Welcome to the age of opportunity

By Neil Patrick

In life there are things we can change and things that we cannot. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) is something none of us can change. It's demolishing the life expectations of a generation. But from amidst the smoke and debris, new hope is coming into view for those who can embrace it...

We can adapt to survive and thrive in this fast changing world.  And the first step is recognizing and ditching the baggage that we have been accumulating for our entire lives about how the world of work works. The only reason millennials are taking all the glory in the world of business start-ups is because they just did it. No-one told them they couldn't or shouldn't.

And just as older people can become victims of ageism in their job-search, so too do recent grads. They get passed up because they haven't got enough experience. The difference is they say, "Well if no-one is going to give me a job, I'll make my own".

Forget all the headlines about multi-million pound crowd-funded start-ups. About franchises. About network marketing. All these are just working for someone else's benefit - for investors, for franchisors or some shady character you'll probably never meet.

The FIR may be destroying 'old' jobs, but its also creating new ones. It's time that boomers learned how to make their own jobs too...

Creativity, flexibility and adaptability are key requirements for every person and every business that wants to prosper in the fourth industrial revolution.

According to Dr.Yuval Noah Harari, best selling author of  Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, our abilities to adapt and collaborate are the principal reasons humans came to be the dominant species on the planet.

But the world we spent most of our careers in, the old world of corporate control, hierarchy and obedience, was pretty successful at repressing these essential human qualities. Despite having teams of people who supposedly 'managed' human resources, they didn't and they don't. Mostly they seek to control and administrate it. Not nurture it.

We have to recover our abilities to adapt and collaborate. And this involves thinking outside the box, learning  new skills, developing new networks, and nurturing our creativity. It's no co-incidence that these are the traits that the most progressive and promising businesses and organisations place high value on.

They are also the key requirements for anyone who wants to stop relying on whatever job they can get and make their own way in the world.

We have to get used to the fact that everything we learned about how the world of work worked is either wrong now or will be soon.

There’s not much that most of us learned at school which carries much value in the FIR. Traditional education places value on facts and understanding. Facts have become devalued to such an extent that they have little value in and of themselves. They might be useful in a pub quiz or crossword puzzle, but in the workplace they are worth pretty much zilch because the internet has reduced knowledge to a universally available and virtually free commodity.

You might think understanding and raw intelligence is less devalued. In part it is, but understanding only has economic value if it is coupled with creativity. So for example, you may understand how a solar panel works. But you can only harness this knowledge and extract significant value from it, if you can create a new version which works better, or find new applications for the technology, or solve problems within the industry. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is a low paid job making, installing or repairing them.

The previous industrial eras made incomes possible for people because at almost every level, the same type of work needed doing more or less endlessly. In the FIR, almost any task which can be reduced to repetitive sequential activities can and will be done by AI and/or robots. Including the ones which can be done better by real people - yes I'm talking about you, you rage-inducing recorded phone menus...

We cannot stop this change. But we can seize hold of the opportunities it delivers, to do things faster, cheaper and better than ever before. It's putting power into the hands of everyone that in the old world was only available to big corporations.

We have to re-engage our creativity. Rediscover our core talents and use them. Everyone has talents, but most people work in jobs where they have none. And last but not least dive into the online world to really discover all the power that's now at our fingertips.

We have to become comfortable with uncertainty and spotting change before it hurts us

For the first time in history, the shape of things to come is harder to predict than ever before. Every decade in the 20th century was a reaction to the preceding one. Change happened relatively slowly, there were inter-generational changes but these were more about social attitudes and ideas than a changing world. Today and in the future, the world will be changing faster than ever before.

So understanding what will change in our own areas of professional activity will become an ever more important career survival skill. Early last year, a friend of mine in the oil and gas industry realised that his industry was on the cusp of flipping from a high profit, steady growth sector with great career security and prospects, to one which was going to be increasingly unstable. He spotted the coming change and immediately went about setting up his plan to cope with the threats. His colleagues continued as normal, relying purely on hope that all would be okay. Today his expectations have been realised. He escaped relatively unscathed. Many of his colleagues didn’t.

We have to be able to see ahead of the curve. And this means keeping our antennae alert for change and threat, not just ploughing on hoping everything will be okay. And it is exactly the same sensing apparatus which spots opportunities as well as threats.

We have to understand and constantly grow our career assets and intellectual capital

It doesn’t matter if you are an architect, a steel worker, an accountant or a bus driver. If our only career asset is knowing how to do what we do today to earn money to live, we are extremely vulnerable. The moment our work or employer changes for any reason, we are high and dry.

So we need to not just predict change, we have to take action to create career assets which may not be useful today, but which will support us and our incomes in the future. This requires spotting where our income opportunities will be in future and figuring out how we can make ourselves a prime candidate to exploit them.

Our time needs to be carefully managed so that we are continually amassing assets which may be of little or no value to the job or work we are doing today, but which we will need when the day comes that we no longer have that job.

We have to nurture diverse and global networks

Increased connectivity is a key aspect of the FIR. The world now operates globally and it is as easy to have a video chat with someone on the other side of the world as it is with someone in the next office. Social media gives us the opportunity to meet people online that we would never even have been aware of in the pre-digital world.

My own clients are all over the planet. Almost every single one of them found me through social media. The only limitation on who I can communicate with is language, but how long before real time translation apps remove that barrier too?

