I have spent the better part of the past few years advocating for goods and services that cater to the inherent slothfulness in all human beings. I’ve concluded that the automation of many of the daily tasks would make my life significantly easier. If the automation is carried out correctly and is audited, it will…
You’ve probably been denied a job due to “fit” – as in, you are not the right fit for the role or the right fit for the organization. But what exactly does that mean? We are in the middle of a hiring crisis. For many possible reasons, the pandemic drove many of us to resign…
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Are you reading this blog post on a smartphone? Does your smartphone ever leave your side? Do you freak out if you ever misplace or lose your smartphone? Do you ever feel less than whole when your smartphone is not within easy reach?
Many pundits far and wide talk about how our newest technologies will be eliminating millions of jobs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) mostly, in addition to other new tech, for some reason to many, feels different.
Fill It Full Of Doits, And You’ll Never Be Short Of Ideas
A while back, I wrote a blog post about the two kinds of people in the world, the ShouldWes and the DoIts. You can go back here to read the full post, but in short, the DoIts are the action takers, the ones who see or generate an idea they want to move forward on that idea, no matter if the idea is incremental or disruptive, they want to take the risk and develop the idea, get in in front of customers and see if the idea lives or dies.
They would take ideas which have been considered good by a certain number of people, say possibly voted on or reviewed by a review committee, then apply their gut-feel filter on it (does this ideas seem like it will fly) then figure out some way (if there isn’t already a well-defined process for building and launching these ideas) to get those ideas, in some form, in front of customers. In some cases that means spending a few bucks to build it out (even in a rough form) and launch it to the world (or a small subset of the world). It’s the lean startup model, build an minimum viable product (MVP) and launch it.
Notable examples of some multi-billion dollar businesses which (you may have heard about) started this way – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat – someone had a core idea (a search engine which worked based on link count, an electronic version of a college Facebook, a text-based notification system, a way to share test answers in class) and instead of endlessly discussing the idea and researching the idea and thinking out all possible permutations of developing the idea, including figuring out a business model for the idea, they just built it and launched it.
Whoa, pretty scary idea, eh?
Those ideas could have failed miserably (and I’m sure that there are other versions of those ideas which were launched and did fail miserably) but they didn’t, and they are proof that ideas, when handled by the DoIts, can sometimes generate billion-dollar businesses.
On the other hand, you have the ShouldWes, who when confronted by a new idea (and yes, for some reason they seem to feel like they are confronted by them, right – they feel that reviewing and discussing the idea is a burden) its “oh here we go again – another idea with a ill-defined business model”. Or they may love discussing and researching the idea, endlessly thinking about the idea, all of the possible permutations of the idea.
They dwell in the realm of thought and ideas, never venturing into action or execution at all. They prefer to continuously mull an idea over and over, looking for ways to halt the progress of the idea towards an initial product (or any product for that matter) which could be introduced to their customers. They take the idea and compare it to the culture of the organization (this idea will never fly at Company X, its not how we do things here) or the current ethical atmosphere (this is really against the core principles of our industry) or may, God forbid, actually offend someone (oh boy, when Group X hears about this ideas, they’ll be sure to squash it).
They seem to go out of their way to find ways to dump all over the idea – especially if they are really interesting disruptive ideas which could possibly help a lot of people in huge ways, just because they are not business as usual, highly profitable business models we’ve used or are past-proven within the organization (it doesn’t matter if the model has been proven by others, if we’ve never done it, then it probably can’t be done by us).
There are already tons of ShouldWes in most organizations (interestingly enough, they seem to congregate in the finance areas of many organizations, but can really be found everywhere), but they really have no place in your innovation group. I suggest that if you are building an innovation group from scratch, being a DoIt should be an automatic qualifier, and being a ShouldWe should be an automatic disqualifier. If you’ve already got ShouldWes in your organization, maybe you can find more appropriate places for them elsewhere in the organization? If we are going to “move fast and break things” do we really need someone putting on the brakes and wrapping everything in bubble wrap?
In fact, your entire innovation group should be fully stocked with DoIts, and if possible, you should encourage the hiring of more DoIts beyond the innovation group.
There are already enough ShouldWes out there.
Have We Created Too Much To Handle?
Pity the poor human – we start off with an amazing memory, a sponge-like ability to observe and learn, with sharp senses of vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, then over time, they develop into a height, then slowly taper off as we age.
