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 Medium.com [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.

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