It may be hard to believe, but data does validate that over time, the number of hours we are working has decreased. As countries become wealthier, they work fewer hours. With the rise of computing technology, along with AI, genetics, 3D printing and robotics, we are seeing a convergence of multiple factors that are building on each other and creating change at an exponential rate. The convergence of these factors is creating lots of new jobs that don’t even exist today.
In a session titled “The future of work and what it means for you” at the Oracle OpenWorld Asia: Singapore, Su-Yen Wong, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bronze Phoenix pointed out that in fact the rate is so fast that some of the jobs that were expected to be created in 2030 have already been created today. So as much as we think we can predict the future, we fall woefully short because our ability to imagine is falling behind the possibilities that are being made possible by technology.
Quoting John Maynard Keynes, who tried to imagine what work would look like in 2030, Su-Yen revealed that in his times, there had been very little technological advancement which meant that work had not changed materially. However, he forecasted that as technology improved, in 100 years, humans would have solved the economic problem of subsistence. Keynes predicted that we would be working three-hour shifts, five days a week and that our standard of living would be 4x-8x of that in 1930.
How close are we to that reality? How can we prepare for that future even as the fear of automation continues to worry everyone? Research by Oxford University looked over 700 jobs in the US and found that 47% of them could be done by machines within a decade. Even a portion of a CEO’s job is not immune to automation. So as automation surges ahead of us- what can we do to future proof ourselves?
Here are five key takeaways suggested by Su-Yen on how to prepare ourselves for the future:
Learn, work and play
In parallel with the advances in technology and the shrinking business cycles, we are seeing a growth in our global life expectancy. Today, even a company on the S&P 500 index has an average life span of only 20 years compared to 60 years earlier in the 1960s. However while business cycles are shrinking, life expectancy is rising globally. How do we make this increased life expectancy a blessing and not a curse? While in the past we learnt, worked and played in sequence, today it is about putting them all together.
In an environment where business cycles are 20 years old, and we are living to 80 years and beyond, we will have to learn, work and play in tandem all the time. So, continuing to improve ourselves, learning new skills, and preparing ourselves for jobs that do not exist yet today will happen concurrently.
Developing a broad radar
The five stages of disruption are akin to the five stages of grief-shock, denial, anger, despair, and acceptance. It is so easy to get stuck in denial, says Su-Yen. However, having a broad radar helps open up the possibilities for the future. Take for instance the case of Fuji which saw the world changing and decided upon a three-pronged strategy-first figure out how to milk the existing business, second prepare for digital, and third move into new areas. As a consequence, Fuji moved into making cosmetics. While one would wonder what business a photographic film company has in cosmetics, as it turns out, photographic film consists of 50% collagen which is an ingredient of our skin. Also, to make lasting photographic films, you need to understand anti-oxidation. Fuji, which was good at understanding both collagen and anti-oxidation, leveraged these core skills to move into a brand new business.
“As an individual also, we need to think what are those things today, which could be translated into something that applies in the future. One can do so by having a broad radar.”
Build diverse networks
Research has shown that when we have diverse networks, we combine and collectively create ideas which are more powerful than when we put together people with a similar background and history. When building diverse networks, one needs to think about how to go out and reach people who are different. Today we are more globally connected than ever before yet stats reveal that only 26% of internet traffic is international. Only 7% of all phone calls are international. And only 3% of people live outside the country of their birth. This is because we are creatures of habit and tend to stay close to home. It takes an effort to build networks that are diverse. Left to our devices, we tend to be with other people who are like us.
We have to move out beyond our close networks to build a more resilient network as we prepare for the future.
Drive change from within
Driving change from within requires understanding, breaking our mental barriers and identifying how we can push past that which we are familiar with. But very often we are hamstrung by our beliefs. It involves challenging stereotypes and breaking past our own perceptions of what we can do or other people in our team can do and pushing them into newer areas as we move into the future.
Reinvention is going to be very critical and it is about driving the change from within. Very often, it is the self-limiting mindsets that we need to get past.
Live wisely and well
If we think about how work is changing and how we have been able to have a much better standard of living today than we had in the past, what do we do with that extra time? This brings us back to John Maynard Keynes. The reason why he was looking at the economic possibilities of grandchildren was to understand what life will be like in 2030. One of the things he spoke of was that it would not be harmful for us to think if we could learn to live or the art of life itself. Because as we progress into the technological obsolescence of jobs, there would be time and then how do we frame our purpose?
The purpose of work is not as objective or the end game in itself. But work is currency and when we think about the future of work, we should be thinking what we want to buy with that currency. How do we define our purpose?
If our sole identity is in work and when that transforms, we need to be able to define our purpose beyond work itself. And that is the purpose of living. So while we think about the future of work and the disruptive forces it will unleash, we need to remember that the future of work is not about work itself but also about living. And these five key takeaways will help us reimagine our future, our work, and future-proof ourselves.
(This session is based on a session by Su-Yen Wong, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Bronze Phoenix at Oracle OpenWorld Asia: Singapore. Click here to know more about the innovations in HR, powered by Oracle.)