Trends

What Impact Will Digital Automation Have on Your Business?

How do you plan for the future of automation?  When I’m teaching college students, I ask them to look at the jobs they’re planning to obtain in the next decade and to think through the extent to which automation, robots and algorithms are going to change those jobs. Decades ago, ATMs began weeding out bank tellers; the algorithms of Uber and its competitors, especially with driver-less vehicles is transforming the world of yellow cabs and black car services. When CEOs and I have the conversation, we look at their companies and others, to see how robots and software change how we manufacture and distribute products, work with customers, pay for goods and services etc. So I started looking for a framework that to help people manage the transition as we progress with smarter AI, bots, etc.

Frank, Roehrig and Pring offer one in What To Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data.  They propose the AHEAD model, which outlines five distinct approaches for handling such digital systems:

  • Automate: Outsource rote, computational work to the new machine (e.g., ATMs)
  • Halo (or Code Halos): Instrument products and people to leverage the data they generate through connected and online behaviors to create new customer experiences and business models. (e.g., General Electric enable their products to collect halos of data, increasing the value proposition for the products)
  • Enhance: View the technology as a means to complement what you do in your job, so you can offer increased productivity and satisfaction. (e.g., GPS has made the entire driving experience easier, just as technology has enabled professionals (from sales to medicine) to know more about customers and service them better).
  • Abundance: Use the technology to drop the price of your product/service so you can make them available to new markets (e.g., RoboAdvisors now enable investing novices as well as experienced investors to make decisions based on information never before at their disposal).
  • Discovery: Leverage AI to conceive of entirely new products, services and industries. (e.g., smartphones, with apps).

Each of these offers a different way of looking at how technology can change your life and that of your company, today and tomorrow.   Share with us your experiences at adopting AI, Algorithms, Bots and Big Data.  At what level of the AHEAD framework are you working?  Try moving to the next step in the transition.  As the authors point out, the machines probably will never do everything (at least in our lifetimes), but how can they free you up and support your effort to do deeper, more meaningful things?

Another Stereotype Hits the Dust

Working with Age Brilliantly and teaching the Psychology of Aging, I have the opportunity almost weekly to see current data destroy a stereotype. This week, I read one that affects the workplace – an increasingly important part of this industry  — as people plan to keep working in current jobs or new (full-time, part-time or volunteer) ones into their 70s+.

Harvard Business Review (February20, 2018) reported on a study conducted by Adam Grant and members of the Facebook to discover basic motivators for people at work. Focusing on three big “buckets”: career, community and cause, they found that Millennials, GenXers and Baby Bookers had the same core-values – and in the same order.  In other words, Millennials “want essentially the same things as the rest of us.”

What surprised the authors was that “contrary to the belief Millennials are more concerned with meaning and purpose”, there were virtually no differences among age groups. They actually found tiny differences: Millennials cared slightly less about cause, and slightly more about career than “older” people. In fact, adults 55 and over were the only group at Facebook who cared significantly more about cause than career and community.

For those of us focused on how our sense of purpose and passion changes as we age, all of this makes sense. Most prior studies reporting contrary data on Millennials, did so years ago, when they were in their late teens and early twenties. At that time, they were in school, lived in parents’ basements, and  had fewer obligations making it easier to focus on the bigger social issue. Today, they enter their thirties, more often buying apartments and houses, and getting married. Not unexpectedly with greater financial and social responsibilities, comes a shift in motivators.   Similarly, as older adults start shedding some of their responsibilities (e.g., kids through college, mortgages paid down further, sometimes completely, they can focus on the bigger picture.

So the stereotype of generational differences needs to be dropped; the more accurate approach is to understand the life-stages of people and their priorities. As the authors conclude (and we concur), when it comes to an ideal job, most of us are looking for a career, in which we’re hoping to find our what, who, and why.

What are your thoughts? Share them!

The Elongated Life: Life-Long Learning

Many people who read our first blog on the elongated life, noticed that if people are going to plan to live to 100, then the implications are different depending on your current age. For people over a certain age, say 40, the recognition that they may work for as many as 35 years after turning 65 means they need to change expectations and that’s the challenge. They’re not retiring and need to use those extra years well. (That’s the current focus of AgeBrilliantly.org). But what about younger people, say teenagers, who are just beginning to take charge of their careers?

