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Don’t Worry About The Robots extract: How to navigate the future of work

Humans have a fascination with the new, and we have always adapted to and, at a greater or lesser speed, embraced new technology. What’s more, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Moore’s Law demonstrates that computer power has developed at an exponential rate. New ideas regarding artificial intelligence and automation are fast becoming reality. The next generation will grow up taking for granted chatbots, autonomous cars and virtual reality – these are all based on technology invented before they were born.

There will be fewer manual jobs in the future, and the old industrial labour contract (‘I’ll give you steady wages, you give me your five-day week’) will have been replaced by the gig economy as employment markets ebb and ow around a multitude of different work options, new roles and evolving industry sectors.

Today’s schoolchildren may live to be a hundred and have over 40 ‘jobs’ in their lifetime. Successful people will be lifelong learners, knowing that their competencies and experience need to be constantly updated. Educational institutions will have adapted to a ‘learning on demand’ model where people take on new knowledge when they need it, not years beforehand. Successful employers will attract and retain great workers by offering them continual challenges and personal development. Effective governments will have developed policies to support both workers and employers as they navigate through continuing changes. Tax settings and social support structures will have evolved.

Robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning are just the latest developments in the history of a species that is extraordinarily curious, inventive and resilient. While technology may be value neutral, humans have the capability to envisage a progressive future and work towards achieving it. The core qualities that have always helped us survive will help us thrive into the future.

Where to from here?

We have demonstrated many ways to respond and move forward positively as you prepare for the future of work, such as:

  • Explore and identify your why, and what your true values are.
  • Understand the intricacies of your personality and the way your previous life story influences how you think and act.
  • Plan for the next decades of your work life, leaving plenty of scope for flexibility.
  • Look after yourself so that you are mentally and physically fit to take on whatever challenges inspire you.

The challenge now is to take all that information and decide what you are going to do with it. What are your hopes and dreams? How are you going to set about achieving them? It is time for you to take ownership – and take action.

Our advice is to look at these principles and actions as a complete system and put them together so that they form a comprehensive whole. Most people already have some of the answers and are taking some positive action, but don’t have a cohesive approach. They may know their values, but they do nothing different as a result. They may have a plan, but it is completely unrealistic when they look at what is around them. They may pursue their goals, but at the expense of their personal health.

There is no ‘right’ way to act. Each of the people we have talked to for the book has their own personal philosophy, set of values, and way of achieving their goals. What they all share is a vision, a belief in themselves, an acceptance that they will face challenges, and the knowledge that nothing comes without hard work.

We asked them: ‘What advice would you give your sixteen-year-old self?’ We wanted to know what they have learned from their experience of work so far, and what they could mine from that that was worthy of passing on to the next generations. We think that their advice is applicable to everyone who is readying themselves for the future of work, whatever age and stage they are at. This is what they told us.

It’s all about people

The key message here is the importance of building relationships, because the human element is something that will never be easily replicated by technology. People will be key to all aspects of your life, including work. For Dan Khan, it was about finding and connecting with people who inspired him. Spending time with these people meant he was encouraged to push himself and achieve more.

Don’t settle early (or ever) on a specific job

Looking back, Shay Wright sees that testing a variety of different jobs and working in a range of organisations gave him a great start. He believes that a portfolio career is a good way to start out in work. Generating multiple revenue streams reduces the risk of losing your job, while working across a range of jobs allows you to test and try things, and you can build your skills while earning.

Joshua Vial has similar advice. Try lots of roles and seek experiences. Find things that you love and then find ways of making money from them. This strategy is currently working well for Jo. She has identified three areas where she wants to work to enact social change, and she has built a portfolio career around these areas.

Dan Khan says that working in a range of roles provides the basics you may need if you ever want to start your own business, as well as making you more effective in your preferred role. He believes that to build his skills as an excellent computer programmer, the best thing he did was work as a marketer and in sales for a computer rm. In these roles he got to understand what the customer wanted and how to sell a product. It made his development work more customer-focused. It also meant that when he did start his own business he understood the value of marketing, and he knew how to establish this function effectively.

Keep investing in your learning

All those we interviewed advocated for the power and importance of lifelong learning. Just because you have finished your formal learning, that doesn’t mean your education is complete. Ongoing learning, whether through self-directed web courses, on-the-job training, or whatever form works for you, needs to be part of your future. Informal learning relationships, for example, can be established with mentors. This is something that Shay has found to be very powerful.

