A long-running debate has recently moved into the mainstream. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) improving at an exponential rate, could a robot take our jobs? Some argue it’s inevitable. As AI and “Robots” progress (think automated passport control, UBER & online shopping, not The Terminator) more white-collar jobs such as admin staff, call centres, paralegals, and even doctors will be threatened. But for me, it simply highlights an issue many of us ignore…
As technology progresses, are we constantly adapting to ensure we’re always Adding Value?
Act Now, Not Later
The AI debate speaks of changes happening over the coming decades, but this lulls us into a false sense of security. Many of us – individuals, teams, companies, industries – may already be contributing less than we once did. The world’s already changed, and some or many of our daily tasks don’t Add Value like we think they do. Circumstances have changed, but we haven’t.
My nickname aged 12 was ‘Pointless’ (quite funny, I admit). What can I do to stop a robot resurrecting my nickname and taking my job? How do we all keep adapting and Adding Value?
What’s the End Result?
First, let’s look at our daily activities and identify what end result we’re contributing towards. We can add lots of value to something that’s no longer important. But how can a once crucial task suddenly cease to be important? Perhaps your customers or audience don’t value what they once did?
For example, Londoners still want to take a cab but they may value paying by card over the driver’s memorised map of London. Does a TV viewer want a schedule or a list of on-demand shows? If it’s now the latter, your TV Guide app will become increasingly less popular. Your clients still want to be kept updated with your latest news, but maybe they’d prefer a fun social media page to a formal newsletter. Or maybe they don’t want to read your updates at all (or blog post, but lets not dwell on that), so focus your time and effort elsewhere.
Next, once we’ve decided that the result is still valuable let’s decide on the most effective and efficient way to achieve it. What are the steps along the way? Can some of these steps be delegated or automated to save you time? Before something’s automated, does the information need collating and organising first?
For example, we still need an entertaining film but perhaps it can be computer animated rather than hand-drawn? We still need to manually track sales targets, but will a fully automated spreadsheet save us time in the long-run? We may need to find old emails, but should we still use that complicated folder system, or learn to rely on Search?
Let’s spend as much our day as possible contributing towards a valued end result. Let’s look at our day and ask… Who’s going to read my email? What will they do with that information? Do they have time to action it? What will this meeting result in? Where do the results of this work fit? How am I adding value right now? If we can learn to do this, we’ll keep improving and will become increasingly indispensable (even when the robot arrives).
Slow, Tired, and Fired
However, this approach will create hurdles to overcome.
First, you’ll slow down. It takes time to question what you do, but you will improve and return to normal speed before long.
Second, you’ll use more mental energy and will get tired faster. I’ve previously discussed Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow, where we learnt that more rational thought asks your System 2 to do all the heavy lifting. This sucks at your energy far more than your faster, automatic System 1. So get more rest and keep your energy levels high.
Finally, and crucially, you’ll probably have incomplete information. You may not know how you’re adding value but your boss will. You shouldn’t need to know exactly why you’ve been asked to do every task, so get on with it. As a newlywed taking the first steps into building a successful marriage, I’m also learning the same lesson at home.
Time for a change?
So, we’ve identified that some of what we do is indeed a little outdated and not adding the value it once did. Not a problem! At least we figured it out before someone else did.
Now let’s carve out some time to act on it. Let’s re-focus on the end result, and delegate/automate/ignore some of the less crucial tasks that keep us busy every day. It’s OK to be slow and tired for a while, so let’s ask for the support of those around us. After all, we’re all in this together.
Changing our own habits is tough, but changing a company or entire industry is a different proposition altogether. It needs leaders to confront the painful questions head on, to constantly work on solutions and to help their teams to keep adding value.
It’ll be tough, but at least nobody will ever find a robot to replace you. Perhaps you could even hire one yourself? In fact, my primitive google docs are in desperate of an upgrade, if anyone would like to buy me this guy below for Christmas I’d be very grateful.