From a space industry to micro-robotics

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first Space Development Summit held by the United Nations Association of Australia. I see the space sector as an enabler of many of our other industry, social and technical goals. In this speech, I tried to link a vision of the future of our mainstream industries, artificial intelligence, energy and robots with the opportunity that investment in the space sector is likely to provide.

I’ve spoken before about a space industry for Australia (for example, see this Sky News interview). The difference now is that this is a mainstream topic whereas in the past it might have been regarded as being on the fringe of matters that were in important to the nation.

As an Australian, I couldn’t be prouder that we are meeting today as the Australian space industry begins to seriously gain momentum. At Deloitte we’ve been talking about the opportunity for Australia in this sector for years.

The size of the global space economy, at around half a trillion dollars, is well understood by this room. The tiny proportion that earned in Australia is also well understood.

Often when we are looking to participate in lucrative sectors, Australia faces geographic disadvantage. In the space sector, we face substantial and immediate advantage thanks to our unique geography.

Most importantly this is the opportunity to inspire our country as a whole.

The time has come for Australia to be a full participant in one of humanity’s greatest dreams. We need to leverage our advantages to this common cause and become a disproportionate contributor to the global space effort rather than rely on the largesse of others.

Australians are great inventors and innovators, we have technical skills and we are problem solvers who think laterally. These are all things that the world needs. The future of space hasn’t been invented yet. We need new ideas and that is what Australians do best!

While it is hard to predict the future with certainty, there are trends that we can have confidence in. It will be no surprise, for example, that more of our lives will be automated than ever before or even ever imagined. We can also be confident that artificial intelligence will be central to that automation,

What will come as a surprise to many is that the energy requirement for the computing power required for the AI of the future is likely to be constrained by terrestrial limits. This is because computing requires more energy that most people appreciate. Recent estimates suggest that the AI necessary to run a car, with even the first generation of automation that we are looking for, could add as much as 20% to the energy consumption of that vehicle.

But it gets worse. It’s unlikely that we’ll want to just have large vehicles running autonomously. Robots are getting smaller, in fact most of the things we want to do in the future are ideally done at the micro or even smaller level and those robots cannot have enough computing power on-board to operate on their own. They require a network or a swarm.

The sum of the computing power required to run such a swarm would be an exponential increase to the requirements of autonomous vehicles. While Moore’s law may have given us access to exponential computing power, it has done little to reduce the corresponding exponential increase in energy requirements.

Some of the applications of technology that matter most to Australia include building and maintaining continent-wide infrastructure, accessing deep and difficult ore bodies and, most importantly for global interests, sustainable agriculture through an agtech revolution.

Swarms of insects and birds have impact at the scale we need. It is likely that we will look to mimic nature and have micro-robotics do the same for our cities, roads, mines and farms of the future.

This vision cannot be realised from sea level or even from within our atmosphere.

In fact, this vision of the future is part of a wider trend where everything operates as a network, manufacturing and product are tightly coupled and infrastructure is inherently smart. Smart cities, roads, farms, mines and more.

We call this the fourth industrial revolution. Not only is the space sector essential to operate the world of the future, it also encourages us to build the right capabilities in Australia that we are going to need to participate in this future.

Excitingly, the move onshore of more highly advanced technology requirements will have a massive benefit for our researchers as they seek to commercialise research and move through the funding “valley of death” that so many great ideas fail to navigate.

In particular, the renaissance of manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, will lean heavily on research that is well advanced or ready for commercialisation today

These technologies are central to the space industry. Advanced manufacturing describes a collection of technologies that include 3D printing and robotic assembly. Ideally suited to short run, highly customised, highly sophisticated items that you don’t want to be transporting all over the world. Ideally suited to an Australian space industry.

Advanced manufacturing is central to the economic future as laid-out by a number of Australian state governments. The space industry provides a wonderful customer that will create capability that will be used by a range of other industries. These are jobs for the future.

To realise these jobs we need industry policy that sees space as an enabler of a wide range of opportunities across many sectors. Such an industry policy needs to pick winners where we are going to direct national effort.

We also need our business sector to leverage the fourth industrial revolution. Deloitte recently asked CEOs globally and in Australia about the changes that were advancing on us quickly. We wanted to know if they understood how technology was going to revolutionise almost every aspect of our lives once again.

Only 2% of Australian CEOs felt they had enough of an understanding of what the fourth industrial revolution meant to them. To weather the changes that are coming, let alone benefit from them, change is needed across the Australian business world.

