well. (The green column corresponds with artistic and design thinking capabilities.)
As the educators at Marzano Research beautifully illustrate, we need to shift from collecting dots, to connecting dots. While “collecting dots” is important, leaders must also learn to “connect dots.” Connecting dots has to do with seeing patterns before they are obvious and making connections between disparate data to generate new insights and novel ideas that lead to innovation. This capability requires a mind-shift and skill-shifts from industrial-age thinking to the creation of knowledgeable, creative and adaptable life-long learners.
What skills are most desired?
According to the World Economic Forum report on The Future of Jobs, skills and workplace strategy, complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity are the top three skills workers will need to benefit from these changes.
Top 10 skills
Revolutionizing the way we learn
It’s worth noting that the human-centered meta-skills required in the fourth industrial revolution are not easily learned online. It’s best to learn via hands-on actioned-based, face-to-face experiences. So-Young Kang says that to build the workforce of the future, we need to revolutionize how we learn:
Learning is no longer just about content and knowledge [Digital Learning 1.0]. Learning is about experience and application because the new currency is skills. Experts and practitioners recognize that learning overall is not just about formal training, but about learning with others and practical on-the-job experiences – as is described simply in the 70-20-10 model. This trend is based heavily on andragogy (the science of adult learning), transformative learning theory and experiential learning (which says that adults learn through reflection, peer dialogue and application). Project-based work and hands-on experiences are all ways of bringing these principles to life. When adults practice what they have learned, retention and ownership of the content increase significantly. In a corporate environment, this is the holy grail of learning – encouraging people to own, retain and apply what they have learned.
Digital Learning 2.0 is about building skills through the application of knowledge. Digital Learning 2.0 is about what we call MPPG – which stands for mobile micro-learning in participatory, personalized ways in groups. It’s about engaging the learner anytime, anywhere. Learners who experience Digital Learning 2.0 will need to rethink how they learn: from a passive experience of primarily reading, watching or listening to experts to a more active, participatory role in asking questions, reflecting on the answers and sharing points of view with other learners.
“Learnability” could save your job — and your company
“It’s time to take a fresh look at how we motivate, develop and retain employees. In this environment, learnability – the desire and capability to develop in-demand skills to be employable for the long-term – is the hot ticket to success for employers and individuals alike,” says Mara Swan, Executive Vice President, Global Strategy and Talent, Manpower Group in her World Economic Forum article.
One of the messages Falzon gives to young people entering the workforce, is about gaining depth and breadth in knowledge and experience. “Yes, become an expert in an area because you build credentials and credibility as a result of that. But it doesn’t end once you’ve done that. Seek broad experience, because that broad experience is going to prepare you to do a whole bunch of more interesting things down the road.”
To ensure you and your kids are robot-proof, make it a habit to keep learning. Activate your curiosity by cultivating a wide range of interests. Don’t just read — try out new experiences outside your comfort zone. Nothing awakens your creative brain more than taking a leap into the unknown and making new discoveries.
The Future of Jobs, World Economic Forum 2017
Baldwin, Richard. The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work (Oxford 2019)
Kang, So-Young, “To build the workforce of the future, we need to revolutionize how we learn” WeForum, September 11, 2019
Landy, Heather. “How to talk to employees about the future of work.” Quartz at Work August 6, 2019
Neumeier, Marty. Metaskills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age. (New Riders 2012)