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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Welcome to the beginning of the Machine Age – How will you and your 8.2bn neighbours be gainfully employed?

“Organisations will always strive to replace replaceable elements with cheaper substitutes.

I (Seth Godin) grew up in a world where people did what they were told, followed instructions, found a job, made a living and that was that. Now we live in a world where all the joy and profit have been squeezed out of following the rules. Outsourcing and automation and the new marketing punish anyone who is merely good, merely obedient, and merely reliable. It doesn’t matter if you’re a wedding photographer or an insurance broker; there’s no longer a clear path to satisfaction in working for the man. The factory – that system where organised labour meets patient capital, productivity-improving devices, and leverage – has fallen apart.” (Seth Godin, Linchpin: How to drive your career and create a remarkable future.)

“Just having a job in the future will be a challenge, as machines take over more and more menial work. The key to having a job in the future is to be able to do something machines can’t do.” (Gerd Leonhard, Presentation at Fort Collins Start-up Week, Reported by Steve Porter of InnovatioNews)

Machines have taken over jobs for over 150 years, what’s different now?

To learn the answer watch a 15 minute TED Talk by Andrew McAfee, titled ‘What will future jobs look like?’ via this link:

How will the mass of people be gainfully employed in 2025 and beyond?

If people are not earning money they will not be able to buy goods and services, so all the efficient production by machines will not find a market. Who will have a job, and how can we ensure that we are in that group?

Lynda Gratton in her book ‘The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here’ published in 2011 notes:

“In a world of more and more complex technology, it is the highly skilled employees, or what I will call those with mastery, who will always find work.”

Writing about the year 2025 she continues later, “With the emergence of mega-cities, instead of connected parts the suburbs are increasingly becoming slums. Far from claiming their own purpose and identity, these concentrated areas of ‘surplus humanity’ exhibit intense poverty and little direction. This disconnection has been exacerbated by vast urbanisation that has seen millions of people leave the land, hoping for a better life in the cities. As the slums around Mumbai or Johannesburg will attest, these hopes are rarely realised.”


The term ‘surplus humanity’ is jarring; although taken from the ‘downside’ 2025 scenarios presented by Lynda Gratton it is nevertheless a ‘wake-up call’.

It is clear that having a general skill in future will increasingly mean competing for employment with five billion equally capable and equally connected people, as well as robots and computers. Therefore the need to cultivate mastery – the ability to add value that no one else can match – in a series of fields over a career will be essential.

A career will likely span, not 35 years but up to 50 years, as life expectancy lengthens towards 100. Certainly the days of starting a first job with a corporation and leaving your career to the corporation to decide, then retiring on an adequate pension at 60 or 65 ended more than 20 years ago.

Sadly many companies still see the advantages of having employees think that that is the contract; at the same time corporations have no intention to return such ‘loyalty’. When it no longer suits the next quarter results to retain an employee, or indeed a whole division or business line an unceremonious parting swiftly ensues. In any event the half-life of a successful business model is now three to five years. Therefore most will fail and put all employees out of work well before retirement. Unfortunately the majority of corporate leaders are too busy managing their personal financial affairs and internal politics to focus on continuously transforming the business to ensure survival.

Lynda Gratton’s book gives the reader an opportunity to imagine what a work-day in 2025 could be like. Also provided is guidance as to how to prepare in order to ensure a positive rather than a negative future in work. See:

William Gibson was inspired in 1993 when he said, “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

Look around, see what is already happening and position yourself and those you care about to ensure the best possible future outcome.