In the nineteenth century the then colonies of Australia could not agree on a railway gauge, nor could we even agree on where the capital of a future nation should reside. Squabbling over the little things has cost us dearly in the past. Worrying today about the home of the Australian space agency is the same, it is worth cents on dollar.

We should not have a single centre or geography for space. We can’t when the impact we’re looking for is nationwide. We need many centres of excellence, each with their own specialisation but also each tightly coupled as a network. Perhaps even, as a swarm!

To me, we will be successful if we develop a vibrant space industry that is integrated with much of our business community and triggering the change that is going to be so badly needed if Australia is to realise the potential that the coming decades could bring.

The Australian space industry is already helping to lift the eyes of many and will help Australia to make this transition.

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What is a consultant?

I’ve been a consultant for twenty years and have heard every variation of the joke about borrowing a client’s watch to tell the time. Like many, I didn’t start out intending to be a professional consultant and yet it has become my vocation and passion. I see consultants as a critical part of the business ecosystem.

Terms like “professional services”, “contracting”, “consulting” and “management consulting” are often used interchangeably which creates confusion. Sometimes it feels like everyone’s LinkedIn profile says they are a consultant. I am proud to have this title but feel as a cohort we haven’t done enough to describe what it is we do.

Maybe the term “consultant” itself doesn’t help, drawing from the Latin “consultare” or “to deliberate”. It implies that we are abstract and theoretical whereas the best of consulting should be immediately applicable and provide practical results. What a consultant does for their client should inspire confidence to do something that they can’t do on their own and leave them with a new capability.

Great consulting should be trusted, transformative and transferable. Trusted: consulting only works if there is a close relationship with the client. Transformative: consulting needs to change something about an organisation. Transferable: consulting should leave capability behind.

Just because someone is an expert doesn’t automatically qualify them to be a consultant. There is a process to achieving the trusted, transformative and transferable goals. Too many experts fall into the trap of providing absolute answers to complex questions. Whether it is a technology architecture, approach to management structures or establishing a negotiating position, individual experts often have fixed opinions (albeit they may be well-founded) that all too often get presented as a statement of fact.

While there are occasions when decisions have a clear right and wrong answer, they are few and far between. More often than not, there are trade-offs. As an expert, there are patterns that we have seen succeed and we tend to lean on. A consultant needs to understand those patterns, codify their experience and put appropriate weight on each perspective.

The best consultant does not talk in absolutes, but rather lays out the options, supporting facts and explains the trade-offs in such a way that their client can easily make the most appropriate decision for their circumstances. They avoid caveating every option to such a degree that it appears the client is shouldering an excess burden, yet clients need to understand the consequences of the choices they make.

It is this combination of facts, experience and communication that characterises the best of consulting as a subset of general professional services and differentiates it from “gun for hire” contracting.

One of the most effective ways that consulting firms achieve this important combination is by working in teams. The consulting process often has a more senior practitioner providing context and leadership to a junior team which they also leverage for research, analysis and delivery. This association does more than simply enable the work to get done, it also results in a better outcome. I’ve explained this “teaching hospital” phenomenon before, see Experts make better decisions with an understudy.

Arguably, the pinnacle of the consulting profession is “management consulting. This is because, no matter how far or wide you look, no innovation has changed the world without a significant innovation in the management operating system supporting it. The industrial revolution, the twenty-first century manufacturing production line or today’s emergence of an information-centric technology revolution have all been underpinned by radically different approaches to management.

Consulting is not immune from the changing face of business wrought by technology and innovation. A myriad of digitally enabled competitors have entered the space, challenging the incumbent consulting firms to think again about how they add value and manage themselves. Clients now have access to very specialised information through a few clicks online which means consultants cannot get by through simply having access to privileged knowledge. Similarly, it is easier than ever before for clients to find a standalone expert and approach them for one-off assistance.

The disintermediation of knowledge and expertise has been a good thing. It has discouraged lazy consulting which depended on obscure knowledge rather than the application of consulting skills. More than ever, consulting requires the application of trusted skills to transform the operation of a business and transferring the capability to a client. What consultants provided a decade ago is common knowledge today. That was also true in the decades before and will be true a decade from now. The only constant in a consultant’s career is change. The consultant’s job is to bring something new to the table in every engagement.

There is little that is more satisfying than enabling change by applying consulting skills. Consultants can be proud of the transformation they bring to their clients, but perhaps there needs to be just as much focus on better explaining what it is that a consultant really does.

