Coming: History’s Longest Unemployment Line?

25 January 2018 | Leading with Foresense

Given the rising fear of technology replacing workers, I shared my thoughts on “The Future of Human Work Is Imagination, Creativity, and Strategy” [link] as a recent post for Harvard Business Review (@HarvardBiz). I noted that many have predicted for some time that machines will replace humans, perhaps sooner than we think. I recall the great post in The Spectator by Mary Wakefield (@MaryWakefield) just about two years ago: “I, robot. You unemployed” [link].

It’s no surprise that the theme for the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” [link]. As WEF notes:

Politically, new and divisive narratives are transforming governance. Economically, policies are being formulated to preserve the benefits of global integration while limiting shared obligations such as sustainable development, inclusive growth and managing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Socially, citizens yearn for responsive leadership; yet, a collective purpose remains elusive despite ever-expanding social networks. All the while, the social contract between states and their citizens continues to erode.

Social contract between states and citizens? Maybe this is an example of that. I recently read an article from @cbinsights which revealed that “44 Corporations [Are] Working On Autonomous Vehicles” [link]. I thought to myself, all this talk about driverless vehicles surely must be overwhelming and frightening for many around the world who drive for a living. Who’s backing up the interests of these drivers?

Scott Santens (@scottsantens) was prescient when he wrote “Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck” for [link].

He wrote some strong words and they are sobering indeed: “We are facing the decimation of entire small town economies, a disruption the likes of which we haven’t seen since the construction of the interstate highway system itself bypassed entire towns.”

The question is whether the coming Machine Age trends are all bad news. Are all of us about to enter history’s longest unemployment line?

As I said in HBR, and the comment can be applied to lots of industrial leaders perplexed by the onslaught of new technology: “But there may be other ways for you to view this moment as the perfect time to rethink the shape and character of your workforce. Such new thinking will generate a whole new human resource development agenda, one quite probably emphasizing those innate human capacities that can provide a renewed strategy for success that is both technological and human.” [link]

I highly recommend that you watch a YouTube video by Raj Ramesh [link], whose LinkedIn page describes him as “an engineer, architect, scientist, programmer, business owner, mentor, advisor, data analyst, evangelist, storyteller, dreamer, teacher, speaker, writer, doodler, video creator, father, husband, and probably a few more. I like to solve big business problems leveraging Artificial Intelligence.” Raj contacted me after seeing the HBR article, and I could not have enjoyed more — or agreed more with — his video. “How to Prepare for the Jobs of the Future” is a six-plus minute tour de force about what everyone should be thinking about as we face a brave new technological world [link].

In no way do I want to discount the workplace trauma that is here to stay as companies of every size invest in new technologies. The work world is going through major change, and people will be affected. Yet, my optimism remains string that opportunities will emerge from these substantial threats to our livelihoods — if we can think clearly and operate today with a foresense of what is coming tomorrow. For those in management and leadership, especially, the words of Katherine Paterson should be repeated daily: “Fear is one thing. To let fear grab you and swing you around by the tail is another.”

Joseph PistruiJoseph Pistrui (@nextsensing) is Professor of Entrepreneurial Management at IE Business School in Madrid. He also leads the global Nextsensing Project, which he founded in 2012.