Your job in a world of exponential change



My first candidate for word of the year is “exponential”.  It will be applied to everything. The job market, the energy business, the climate, the TV business, the music business, our earth’s population.  This exponential change will affect each and every one of us.  I chatted with a woman yesterday who wondered if her job was secure and if maybe she should start looking.  “Always be looking,”  I said.  “Pay attention to the increasing speed of change and don’t just look at what you are familiar with – use your wits to try and figure out where the opportunity lies for you.  You may not be doing the same thing in the same way for much longer.”

Robots and artificial intelligence are developing at exponential speed which directly affects the job market. U Michigan Professor Mark Perry noted that The Great Recession of 2007-9 “stimulated huge productivity and efficiency gains as companies shed marginal workers and learned how to do more with less.” Between 1995 and 2002 the US lost 11 percent of its manufacturing jobs to automation and China increased its productivity with 16 million fewer factory workers. And since then there have been 12 more years of automation-driven exponential negative job growth.

Exponential growth has already been experienced in the efficiency of harvesting solar and wind energy (marginal costs for which are now next to nothing) We have seen an exponential reduction of computing costs over 50 years which has impacted everything related to manufacture and communication; it is attached to the growth of 3D printing – which is turning us all into makers.

And closer to home: according to 24/7 Wall Street who studied Bureau of Labor Statistics data: “No occupation has lost a higher proportion of its jobs than advertising and promotions managers. Such managers help determine the media in which to advertise, conduct market research and help plan advertising campaigns.” When I asked a Gartner consultant who would be the CMOs of the future who could mastermind and coordinate high level 360 marketing campaigns, he told me that the job would be automated.

Exponential is not trivial. It is not gradual. A few years back Prof Albert Bartlett of Boulder gave a lecture that began “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” Watch it here.

Remember how we’ve been embracing change – well exponential change will be coming at us in an unrecognizably fast manner. Not just a little bit at a time like the slow warming of the water with the frog in it – but on the lines of Moore’s Law which doubles every year. Doubling your number for one year gives you twice as much – ho-hum; but doubling it every year for 10 years means that you end up with 1024 times as much – which is not at all ho-hum.

So if energy is rapidly getting to be free, robots and Artificial Intelligence are doing the work, the cars and trucks are driving themselves, and each of us is printing our own furniture and kidneys using open source designs, then where will the jobs be coming from? Ask a viola player or a print journalist or a carbon paper manufacturer – or any middle manager – where their next job will be. No-one seems to have an answer to that one. But if we are not paying attention and trying to figure this our place in all this, we are in danger of being left behind much sooner that we have been expecting.

Likely the future will see the rise of some kind of broad and flat collaborative structures that will end the dominance of the centralized command and control structures we have been used to. (Think Wikipedia, IndabaMusic, Airbnb, Etsy, Zappos, DC bike shares, grocery coops, Linux, and so many other experiments) The notion of intellectual property is already challenged by the commons, and privacy has been discarded by millennials, so could it be that the next thing to go will be private ownership of property and businesses?

Change will come – and there is certainty that it will come exponentially – just a little bit at first and then when we think we are getting used to that it will double and double and double.

Though in the long long run, after whatever this future turns out to be has run its course, maybe we will get it all back. In Spike Jonze’s movie Her, the robots just get smarter and smarter and eventually we humans are just too boring for them, and they leave us in the dust to fend for ourselves. Again.
Whatever it will be we shouldn’t be surprised when it comes on us all in a rush.

Brace yourself. Be prepared.   Happy New Year.