Dan Khan argues that we don’t know what we don’t know, and that we have to always be open to learning, including asking for help and guidance. Over a career with twenty or more different jobs, young people will need to become experts in different roles over and over again. Continually refining how to learn will be a key to future success. Frances Valintine agrees, and points out that it has never been easier to access education. There are many free online courses, for example – all it takes to complete them is determination and discipline.

In her role as a university lecturer, Selina Tusitala Marsh has observed that many students focus on getting grades and doing what they need to pass their assessments. Many secondary school teachers will recognise this behaviour. She laments that this is such a dominant form of learning, which should not always be about working out what is needed to pass an exam. Learning needs to include exploring and being curious, not just focusing on the end grade. Investing in your learning may include achieving formal qualifications, but it should also involve exploring new areas of knowledge.

Find your why and follow your passion

Taking the time to reflect and work out what really interests you may sound simple, even obvious, but how many of us actually do it? How many of us instead do what is expected of us or what we assume is the right thing?

While many people may give you advice, you are the best judge of what is the right pathway for you. Vivien Maidaborn describes the sweet spot we should all aspire to and encourage our young people to search out—where you love what you are doing and the market will pay you for doing it.

Michelle Dickinson advises that the easiest way to find this spot is to start with your strengths and passions, as well as an honest assessment of your weaknesses and dislikes, and home in on what you really care about. In her view, you must assume that robots will take over many tasks that are currently done by humans, but your strength will come from finding your value and the contribution you can make.

Don’t expect linear

In the future it will be rare for someone to train as a lawyer and then work as a lawyer. Most of those we interviewed said that when they looked back at their career there was little linear progression. This trend will continue and intensify. You will need to be flexible, adaptable, and able to find your path as your environment changes.

Try hard and back yourself

When Rachel Taulelei looks back over her career, she singles out one thing that has made her successful. She tried hard— at everything. Whatever she was doing, she was determined to give it her all. With this philosophy, you can always hold your head high, and have the integrity that comes with giving something your all.

Along with this comes backing and believing in yourself. Trust your intuition – in times when a decision is difficult or you are challenged, you will not be alone, your instinct will be right there.

Trust that the thing that makes you stand out in the crowd will come to represent you for all the right reasons. For Selina Tusitala Marsh, this was her hair. Growing up, she tried to hide her masses of black curls. Now she wears her hair down and long as a proud symbol of who she is and where she comes from.

Give back

Josh points out that being successful at work is often judged by what we earn and how much we can consume as a result of that. He has found that he has gained the most satisfaction in his work when he has been able to help others. This is true for many of the people we interviewed.

Change has a long history

We have canvassed a lot of ideas and people in our exploration of the future world of work. We have looked at some grim predictions, including statistics that show millions of jobs are disappearing around the world. But we remain optimistic and excited about the future, and your part in it.

Without doubt the changes happening in the workplace and to the workforce are massive, rapid and far-reaching. The consequences of automation and artificial intelligence, along with new developments yet to arrive, will lead to new ways of working that no one can forecast with any certainty. As someone once said, though there is disagreement about who said it first, ‘The future isn’t what it used to be.’

The most important piece of work you can do is to work on yourself. Be prepared to disrupt your thought patterns and your daily routines in the search for new, better approaches and opportunities. Seek out new skills and experiences. Learn to embrace change rather than avoid or ignore it. Enjoy the different people you meet and the problems you solve along the way.

Societies and humans have faced, and successfully navigated, periods of massive change before. An early YouTube clip, best known as ‘Norwegian monks’, provides a humorous reminder that we have gone through similar cycles of fear, response, trial and confidence many times throughout history when new technology has disrupted our lives. Set in the Middle Ages, the clip shows a monk consulting the local helpdesk to help him make the difficult transition from scrolls to books. He is both scared and amazed by the new technology. We recommend you check it out.

The four principles we have explored in this book – the four principles identified by the people we interviewed as key things that will prepare you to be successful in the future – are timeless. They are about the core human skills and attitudes that have carried us through change in the past and will do so again in the future.

Know yourself

Scholars have long preached the value of self-knowledge.

He who knows others is wise;
he who knows himself is enlightened.

No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself. —PYTHAGORAS (C. 570–495 BC)

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. —WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564–1616)

There is a well-known Ma?ori proverb, ‘Ka muri, ka mua’, meaning ‘Look back to look forward’. This has also been expressed as ‘walking backwards into the future’, signifying the practice in Ma?oridom of referencing past culture and history when taking a look into the future. Understanding where you have come from is essential to understanding where you want to go.

