Why Everyone Must Master this Skill
By ERIK P.M VERMEULEN
Last week, I wrote about the importance of “self-learning.” I identified six elements — what I call the “6Cs” of the cycle of self-learning — that are necessary to achieve this goal.
The piece received some great comments. A couple of additional “Cs” were suggested (“curiosity” and “criticizing”) and the importance of “un-learning” was also mentioned.
This feedback helped me to realize that “self-learning” is part of a much bigger challenge:
In a fast-changing world, everyone needs to live in a “permanent state of transition” or “reinvention.”
We need to continuously adapt ourselves to unlock the opportunities and meet the challenges of our new technology-driven world.
Take automation and the future of work, for example.
The “Future of Work”
Exactly one year ago, I wrote about a visit to a consumer electronics factory. Over the last decade, the workforce has been reduced by 70%, mainly due to automation and other technological developments.
This “automation trend” is set to continue. In the near future, nobody will be working in such factories anymore. Everything will be automated.
But, it also seems clear that new digital technologies will not spare “knowledge workers” either. Sensors, big data, and “artificial intelligence” solutions are already disrupting and replacing professionals in medicine, finance, marketing, management, HR, and the law.
I often start my classes talking about the “threats and opportunities” of automation. I want my students to realize that they live in a world of increasingly smart machines that will gradually replace many aspects of traditional work.
Unlike with factories, however, I don’t believe that workers will be entirely replaced by machines. Rather, the work itself will be transformed, and a premium will be put on the “value added” that only humans can provide.
And as the demands of work change, the need to adapt becomes more urgent.
In a working world where things are never the same, we can’t remain the same either. All of us need to be prepared to adjust ourselves to the demands of a more fluid environment.
So, how can we continually re-invent ourselves? What do we need to do?
Here are three key ideas for “re-inventing ourselves” that worked for me and can work for everyone.
Everyone must learn to think “different.” The ability to recognize what has changed, accept that new reality and then adapt to it is the essence of “thinking different.”
This skill has always been necessary but it has never been more urgent than in the context of the digital transformation. Just think about some recent changes and what they mean for the future of work:
- Digital technologies have significantly improved life expectancy and health, providing for more opportunities than ever before.
- New digital technologies are emerging at an unparalleled rate, forcing all of us to acquire and adopt new skills continually.
- Digital technologies enable the emergence of new organizations and economies. Think “sharing economy,” “gig economy,” and “platform economy.” Each of these “economies” creates its own opportunities and challenges.
It is clear that these technologies go much further than simply incrementally improving traditional ways of working. They change everything: the “world of tomorrow” will not resemble the “world of today.”
“Thinking different” helps us recognize and seize new (and, often, unknown) possibilities for living a happier, healthier and more productive life.
Working with “Less than Obvious” Partners
To understand and fully benefit from the new opportunities that have emerged (and will emerge) in an automated world, we must collaborate and partner with others.
Again, setting up and operating in partnerships has always been essential to every aspect of life. But now, the focus is much more on establishing “improbable” partnerships and collaborations that allow us to be more creative.
We see this for instance in the corporate world where large corporations partner with and acquire “start-up companies” that operate outside the scope of their traditional core business and without the intention of fully integrating them. The “smarter” large corporations understand that these start-ups can be much more valuable (both from a financial and strategic perspective) if they maintain their own identity.
The start-ups, on the other hand, realize that by giving up ownership, they can gain more freedom and have more impact in the future.
This thought always reminds me of Tencent’s Chief Exploration Officer’s statement after acquiring 100% of Los Angeles’ gaming company Riot Games in 2015: “I feel like the more we own of Riot, the more independent they become.”
There are many other examples of such unconventional partnering.
Let me highlight one: a friend of mine is a professor at a US law school and he recently co-founded a blockchain start-up together with a professor of mathematics. Their partnership clearly shows that working with “improbable” partners not only help understand automation better, but can also (and more importantly) help us create new realities and a different future.
And, to link it to the first principle, their partnership is an example that by “thinking different”, we can become better (and more interesting) partners which will enable us to unlock the potential of the automated world better.
Using Technology to Be “Creative” and Find “Happiness”
In an automated world, it isn’t only about the technologies themselves.
Technologies are tools that help us in “getting things done.” As such, we continuously need to make sure that new technologies complement us as human beings. And this means that the technologies should assist us in becoming “more human” and living healthier and happier lives.
Take artificial intelligence and work. AI has the ability to remove less pleasant aspects of our working lives. AI is just one example of how digital technology can augment our intelligence and help us become more efficient, productive, and happy.
And there is more, Gartner, a research and advisory company, has predicted that by 2020 AI will generate 2.3 million jobs (which is more than the 1.8 million jobs that will most likely be eliminated).
From bots and AI to counterfeit reality and fake news, these predictions require IT leaders to pace their adoption. In…www.gartner.com
But, again, to find these new jobs, we must think different and establish unconventional partnerships. We must also use technology to make us more creative. Besides technological innovations, we must focus on potentially disruptive and less obvious applications of the new technologies.
This brings me to Apple’s recent keynote event.
The event generated very mixed reactions. I agree that the lack of real innovations and the focus on improvements and updates is frustrating and made Apple look like just another “corporate” looking to maximize investor returns.
Stories about disappointing experiences with their “new” products abound. And I understand these stories. I am also disappointed with recent product launches.
And yet, there is something about Apple that keeps drawing me into their ecosystem. They still try to “personalize” their products by finding the correct balance between technology, design and spurring creativity.
What is perhaps even more important is that the latest product launches show that Apple is focusing on the task of using digital technologies for dealing with new societal challenges, such as “healthy aging” and “personal growth and happiness.”
The new Apple Watch is a clear example of this and shows that we shouldn’t underestimate the “disruptive potential” of this “new” approach.
It is less about delivering innovative products but thinking about how existing innovations can provide consumers with opportunities to be happier, healthier and more productive.
The economic, social and cultural impact of new digital technologies is unprecedented. And yet, it remains extremely difficult to clearly predict our digital future. As a result, everyone (including businesses and other organizations, as well as individuals) needs to exist in a “permanent state of transition.”
Put bluntly, we all need to cultivate our “inner entrepreneur.”
The capacity to “re-invent” ourselves becomes a key life skill for surviving and flourishing in the society of today and tomorrow.
To find happiness and fulfillment, we all need to master the art of reinventing ourselves.
About The Author Erik is a Professor of Business and Financial Law at Tilburg University and Tilburg Law and Economics Center in the Netherlands. He is also Head of Governance/Vice-President at Philips Lighting. Erik is best-described as a “global futurist” and “cross-cultural strategic consultant”. Erik is a regular contributor to Community Works Journal. He writes a blog “Hacker Noon” focused on his educational and personal interests.
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