Pity especially the memory – back 10-20-50-100 years ago, in any of those time frames, our big human brain was able to absorb and process the trickle of information from all sources – newspapers, books, journals allowed you to absorb information at your own speed – some read faster than others. We then invented electronic communications, like the radio and TV, where we had to absorb information at the speed at which it was delivered, but only at the time that it was delivered.
The first kind of mass market interactive devices were video games, which, while providing some control over the results, gave us humans some control over the process of the interaction. Eventually, VCRs and Tivo-like devices allowed us to control when we would watch the TV that was broadcast to us. As time progressed, we both got more control over what we could absorb and when, and exponentially more content to absorb.
Since the commercialization of the internet, we’ve seen blogs, podcasts and YouTube (among others) increase the amount of “stuff out there” by orders of a magnitude never before seen. Now we can even control the speed at which we absorb things – my audiobook player can play things as slow as ¾ speed and as fast as 3x speed (too fast for me!) With all of this, is it any wonder that we’re distracted?
Take everything else in life and work – the multitude of things we now need to remember to do. Living life itself has become incredibly complex – the number of adult children living at home, afraid of becoming adults, with full adult responsibility is at an all-time high. Is part of this because life has become overwhelming?
For those who are out there, we can barely keep up with the disruption of life – there are not many areas in one’s life which haven’t suffered some disruption – the recession of 2008 have disrupted the flow of work, turning career employees into gig economy hustlers, taking whatever work that they can, whenever they can. We no longer have fixed incomes – just try getting a mortgage when all you can provide a lender is a sheaf of 1099s from several different companies.
Many young adults are unable to afford to buy homes, or in some extremely expensive centers, unable to even afford to live in their own apartments, barely able to cover the costs of sharing a space with roommates. In some places, a single income will no longer allow you to live on your own. Tracking and managing your income, your time, your professional and private lives, are left to wanting tools like Google Calendar, Outlook or paper notebooks.
We are awash in to do lists, calendars, schedules, emails, social media posts, instant messages, apps, all clamoring for our attention. Has this ever happened to you – your pop up notifications are so numerous that your phone rarely doesn’t vibrate? This flood of inputs is just overwhelming, and since most of us in desperate fear of FOMO, we attempt to absorb everything, but there is no possible way that we can.
We regularly take our most effective time of day and waste it in doing bullshit work, and then try to do our best work when we are tired and flooded with pointless trivia from clickbait (See 5 Ways To Have Sex With Your Apple iPhone)
Underneath, we are all the same curious kids that we were when we were born – we WANT to know everything, all the time, but the stream of constant information in all forms, competing for our attention, attempting to entice us and outrage us so we can consume more, has simply become too much for all of us to process. There is just too much that we need to know, do, and be, and we poor humans have yet to evolve to the point where we can do this.
We need help.
But what kind of help? We can, if we wish to, simply decide to switch things off, cut ourselves off from the world, mentally go back to the world before the internet. There are trends towards minimalism, meditation, disconnecting ourselves from the world. Even partially disconnecting from the world is not an answer, as any connection is so compelling, that you get sucked back into it. But is it possible to disconnect yourself completely from the world, for the world has now become our interface with others over the internet?
If you ask me, there is only one solution – we need robust, intelligent, virtual assistants to help us.
As we go through life, we experience it. And as we experience it, we make decisions to take on things that we need to do, actions that we need to take. As the world floods over us, we filter and capture an infinitesimally small portion of it, then decide to act on it. It’s simply too much.
However, if we had a virtual automated assistant to help us filter the world, help us to capture what is important to us and for us to do, and even do some of the little stuff for us, would that not help?
In the democratization of the internet, in giving the ability for any human on the planet to connect with every human on the planet (an awesome thing) we’ve also created an overwhelming amount of content. We need systems to help us puny humans to sort and manage this content, tell us what is important to us, and help us to manage our world.
The world has become far too complex to be managed by ourselves alone – we need to design and build assistants who can help. We are at the very beginning of this – and its, therefore, the perfect time to focus on this – and if you ask me this is the most important problem we need to solve today – to create a useful, human helping bot which can help us to be better humans. There is no other way.
The World Of Work Is Now 24/7 No Matter Your Business
Remember downtime? You know, evenings and weekends where your typical 9-5 job would let you have some spare time? Those days are gone.