In a world of rapid change, it has never been more important to hold on to who you are, understand your why, and live according to clearly expressed values. These are the bedrock truths that will help you keep strong during times when your confidence is damaged or a project fails.

They are also the signposts you need to share with others – colleagues, friends, family – to help them understand you and support you to achieve your full potential.

Know what’s around you

One of the greatest capabilities that we have now built into computers is one of humanity’s oldest skill sets – pattern recognition. Thousands of years living on the African plains helped our ancestors evolve brains that applied sophisticated ‘programs’ to identify potential food sources and respond to threats from predators. This is a set of skills that we all carry around, mostly unconsciously.

These skills can be focused on the parts of our lives that are productive or the hours that we just while away. We can spend our time guessing the plot of the latest soap series, or following celebrity lifestyles, or we can apply our thinking to the patterns of our work, our relationships and our future.

Be curious, seek out people and ideas that challenge your beliefs, learn all you can about the things that interest you. It has never been easier to access knowledge, and there are plenty of people who will be willing to share their experience with you – to mentor, coach and sponsor you, or simply give you five minutes of their time to chew over an idea.

Have a plan, but take chances

History has always involved individuals and groups making plans and calculating risk versus reward. Ma?ori are proudly descended from adventurers who left their island homelands during the great Polynesian migration, with no guarantee of safe harbour. Later settlers in New Zealand, whether they arrived by boat in the nineteenth century or passed through airport immigration just yesterday, have also made judgements on the positive opportunities and the risks of taking a chance on a new life.

There is risk in doing something, and in doing nothing. Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, acknowledges great advice from fellow billionaire Peter Thiel: ‘The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.’

The best way to mitigate risks and safeguard against failure is to have a plan. Set some goals that take you forward a week, a month, a year or longer, then work hard to achieve them. Be open to change that may be beyond your control, and flexible enough to adapt your plan on the y. Embrace opportunities – if in doubt, be bold.

Look after yourself

This should be a given – we all share a survival instinct. Yet it is all too easy to neglect our physical, emotional and mental needs, especially during times of stress and change. We all face challenges and get knocked down, but if we take care of ourselves, nourish our bodies and our minds and work on developing resilience it is much easier to get up again. It is when you are under stress that you most need to take some time to reflect on how you are feeling and what you can do to remove negative influences from your life. In the pursuit of happiness, health beats wealth every time.

Bring on the future

When it comes to stimulating interest, novelty is a strong attractor. New beats old. But when it comes to preparing ourselves for the future we should always take the past with us as a guide and a supporter. Humans have survived massive changes to their lives and their work for centuries. We will do so again.

Michelle Dickinson: ‘We’re living in a really disruptive time where the jobs that we always thought would exist forever actually are not going to exist very soon, and it’s going to be really scary. Make sure you take a look around at what you do and figure out if it’s aligning with your strengths and your passions, and never forget the human side of what you do – because we’re moving into an age where technology is literally going to be taking jumps, but it’s never going to take the human connection side of that jump. Remember that we’re still going to need humans to interact with humans.’

10 facts about the future of work

  • Almost half of all New Zealand jobs are at risk of being automated over the next two decades.
  • In 2017, Sophia, a Hong Kong-developed robot, became the first of its kind to be granted citizenship — by Saudi Arabia.
  • Those who are just setting out on the journey of work will have a long working life, perhaps a decade or more than previous generations, and also a long retirement because they will live longer – a ‘three-stage life’.
  • More than 300,000 New Zealanders are self-employed, a 29 percent increase on a decade ago.
  • A computer made today is likely to be over one hundred times more powerful than one made a decade ago.
  • In 2017, New Zealand saw the launch of SAM, the world’s first virtual politician, who talks to voters through Facebook Messenger, answering their questions about issues and elections.
  • Today’s 15-year-old is predicted to have seventeen different jobs across five careers in their lifetime. Today’s preschoolers will likely have many more.
  • When a person trains or works in one job, they acquire the skills for thirteen other jobs.
  • There has been an increase of over 200 percent in demand for digital skills over the past three years in Australia, while the demand for critical thinking increased over 150 percent.
  • New Zealanders spend on average, two hours and seven minutes each day on Facebook.
Find a copy of the Don’t Worry About the Robots here. View the full Don’t Worry About The Robots series on Idealog here
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