A lot in changing in how we work.  Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning may eliminate a significant number of existing jobs.  The sweeping move to digital, often called digital transformation, suggests that many manual and inefficient processes will be simplified and automated.  As new technology, automation and digitization increase, what's the future of work for the average, flesh and blood human? How might we think about what we'll be doing a decade from now, and how might we prepare?

A different sequel

We humans have seen this movie before, and have adapted.  After all the first hunters must have been somewhat skeptical of the first farmers, who put seeds in the ground and waited for the harvest, rather than hunting readily available game.  Or consider the Luddites, who sought to destroy powered mechanical looms, thinking they would eliminate all jobs.  Joseph Schumpeter, an economist in the 1800s, called this process "creative destruction", meaning new inventions and technologies often destroy the old way of doing work.

But digital transformation and intelligent systems are not the same story as in the past, no matter what you read.  These technologies are just that - technologies - in search of specific applications and solutions.  As these technologies are adapted and implemented, some jobs will disappear, and that's to be expected. Some jobs will be created as well. What this leaves us with is:  what new jobs will be created, and what's an innovator or an entrepreneur to do?

The experts are still learning

First, think carefully about how and where these technologies will be implemented.  To some extent, they are already here.   Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), "big data", the Internet and social media have already begun the digital transformation, and created more demand for more people with deeper skills in technology and data analysis.  However, automation and digital transformation is not widely distributed, and these technologies are costly to implement so their adoption will be slow in many industries.

Second, there are lots of expert opinions but they need to be carefully considered.  The World Economic Forum published a reasonably good forecast about the future of work, but it contains a few eye-catching claims. In the report they claim that reading and math skills will be less important in the future, as an example, which is hard to square with the increasing level of technology sophistication that advanced technologies will demand.

Third, we need to innovate the way we work.  For too long innovators have focused on product innovation as the holy grail of their work.  Creating new products and services is valuable but misses the point now.  Innovators and entrepreneurs should be testing new models that focus on the best way to get the most from people in a digital, automated and intelligent system future.  What will people do at work?  What are the core skills that will be needed?  How will intelligent systems change how we work?  What kinds of new jobs will emerge? This is an interesting and valuable challenge to solve now.

What will remain

There are a few capabilities that will remain, that will be in demand regardless of the amount of automation or digital transformation.  Skills and competencies like creativity, innovation, the ability to observe customers and interpret their unmet needs - these are skills that will sustain.  If you are worried about your job in the future - don't be, as long as you can do one of three things:  add value at the "front end" of innovation, think and act on how we will innovate how we work, or add value in interpreting and understanding what automated or intelligent systems do.

Whatever your thinking about your current job, know this:  the work we do and the nature of work is undergoing dramatic change.  Innovators and entrepreneurs in all industries should take note, because understanding this change will create dramatic new opportunities for new businesses, new services, new technologies and new business models.

Published on: Oct 1, 2018