As work has exploded into small Lego blocks, not being completed in specific time frames, but in chunks, here and there, interspersed with life, email and other asynchronous communications allowed us to be able to respond to messages whenever we had the time to do so – you could respond to an email after your days of meetings were over, and you could leave voicemail, relaying useful information.
Of course, ever since ICQ and instant messaging took off, we use live messaging to typically capture short bursts of data, ask quick questions, and quickly and lightly be in contact with people. The unwritten rules are that if someone isn’t responding to an IM, then they are probably busy.
However, with the advent of smartphones and the ability to determine someone status always (Available/Busy/Away) then all business becomes a 24 hour, 7 days a week thing.
Setting aside the question as to whether this is good or not, I’ve recently noticed that there have been many new services which leverage this always on, status showing a set of services.
For example, Slack has become a huge business off business messaging, driving many companies to use Slack instead of all other forms of communication. Its ability to be on all devices make it very effective in keeping a team always informed.
Additionally, the ecosystem of plugins adding new functionality continues to expand. I would almost suggest that one of the reasons that remote work has taken off as quickly as it has is the ability to have an immediate conversation with anyone, anywhere and at any time.
Tools like Slack, Skype, and Google Hangouts allow us an adequate amount of telepresence (do we really need super high-resolution 4k TVs and full wall monitors to collaborate?) We can now collaborate at anytime from anywhere on any device.
This has had the useful effect of tying a team together always, no matter where they are. We have finally, truly become the virtual teams that we envisioned years ago.
If I were to start a new company today, it would be completely virtual, with no campus, no offices, employees working from their homes, using their own equipment (which they would probably prefer anyway).
These tools have finally given us the ability to create truly virtual corporations. We can instantly have a sales conversation with a visitor to our website from our smartphones while we are waiting at the doctor’s office.
We can immediately connect a customer with a customer service rep in Hawaii while they are enjoying their time away from the office.
On the possible negative side, vacations, weekends, as we know them, will literally disappear, as we travel whenever, do whatever, bringing our work with us wherever we are.
Taking some downtime from the office will be as easy as switching a switch in your work app. All work will be uberized.
Is this a good or a bad thing? Either way, it’s the likely inevitable future of work.
Job Interviews are so 20th Century
Up until technology made it possible, we only really had three modes of work. You had the “job economy”, where someone would get a job with a company, large or small, simply in order to make money, with no aspirations to anything other than doing that specific job, and doing it well, the “career economy”, where workers would take an entry level position within a company, do exceptional work and hope to rise up within that company, or at least within that industry, to the C-suite and ultimately, the CEO, or the “entrepreneur” economy, where the individual would start and run their own business, deciding for themselves if they wanted to expand or maintain their size.
We have since added the additional blended economy known as the “gig economy”, which takes individuals that were in the “job economy” and turns them into micro-entrepreneurs. Additionally, some in the career economy who have been left in the dust by the recessions and productivity gains over the last ten years have found themselves gravitating towards the gig economy as well. While the gig economy is a great stopgap, advances in technology and workforce management, as well as the inclusion of management algorithms, will eventually move us to an even more modular economy, where even gigs are broken up into tasks and assigned to people (and bots) to perform, when they happen to be the right skill in the right time and place.
And through all of this change, one thing still remains constant: the job interview.
Yes, we still have the dreaded “job interview”, a staple of all levels of any of the economies above (save perhaps for the entrepreneur – if they are solo). Everyone has been through them, and everyone dreads them.
Why do job interviews have to be so horrible? There has to be a better way.
The reality of the matter is that like education running from September to June, the job interview itself is a throwback from an earlier time when having an audio or face to face conversation between individuals was a way to test the mettle of a person.
How many times have people aced a job interview, only to be terrible at their jobs?
In my view, the job interview itself should be eliminated in favor of a deep dive into the individual’s online history and reference checks with those who have worked with them in the past.
Additionally, I suggest an internship for all, over the interview – you can only truly capture persons work character by actually working with them. For those currently in a job, and don’t want to let on that they are looking for work, a short vacation, where you work for your prospective employer for a week, should be enough time to get a feel for someone work style.
Unfortunately, the job interview process is still fairly common and expected, and only the most forward thinking and innovative companies can decide to do away with them.
In the future of work, everyone will be able to work from wherever, with whatever is around them, whenever they like.
Why automatically kick out possibly awesome people who can’t interview well?