And my network is growing daily. New Twitter followers, new Linkedin connections and last but far from least, new people who even though they live on my doorstep, only became aware of me because of the internet.

I can never tell who is going to be of value to me and who isn't. I just know that someone will. So I treat everyone I meet with care, courtesy and generosity. And more often than not that's what I get back in return.

We have to understand how technology is going to impact our area of professionalism and get ahead of the change curve

This is an age of opportunity. It just doesn’t feel like it for people who have spent their entire lives being conditioned to deliver what the pre-internet age required.

What is tricking people is that opportunities don’t look how they used to. Do you really think that a 25 year old, fresh out of university is smarter than you? More valuable than you? More skilled than you? I don’t.

The only difference is that he or she has less fear; the boundless optimism of youth. He or she has nothing to lose and everything to gain. And it is this fear which is our greatest enemy.

In the next post, I’ll look at the five things I think everyone needs if they want to find and exploit their own opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

And it seems I am not the only one who has this opinion. Gary Vaynerchuk has expressed pretty much the same view with his own unique brand of raw energy:

Career survival in the fourth industrial revolution

By Neil Patrick

As I wrote about in my post here, the main theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos was the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR). And most normal people completely ignored it (that's both the Forum and my post about it!). But this particular topic has profound implications for anyone who wants to earn a living in the next 20 years or so.

Change has always been around us, what's different is the speed 

These things are going change everyone's experience of work - what we have seen so far is just the start of changes so profound that almost no-one has figured out yet how individuals need to respond. Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I am going to attempt to describe what this means and what I think everyone needs to do about it.

Most people are not even aware of the third industrial revolution (this was when computers and the internet combined to create a new digitally connected world), let alone the fourth. The defining characteristics of the fourth industrial revolution are extreme connectivity, rapid change and the increasing automation of work.

VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) describes the conditions which will dominate the world in the coming decades. A VUCA world is a place in which some will thrive, but many will wither because they simply do not know how to respond to it.

Davos: where the 'great' and the 'good' ponder our futures.

Education alone will not be sufficient to equip us to cope

Despite my somewhat bearish view of what this all means for the future of jobs, there are things we can all do to reduce our risk exposure. We cannot change the world we live in, but we can change how we respond to it.

I am not yet convinced that the key agents of change (business leaders, educational institutions and government, public and legal bodies) have the motivation, insight and sense of ownership to create the conditions for economic success for citizens in the FIR. They have to become visionary, agile and deeply committed to responding rapidly and effectively to this challenge. I see very little evidence that much of this is happening.

Education is a key pillar to enable the necessary changes in our societies for the digital age. As Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys says:

“Today’s classrooms often operate in the same way they did when farmers composed the majority of our societies; when memorization was rewarded more than curiosity and experimentation; when getting something right outweighed learning through failure. We must transition away from our past; shift the focus from learning what we already know to an education focused on exploring what hasn’t happened yet. This system would resemble an ecology – constant, small adjustments made by independent actors inside of a cohesive whole.”

Educational attainments are no longer something we strive for only when we are young. It has to be a lifelong commitment. It is not learning that is redundant, it is how and what we learn as individuals and societies that must change.

But if education is geared to the needs of the past, not the future, it cannot deliver the sort of learning we all need. Just the other day, I was asked by a friend about the wisdom of a decision his sister was making to career shift to being an interior designer. Her plan was to spend the next 3 years and many 000's of dollars studying this at college. I thought she was crazy. Much better to just start doing it - educational qualifications are not the barrier to success in this sort of field. Winning clients and generating profits is. It seemed to me this was a plan for self indulgence, not a successful career shift.

Traditional jobs are going to become much more scarce

In essence this is the problem; if AI and robots do more and more of the work that people used to do, just how much confidence should we place in the ability and commitment of government and businesses to create the 600 million new jobs that the World Bank forecasts we will need by 2030 just to keep pace with population growth?

If you want some stats, the WEF estimates that the following job losses will occur by 2020 i.e. the next four years:

4,759,000 clerical and administrative jobs

1,609,000 manufacturing jobs

497,000 construction and mining jobs

151,000 sports and creative industry jobs

109,000 lawyers

40,000 maintenance and mechanics

So taking just clerical, admin and manufacturing jobs into account, these two categories alone are forecast to lose over 6.3 million jobs in the next 4 years.

The simple maths of the World Bank’s goal of 600 million new jobs is that we need an average of 40 million new jobs being created globally every year between now and 2030. And this requires a massive growth in work for people to do and be paid for. There is just no way that current or projected economic growth will deliver this currently.

All careers need one of these...

Who will win and who will lose?

These changes will create winners, but many more losers. In general, the winners will be those with the most in demand competencies in the FIR which are expected to be flexibility, creativity and tech skills; those without these will be the biggest losers. And if you think the growth of wealth inequality is a problem today, you’ve seen nothing yet…

As Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum says in his insightful commentary here:

“In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.

This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.”

So this is the problem. Our economies are still functioning (sort of) using 20th century models and policies. But traditional monetary and fiscal levers have all failed to reignite the growth that is required for this model to function. Politicians have run out of answers despite their protestations that this or that policy will solve the problem. It won’t.

So when the state fails to deliver for us and shows no promise of doing so, the thing we have to do is take care of ourselves.

In my next post, I’ll describe what I think these things need to be. Just follow this link.