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Preparing people and workplaces for the future of employment

16 Jul 2018

WRITTEN BY Mylonopoulos Nikos
Associate Professor of Digital Business

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As an educator working with business executives, I am passionate about what organizations can do to shape the future of employment in the face of disruptive technological change.

 

Looking at the past, despite broad job displacement, the industrial revolution created vast numbers of new jobs that few could have previously imagined, in retail, services, supply chains, and elsewhere. It was the result of the productivity potential of technology, in combination with a chain of complementary innovations in business models, infrastructures, public institutions, and policy. 

Looking forward into the future, equivalent complementary innovations will shape a world much different to what we are familiar with today. Therefore, it is only natural that  we find it difficult to imagine what new jobs might be created in a few decades. Instead, it is far clearer to us that many of today’s jobs will become either obsolete or will be taken over by automation.

 

The future of today’s jobs has already been largely decided, not by tech entrepreneurs who “move fast and break things [1]”, but by the structure and culture in many corporations and professions today. Too many jobs have been reduced to the lowest common denominator of repeatable tasks. Too often, ever more constraining standard operating procedures and hierarchies of control dilute trust and responsibility. Too many people are likely to feel crushed by silos, politics, fear, stifling procedures, unaccountable committees, and complacency. Such are the jobs where ownership, imagination, learning, and the joy of work, go to die. In effect, we have already stripped too many jobs of everything that is important to people and irrelevant to computers, and thus prepared them to be summarily automated, long before technology catches up.

  

We fear AI’s attack on the last bastions of human intelligence instead of seeing the opportunity to redirect human effort to the pursuit of a higher purpose, greater responsibility, and more creative work. As Sal Kahn, founder of Khan academy aptly observed[2], “it’s all about what technology can do to allow humans to be human”. Therefore, developments are forcing us to revisit the purpose of employment. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, recently wrote that “Microsoft no longer employs people, people employ Microsoft. […] It’s about helping employees live out their personal mission in the context of Microsoft’s.”[3]

 

There is a lot of talk about agile management and digital transformation as if they are exclusively about new digital tools, forgetting that their foundations rest on advancing core values such as respect, courage, trust, autonomy, ownership, and continuous learning. It is indeed paradoxical that the same companies building the tools which are expected to replace many jobs in the future, are also seeking ways of organizing that are less mechanistic and more aspirational than the corporate structures we have inherited from the industrial era.

 

Before technological change sweeps job markets, we should take responsibility for designing workplaces that advance humanity, not just productivity for productivity’s sake. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, put it
, “I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like people. I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers. [4]

 

 

 

[1] Taplin, Jonathan. Move Fast and Break Things. London: Macmillan, April 2017.

[2] Khan, Sal. “Education Reimagined.” Talks at Google. YouTube. Mar. 1, 2018. https://youtu.be/YkNmxJh_5WE

[3] Nadella, Satya. Hit Refresh. New York: Harper Business, September 2017.

[4] Tim Cook’s MIT Commencement Address 2017,https://youtu.be/ckjkz8zuMMs