When I started the MIND & MACHINE show, it was out of a massive curiosity of what’s to come and how it will change our world. Now after two years of interviewing leaders in the most advanced technologies, I’ve learned so much about so many rapidly transforming fields. That initial curiosity burns even brighter, but a more pressing question has been taking shape in my mind: How do we prepare for it?
While that’s a good question in any time of change, it takes on an entirely different level of urgency when the changes pose existential threats to our livelihoods, our environment and society’s organizing structures.
We spend a lot of time discussing what we all must do cumulatively to shape a better world, but at the end of the day most of us have little impact on the macro social transformations underway. The social structures we live in will take shape in response to mega-trends; we should advocate as we can, but in the end was have little sway over that. However, professional positioning and personal or family adaptability can greatly enable us to cope and thrive in the changing world taking shape.
So in the face of proliferating AI algorithms, IoT, sensor tech, robotics, AR/VR machine interfaces, blockchain and the like, how do we protect our livelihoods and get a push from the inherent growth that comes with them?
First, we have to get into the correct lane. If you can identify and reposition for the growth segments, the backwind will propel all of your efforts. I’ve worked in declining sectors and in rapid-growth fields — the difference is massive. There are always opportunities for astute individuals in declining segments, but why not work with the wind instead of against it. Get into the fast lanes, they are becoming increasingly obvious. Get into the sectors where growth is accelerating.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to join Google or Amazon. ALL traditional companies are in the process of transforming into information companies, the best ones know it and are explicitly driving the change. The rest are stumbling into it blindly, playing catch-up. Find the companies talking about becoming information companies over their previous incarnations (be it manufacturing or services, information flows will define the future generations of every company across every field). Make sure the company you are a part of knows this and is aggressively building for it.
Next, what skillsets will remain human-essential in a world of smarter and faster connected machines? Functions that involve trust will give humans a persistent advantage over the future’s smartest machines. We might “trust” a machine’s output, but we will not trust it to have our backs in a time of need. Build personal ties and create value for others through those relationships. Roles where emotional connection is part of the value offering will be human-driven long after machines are technically capable of doing the same tasks. Such emotional connection can take the form of motivation, support, or insight into an answer based on personal experience or struggle. Stories are powerful, make your story part of the solution you’re offering to clients and employers.
In many ways automation will free us of the most undesirable parts of our work, enabling us to focus on the more creative tasks. Excel at these creative elements. The best approach I’ve found to consistently bringing creative solutions is to seek unexpected associations — surprising connections from divergent sources or across seemingly unrelated areas. Look outside your traditional field for solutions. Be the best at connecting the dots.
Regardless of the field or the functional area, we will have to transform ourselves and our roles at ever increasing rates. Becoming a super-learner will be the most central and most critical skill of all. But for those who embrace iterative reinvention, life and work will be more exciting and rewarding than at any point in history.