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Deliberate design

Organisations evolve and, with so many people spending less and less time in any one job, managing that evolution is more important than ever. At the same time the huge changes being wrought by technology combined with new global dynamics are making understanding what has evolved, and what is in place simply because it has always been so, a priority. For me, the importance of finding out why things are as they are hit home when I was helping a client who was collecting data which seemed to have no purpose. It turned out their predecessors had started collecting the data during the Second World War when it was needed in case of invasion!

To understand why organisations hold onto the past so readily, it’s tempting to repeat the famous “five monkeys” experiment. To paraphrase the telling of the story, a group of monkeys is in a cage with a ladder supporting a banana. The first monkey that climbs the ladder to get the banana triggers all the monkeys to be hosed down. This is repeated until the lesson is learnt: “don’t climb the ladder”. More monkeys are added to the enclosure and they try the ladder, before the hose can be used the other monkeys pull them off. Over time, all the “old” monkeys are removed until only monkeys who joined after the last hosing are present. These “new” monkeys still stop each other and any additional newcomers from climbing the ladder, they do so only as a cultural norm rather than any direct knowledge of why the ladder is bad.

I wanted to use the monkey story in a speech about transformation and began researching its origins. What I found was that the experiment is a myth and the story allegorical. It seems to originate from a management book in the 1990s and gained further credibility through retelling in magazines and social media.

Rather than fake experiments, behavioural economics gives us the best insight into why people hold onto the past and resist change. I recommend Dan Ariely’s excellent Predictably Irrational. Ariely uses a series of (academically sound) experiments to show that as humans we have a loss aversion. In particular, he shows we prefer “free” products and services even when we know they really have a hidden cost. We are so afraid of wasting money, in even trivial amounts, we will often make inferior choices.

This is never more so than when executives make “no regrets” investments. This is a nice way of saying that they are giving in to their loss aversion over rational risk taking. Usually these decisions involve minimal upfront cost and attempt to avoid risking a loss through a wrong decision. There are four categories of investment that are most often candidates for these “no regrets” decisions: technology, workforce skills, supplier selection and acquisitions.

The organisation that fears loss over opportunity puts off major technology investments in favour of tactical fixes in case vendor products change, uses contractors to avoid investing in skills in case future growth doesn’t come, buys only from major suppliers in case the more innovative alternatives don’t survive and shies away from business acquisitions for fear that they dilute shareholder value. By comparison, the most valuable and successful businesses have taken bold positions in all four categories. Interestingly, these same successful companies have made expensive errors and learnt from then, they aren’t afraid of risk.

A good way to overcome a fear of making mistakes is to be deliberate in designing the future in the full knowledge that every decision, or avoidance of a decision, carries risk. This is “deliberate design”. So often we just accept that a new approach isn’t possible in our own organisations. The deliberate design of technology plans for the long-term future even if it means making existing investments redundant. The deliberate design of workforce actively trains staff, often using a “train the trainer” approach, and hires for the workforce five years hence. The deliberate design of the supplier and alliance ecosystem seeks out innovative startups and makes informed bets knowing that they will learn more than they will lose in the long-term. The deliberate design of additions through acquisition looks to make bets based on the best knowledge of today, knowing that shareholder value may be destroyed in the short-term but growth without the injection of new capability is almost impossible to sustain.

A great metaphor which helps maintain the positive momentum of deliberate design and counter our negative fears is “dancing”. Mike Lipkin has done this best in his book Dancing with Disruption which focuses on maintaining momentum in the face of disruption: knowing the context, dreaming big, being analytical, being prolific, communicating, collaborating and, above all, remaining unconditionally enthusiastic.

Understanding our tendency to hold onto the past and fear change, I’ve concluded that we should stop worrying about digital disruption and pivot to a more positive frame of understanding uncertainty. With the knowledge that this uncertainty means we will sometimes make wasteful investments, but almost always gain more than we lose, we can have the confidence to embrace deliberate design for the future.

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I often get asked whether I support or oppose the intrusion of technology into every nook and cranny of our working and personal lives. The best way I can express how I feel is by drawing an analogy with the alcohol prohibition debate in the United States during the twentieth century.

Over many decades, the US struggled with public policy to manage the production and consumption of alcohol. My favourite speech of the long debate was by Noah S. Sweat in 1952:

You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

This is exactly how I feel about the threat of Big Brother (see Living as far from 1984 as Orwell). Technology is the monster that undermines the innocence of children through exposure to horrific material. It is the informer that allows governments to track our every movement. It is the temptation that distracts families from spending time with each other.