That being said, there is a continuum towards that promised state: there are a few companies that are offering text based interviews. While possibly a good screening tool, it’s doubtful that no one but the most progressive companies will use it as the only touch point pre-hire.
With decent, free video conferencing available to everyone – via tools like Google Hangouts, there is no reason why you cannot have a face to face interview with anyone on the planet for that role – and there is no reason why they won’t be just as effective or efficient team member, doing their jobs from Nairobi or Mountain View.
The future of the job interview may be secure for now, however, the most progressive and forward thinking companies are already looking for new ways to eliminate this most painful of tasks for typical candidates. Maybe that should be you?
The Future Of Human Work: Manual Labor Revered
A few months ago, I attended an event on the future of conversational interfaces and during this event, one of the speakers presented the state of the art in cloud robotics, a fairly new field. Prior to the advent of cloud robotics, robots were programmed and acted individually. With cloud robotics, the robots could learn from each other, since the intelligence powering the robot was in the cloud, and any findings one connected robot learned, the rest of the robots in the group would learn immediately.
One of the examples that the researcher presented was the simple task of clearing a table. You know, something that most of us humans can do once we hit kindergarten age. The ability to walk up to a table, recognize and grasp glasses, plates, cutlery, placemats, and other objects on the table, then place them in a bin, without breaking them is something that can be easily taught a human by the age of 6. They can even put them in the dishwasher.
Not so with robots. He described how even a simple task like this, to a human, would require immense processing power to complete. First, the robot would need to be able to recognize everything on the table, using computer vision. It would need to be able to “see” everything on the table, figure out which item is an individual item, among the patterned plates, placemats, and centerpiece. In order to do this, it would need to have a database to tap into, a massively huge database full of every conceivable model of glass, cup, plate, fork, knife, etc. Once it recognized that item, the instruction on how to handle the item would be attached to it (this is glass, so be careful not to use too much pressure). Once it knew how to handle that item, it would have to have to try and figure out the best way to grasp that item without knocking over other items, and exerting the proper amount of pressure.
In the audience, I calculated, based on the amount of data and processing power he was talking about, the simple act of clearing a dinner table would take a ridiculous amount of computing power. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about the future of work, and how to create jobs for humans. In my previous posts, I discussed how if automation takes away a job, then that job was probably no longer fit for a human to perform. So a robot SHOULD do it. Where does that leave us? We need to figure out how to create jobs for humans, that only humans can do.
Putting two and two together: here is a task that humans can perform with ease, and robots have a tough time, requiring crazy amounts of processing power. What does this mean for the future of human work? It means that in the future, the value of the “collars” is reversed. “Blue collar” jobs will be much more valuable than “white collar” jobs.
In the 1930s, Upton Sinclair invented the term “white-collar”, in reference to the garb of office workers, referring to their white dress shirts. A white-collar job referred to professional, managerial, or administrative work. White-collar work is performed in an office, cubicle, or another administrative setting. Typically, white-collar professionals are also referred to as knowledge workers and can be paid in a spectrum from an entry level coder, through middle-management, through CEOs of some of the largest companies. Some are even multi-millionaires and billionaires. White-collar workers have the potential to be paid much more than blue-collar workers, who typically integrate manual labor into their roles. Skilled manual labor is typically the majority of the role and requires the ability to deftly manipulate matter in order to complete a task. Think construction worker, electrician, plumber, bricklayer, auto mechanic, gardener, butcher, baker, candle-stick maker. These tasks require the knowledge and ability to manipulate physical objects in order to create or repair physical objects.
In the example above, computers require ton loads of processing power in order to perform physical tasks even a six-year-old can perform. However, they have little trouble with completing the typical tasks a white-collar worker can perform. Scheduling, planning, tracking, reporting, project management, there is no end to the white-collar tasks an AI could just swallow up.
White-collar work will be the first to be replaced by algorithms and AI in the short to medium term. In fact, even today, much of middle-management at companies like Uber has already been replaced by algorithms. The money management/investment firm Blackrock Inc recently let go of a number of their staff and will be replacing them with computers. The founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Ray Dalio, has been trying to automate most of his processes for managing his firm, Bridgewater.
If we forecast a bit further out, then many more white-collar jobs will fall prey to automation. What can humans do?
The future of human work is a return to manual labor. The ability to manipulate matter in the world effectively remains a human task. The ability to entertain others. The creative arts. Entertainment and craftsmanship. The ability to create unique physical items. These skills, the ability to perform manual labor, whether is digging up a garden, rewiring a home, fixing a car, sculpting an amazing work of art, will not only remain under human purview for a long time, we may never see the end of the human manual laborer.