For the younger generations who have not bought into the stereotype that people around 60 should be thinking of retiring, their focus should be on “life-long learning”.  They have the ability, starting now, to rethink and plan their trajectory. Instead of going from high school to college, and college to graduate school(s) and then getting full-time careers/jobs for the next 40 years of life before retiring from work, they can envision a new scenario which some people already are adopting. They can go to schools (physical and onlines) and get the degrees (certifications) they want to pursue a career and when they want to change they can go back and get new credentials for new careers. And they may do this several times, with time off for family, travel and other things. In other words, raher than thinking about having few careers during the 40 years between college and retirement, they can think of life as consisting of 70-80 years after high school, when they can intersperse education, travel, family, careers, sabbaticals etc.

Fundamental to this new lifestyle, is good health and fitness, financial security, social relations—all backed by a commitment to life-long learning. The learning – whether in buildings or online – should be able to help them address all the issues that arise.

How do we stay a life-long learner? Here are some tips:

  • Stay curious, ask questions, and maintain a thirst for knowledge. Never be content with what you know already – always strive for more.
  • Don’t stop growing. Commit to personal growth and continued education. Be on the lookout for new opportunities and possibilities. And then try them. Take time to think and reflect on your needs, the needs of your (current/future) professional and society.
  • Don’t stop connecting. Life is what you learn from media, experiences and people. Align with other life-long learners for maximum opportunities. Constantly expand your network of positive influence, find communities of practice and build a network of mentors, friends and supporters.

If you’re starting the 70-80 year life – what are your thoughts? What challenges worry you? What hopes excite you?  If you’re older, what advice can you give the younger person who, as a life-long learner, has the ability to live a truly fulfilling life to 100+?

Test or Debug: What’s Your Style?

Frank Wilczek writes a column in the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition, and one headline grabbed my attention. Better to Test Than to Debug.  His focus was on computer programmers, but the question and implications applies to all of us when we do creative work.

Is it better to draft an entire project (article, computer program, etc.), and then when there is a problem “debug” it, or to view the project as consisting of lots of small steps that you can take and ‘test” before going on to the next step?

While it would seem more efficient to “test” parts before having to “debug” the whole things, yet many people opt for the latter. For instance, as a teacher, I often encourage students to provide me with a brief outline before starting the entire paper, and a sizable number of students prefer to skip the “testing” phase and just hand in the completed work. Similarly, when I invite people to write a guest blog for AgeBrilliantly.org, I encourage them to fill out a simple outline form (the “test”) so they can get feedback first, and instead get full articles.

Wilczek believes that “debugging sucks” while “testing rocks”;  “haste makes waste”, and “the struggle for existence” is the test, while Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” is debugging.  What’s your style?  Why? Share with us.

The Risks of Automation Displacing Workers

In this blog, as well as my college courses, I’ve been raising the issues of how important it is for young people to focus on the power of automation to displace some workers, while also transforming industries and creating new jobs/careers. This is key inforamtion for young people making education decisions, and advisors (and parents) trying to guide them.

McKinsey & Company , in its July 2016 Quarterly magazine, began reporting on a study that analyzed 2000+ work activities for more than 800 occupations to help us understand where the greatest risks are.

They discovered that current demonstrated technologies could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform and that 60% of all curatesion could see 30% or more of their constitutent activities automated.

They discovered that automation will depend on five factors:

  • Technical feasibility,
  • Costs to automate,
  • The relative scarcity, skills and cost of workers who otherwise might do the activtiy;
  • Benefits (e.g. superior performance of automation vs. labor-costs)
  • Regulatory and social-acceptance.

The most automatable activites are those in which human activities are predictable. These including physical activites (e.g., moving things) and operating machinery in a predictable environment. Overall this is about 20% of what takes place in the US workplace, with much of it taking place in manaufacturing, food service, accomodations, and retailing. Less susceptible (for now) are activities which require cognitive and social skill decisions which are not predictable and require judgement and emotional intelligence. For instance, they calculated that 47% of a retail sales’ person’s activites have the techical potential to be automated, compared to 86% for bookeepers, accountants and auditors.

The takeaway: part of everyone’s job is automatable today and will increasingly be vulnerable if they are predictable and “easier” to do by machines; even more will become susceptible as algorithms for making decisions are developed. Advanced banking, which requires risk assessments based on more than numbers, such as character and potential, will need people, while “teller” jobs will continue to be replaced by ATMs and online banking. Future job risks will remain smaller for those work aspects which require creative decision-making.  For students seeking careers, the wise path is to find industries, careers and jobs, in which they can develop their “irreplaceable” skills and specialize in them, using technology to handle the automatable parts of their jobs.

What’s your experience with automation replacing jobs?  What do you think the future holds? Share with us your views.

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