The Neo-Luddites Don't Control The Future Of Work; You Do!
Neo-luddites? Yeah, that’s a thing.
It’s a term used to describe people who are anti-technology. The original word Luddite, as you know, describes the historical movement that began in the UK in the early 1800s when mills and factory equipment were burned by weavers protesting the use of machinery in a deceitful manner to circumvent labor practices.
A review of the economic and working environment during the original Luddite movement shows parallels with the digital revolution today. The economic times were tough then, thanks to the Napoleonic wars. Textile working conditions were already harsh. And then technology started replacing skilled workers with cheaper and less skilled workers, often from other locations. Workers organized, factory equipment was burned, people clashed in some cases with the army, and eventually the government cracked down and the movement was quashed, leaving behind only the somewhat distasteful word “luddite” to describe anyone who disliked technology or was slow to adopt it.
It’s the transition, stupid
That brings us back to the term neo-luddites and not-so-subtle sensationalisation (I’m told that’s not a word, but who cares) of the impact of AI and other new technology. The reality is that the world has been to this movie before. We know how it ends. It’s not man(or human?) vs. machines in the end, it’s man+machines. The issue isn’t about the end-state, it’s in the transition. How do we make the transition easier? And fairer? And, more importantly, what can you, the individual do?
It turns out we may be able to do more than we think. Here’s a few suggestions based on recent data and research.
A) Get a mix of high-tech and creative soft-skills
We have to evolve from the siloed definitions of the science and arts. It's a combination of STEM skills plus those from the liberal arts, design, humanities which matter now. This wasn't the case previously when the prior waves of the technology revolution hit us. It is occurring in the digital age, where the boundaries of industries and functions of work dissolve. It’s not about the technology alone. Today, the emotional and human aspect of technology is beginning to shine through.
B) Get flexible on location
The job market was always dynamic. Even in the past, flexibility on location drove better opportunities. What’s new is both the amount of flexibility needed and the combination of upskilling and flexibility becoming a bigger factor.
C) Get broader in defining your job area
The outcomes of jobs are becoming more important than the tasks themselves. If every person with smartphone and a social media account is potentially in the news business and every person with an extra room is in the hotel industry, it makes sense for companies and individuals to think of roles as broadly as possible. So, you may be a full-time manufacturing executive today, but you're also in the business of meeting your customer's needs. And, by the way, nothing precludes the co-existence of part-time gigs, multi-functional product supply accountability, or even framing your career beyond industries.
As is usually the case, we can learn from the past to understand the future of work. Forward thinking individuals and companies are already doing that. AT&T announced a few years ago that they would invest $1 billion to retrain 100,000 employees. Amazon recently announced that they will spend $700M to retrain 100,000 workers by 2025. Yes – that same Amazon which is furiously deploying robots. While Amazon has deployed 200,000 robots they have also added 300,000 people as volume of transactions and business increase. And now they need to upskill them.
What we can learn from the past is that the nature of work itself will change. The world will adapt to the new ways of people+machines. And during the transition, fortune will favor the adaptable.
Go forth and transform.