This means that skilled manual labor, leveraging the ability for humans to manipulate matter, will likely, eventually, be more precious than knowledge work itself. In this scenario, the electrician who fixes the servers could be a millionaire, while the CEO is an algorithm.
Human work will be “manual” again.
What does the employee of the future look like?
There’s been a recent article in The Wall Street Journal which I tweeted out to my followers the other day about the future of employees.
I thought was an interesting article because I’ve said since 2002 that the nature of employment is changing from the old industrial complex of working for these medium to large corporations as employees, providing us with a basket of benefits, such as health insurance, stock options, etc.
Basically, the typical “old school” 9-5, Monday-Friday employee (although we all know that we work much more than 9-5 for these companies).
There’s still this perception that a full-time job with a large company or medium sized large company or any set company for that matter is better than being an entrepreneur or contractor.
The nature of work is shifting. We’re no longer going to be doing this monolithic work for one company, work 9-5, M-F and take weekends off. Getting a full-time job with a company like Google or Facebook is not going to “set you for life” like it used to be able to.
In my experience, regular employees are asked to do increasingly more work. The productivity gains from technology are being used to squeeze jobs which used to be done by multiple people into one role. These individuals in these roles must expand their skill sets to complete the new work.
The article revealed that fully half of the employees who work at Google (or Alphabet, more precisely) are contractors. Officially termed either temps, vendors, or contractors, they do a lot of the work involved in keeping the operations humming along smoothly. In earlier years, these people would have been hired. Nowadays, it’s much more effective and efficient for them to hire them as contractors. The trend is to hire more, not less of these. More of these large businesses are becoming collections of contractors, with a small core group of employees, ever shrinking.
Why? Many factors: it’s tough, and expensive, to hire employees. It’s difficult to fire underperforming ones. The nature of work is becoming more transient – why staff up a huge team of employees if you aren’t sure that this project will last? Having contractors hired through agencies protects the employer from all sorts of unhappiness – legal issues, insurance issues, liabilities etc. There is a huge burden on businesses over a certain size. There’s so much more work that needs to be done to support a full-time employee, so there will be less and less of those.
So, what does this mean? It means that increasingly we will either choose or be forced into, the role of a contractor. Being a contractor requires a completely different skill set than an employee. There are many things a contractor needs to take care of on their own, which would typically be something that the employer takes care of. Contractors and employees are different beasts.
People will need to become solopreneurs of their careers, self-managing where they go and what they do. In fact, it’s very likely that they will have more than one job at a time, spending 25% time in one role, 20% in another, and 50% in a third or more. Some companies are even offering half and quarter time jobs right now to meet this trend.
I predicted that soon the person who has five part-time jobs will be held as the desirable norm, as opposed to the person who has the full-time job with company X. Where the person with the single job at Company X must work with the same people all the time on the same projects, and not have the variety of work and is not able to grow new skill sets, the person with five jobs will have a much richer work and life balance.
Employees will transform to networked distributed solopreneurs working for any size company. In that article, we are finally seeing some real evidence that not only this is happening, but that it’s accelerating, and it’s happening at some large companies.
With luck, many of those out there who are looking for full-time work will understand that the freedom and the flexibility and the beauty of being able to set your own hours, set your own times is a good thing.
If you think about it, this is a sea change in something that started happening around the time of the industrial revolution. Prior to that, work was craft based – and most workers were craftsmen. They were the original solopreneurs, working multiple jobs and projects, managing their own time and work. In some ways, they were more human.
We then became drones in a corporate machine. How many times, in your work life, as an employee, described yourself as a “cog-in-the-machine”. Luckily for us humans, the future of being an employee will likely revert to that pre-industrial revolution time when we could enjoy our life and our craft without feeling like a machine within a machine.
This hearkens back to my post on automation. If your job disappears due to automation, then you probably shouldn’t have been doing that job anyway. There are many better, more human jobs out there for you. Or at least we should be attempting to create those jobs by encouraging a movement back to the craftsmanship of old.
In the end, the end of employees may help us to envision a new age of work, where humans perform actions that humans can do best, managing their own work-life balance among many employers, leaving the “cog” work to the robots. It might just make work more human again.
It might just make work more human again.