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:


  1. Great post...I love the motivation from Gary Vaynerchuk.
    Opportunity can be seen everywhere...do not be afraid to jump and start a business.

  2. Paging a "Butlerian Jihad" from the novel DUNE (by Frank Herbert).