It’s December 31, 1999, and everyone around the world awaits the arrival of both the century and millennium. Teachers, airline pilots, train engineers, bus drivers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, architects, designers of all trades, and business people celebrate the new year, oblivious to the changes this new era of technology will bring, what it will mean for our jobs, and the impacts on our society.
Fast forward to 2020, and the first thing we need to understand is that these types of disruptions have always happened. But they’ve never happened at this pace and with such unlimited reach. With rapid advancements in technology, the changes in our everyday lives are increasingly quick.
The innovation-disruption cycle
Innovation is when human creativity leads to new inventions, be it a product or a service, that makes our lives easier or more efficient. However, these innovations come at a price: they disrupt the structures we have in place, especially in the workforce, and they displace human workers.
In this never-ending cycle, every time we innovate it leads to disruption, and vice versa. We break new structures and build new ones, these new structures create new roles in society, and these new roles require new skills.
How do innovation and technology impact our careers?
This cycle has created two shifts that affect jobs today: a shift to cheap overseas labor, and a shift to automation.
Cheap overseas labor has incentivized businesses to outsource simple tasks to companies that are often located on the opposite side of the world. That’s why, for instance, when you call your phone company’s customer service number, you’ll be referred to a call center in, say, Colombia. Companies do this because it’s cheaper and, thanks to technology, possible.
Automation is the introduction of automatic processes in tasks that were previously performed by human workers, so that little or no human intervention is needed. This began during the first Industrial Revolution, when new manufacturing systems arrived on the scene. Workers saw changes that came about slowly, but these changes greatly impacted their daily lives and jobs. The thing is, today’s big changes are coming about much more quickly and with less time and space in between.
So, given these changes, how can we remain relevant?
Take a hard look at your job’s tasks.
To remain relevant in this fast-paced, changing world, we first need to understand which tasks are at risk of becoming automated or outsourced. That way, we can prepare and start working on developing new skill sets that will keep us up to date, or, even better, ahead of the times.
One easy way to know if your job will still exist a few years from now is to enter it into this formula:
If the tasks you perform fall under this causal formula—“If this happens, then you do this other thing”—you’d better start honing new skills that will allow you to perform more complex tasks that still require human intervention.
Technology and artificial intelligence excel at completing if-then tasks. Little by little, automation and AI machine learning will free us from a lot of simple tasks, but the world will still need people skilled at performing more complex feats.
Develop uniquely human skill sets.
Another way to know if your profession will prevail in the future of AI is to ponder if your job needs skills that (up until now) are still unique to humans. My research in this field has pinpointed four key human skills that will allow us to prepare for disruption, and even thrive through it. These are emotional intelligence, critical thinking, contextual creativity, and mindfulness.
A simple example of this can be found in the medical profession. Take surgeons and nurses. A surgeon’s job could presumably be performed by a machine in the future, whereas a nurse’s day-to-day care with a patient could not. Why? Because the nurse uses empathy to care for his or her patients, to administer medicines, and even to help patients use the restroom.
Another example is within the airline industry. Pilots’ jobs could also be automated (even now, planes can pretty much fly themselves), but a flight attendant’s job could not because they work with passengers face to face. Flight attendants make use of uniquely human qualities to perform their jobs properly.
Now, this doesn’t mean there will be zero surgeons or airline pilots in the future. But it does mean we’ll likely need fewer of them to supervise machines or work alongside them. Machines don’t understand the environment and context they work within; they need humans to give that to them.
The bottom line
The people who will make it in the future are those who are good at working with technology, who have the skills to harness technology’s power, and who possess the human skills of emotional intelligence, critical thinking, contextual creativity, and mindfulness.
This being said, it’s true that change is often painful, but with change, you also gain opportunity. The opportunity to grow and adapt to the times and to make ourselves useful. Right now, we can only make educated guesses about what jobs will be like years from now, but working on our innately human skills will definitely give us an edge.
This guest post was authored by Somi Arian
Somi is a tech philosopher, international speaker, award-winning filmmaker, and LinkedIn Top Voice influencer. She specializes in the impact of technology on society and the future of work. Her new book is Career Fear (and How to Beat It): Get the Perspective, Mindset, and Skills You Need to Futureproof Your Work Life. Learn more at SomiArian.com.
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