Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Technology & Social Media

Tech shifts might be killing our jobs. How will you respond?

We've talked about disruption over and over and over again, and with good reason: It's the law of the land. The status quo doesn't exist anymore. If we're not constantly scanning, changing, learning and growing, we're dying.

We're not the only ones talking about this stuff, either. A daily scan of your RSS reader produces at least one article that touts the latest technology, or strategy, or other groundbreaking new disruption that threatens to knock us out of our comfort zone and forces us to think differently.

Here's one example: It's a McKinsey & Company article titled "Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy." It's mostly a run-of-the-mill laundry list of new technologies -- robotics, genomics, energy storage -- that are rapidly changing the ways in which we live and work.

But the last half of the article is what caught my eye. It outlines "certain guiding principles" that can help businesses and governments plan for these disruptive technologies. Those principles include the following:

"Business leaders should keep their organizational strategies updated in the face of continually evolving technologies, ensure that their organizations continue to look ahead, and use technologies to improve internal performance. Disruptive technologies can change the game for businesses, creating entirely new products and services, as well as shifting pools of value between producers or from producers to consumers. Organizations will often need to use business-model innovations to capture some of that value. Leaders need to plan for a range of scenarios, abandoning assumptions about where competition and risk could come from, and not be afraid to look beyond long-established models. Organizations will also need to keep their employees’ skills up-to-date and balance the potential benefits of emerging technologies with the risks they sometimes pose."

Sound familiar? It should. We've been preaching the importance of lifelong learning for a while now -- and we're not talking about checkbox CPE, either. Technology shifts are fundamentally changing what each of us does for a living. If we don't commit ourselves to continually learning new skills, we'll quickly become obsolete.

It's possible, though, that technology might be doing more than just changing our jobs; it might be destroying them. That's the premise of this MIT Technology Review article, in which author David Rotman cites MIT research that shows new technologies -- which offer the promise of more wealthier, more productive societies -- can actually be a drain on our economies.

"Technological progress," Rotman writes, "is eliminating the need for many types of jobs and leaving the typical worker worse off than before."

Even that, however, underscores the need for continual education and personal development. Rotman quotes MIT Sloan School of Management professor Erik Brynjolfsson as follows:

“It’s the great paradox of our era,” he says. “Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren’t keeping up.”

The lesson is clear: It's time for all of us to take a hard look at what we do and ask ourselves two important questions:

  1. How is my job changing?
  2. How do I need to change to stay relevant?

As former Harley-Davidson Communications Director Ken Schmidt says, "Competitors aren't eating your lunch. You're feeding it to them by doing nothing."


Bill Sheridan