But, technology also means access to information that simplifies our every day. It is the source of entertainment that our families can share. It has opened up new shared resources like holiday houses that were never previously available to rent. On a good day, I am grateful for the public safety benefits of the monitoring of our city streets, convenience of digital maps and learning support of electronic tutoring. With so much to gain, how could I possible not be in favour?

Either way, it is the reality of the world we live in (see Living without a trace of Big Data). While I’ve argued in the past for greater regulation (see The internet was a mistake, now let’s fix it), it is too late to debate whether we accept or reject technology. Rather, we need to navigate the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personas of the machines that we’ve created.

The analogy with alcohol gives us some reason for optimism. While prohibition didn’t work in the US, and we are yet to solve the scourge of alcoholism, consumption is dropping in many countries, particularly amongst younger people. It’s possible to conclude that society does learn over time from the mistakes of the past.

Like the trends in alcohol, will we start to see greater moderation in the use of technology in society? If so, rather than try to come-up with permanent solutions we should try to minimise harm to the current generation and have more confidence in the future. This suggests more regulation, oversight and education is needed and some members of society will always need support to use technology for their own benefit.

The issue today is that smartphones and tablets have suddenly exploded into the market with no context and with users having little to help them manage the new temptations. This is similar to the worries our parents and grandparents had about the introduction of television and the influence of advertising. It seems ridiculous today, when we worry about social media’s influence on elections, that only a few decades ago many of the same concerns were being raised about political advertising on television.

I remain in favour of technology. I know that too many controls on data privacy will diminish its power. However, I worry that not every ill will get sorted out through the market over time and much damage could be done in the meantime. We need a deliberate approach to minimise the harm of technology and allow society time to adapt and adopt approaches for everyone’s benefit.

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Reversing cynicism with data and transparency

Trust in business is at an all-time low and cynicism is at an all-time high. At every turn there is an apparent breach of trust by business which confirms the worst in the minds of the general public. This is true around the world, and particularly so in Australia.

The breaches of trust vary, data leaks through poor security, misuse of personal information, underpayment of staff, overcharging of customers and the list goes on. At the core, though, the individual incidents all lead the public to challenge the social license of organisations they once respected. This is despite the vast majority of people, working in the vast majority of businesses doing the right thing the vast majority of the time.

The largest players in the economy need to take the lead to reverse the deterioration in public relations. This state of affairs isn’t good for the economy or society. Businesses need to understand the root causes and fix them, in turn creating a reason for the public to trust again.

Although most businesses are doing many great things, simply creating more advertising to make people aware of the positive aspects of their operations isn’t enough. Cynical audiences are largely closed to positive messages.

To properly establish a new relationship between the general public and business, three things are needed: transparency, simplification and mutual understanding.

I’ve written before about the important role of transparency in business (see Behind the scenes). Transparency is important in everything from financial results to operational decisions that are made and, most importantly, the data that is used. There is a sense in the general public and media that business decision making is opaque. Hence public inquiries of various forms are launched, which always seem to uncover egregious decision making which further reinforces the breakdown of social licenses.

However, simply creating transparency in today’s business environment isn’t going to be enough. There have been thousands of words written about why good people make bad, and sometimes even unethical, business decisions. What is lost in all this, though, is that it is more than simply the profit motive, it is also the complexity of the business environment that we’ve created.

It takes every executive many months or even years to understand the sophisticated business context in which they work. No wonder then that simply putting transparent “wrappers” around complex organisations is not enough, we have to simplify the workings of the business itself, so outsiders can comprehend what they are seeing.

In today’s organisation, there are an almost infinite number of ways that things can go wrong. One “bad apple” is now multiplied in impact many times over thanks to the exponential effect of the technology that powers business today. Simplification combined with transparency makes it easier for managers and the broader leadership team to spot these issues before the harm becomes systemic.

The transparent organisation is willing to expose the data that highlights issues as quickly as they are willing to admit to the issues themselves. Such openness encourages customers and other stakeholders to engage directly in the good governance of business, making them take a sense of personal ownership. This can come in terms of transparent pricing, balancing of risk and fair payment.

This greater understanding needs to be two-way. As much as organisations hope the public will invest in understanding their business practices, they must be willing to invest in understanding the community. In creating this new mutual relationship, open data is the friend of all parties. It enables many eyes to navigate the organisation, encourages alternative commercial arrangements and makes sure relationships are based on mutual and ongoing value rather than either party relying on the inertia of the other.

A surprising trend associated with openness and mutual understanding is the link to social impact. Some businesses in fields as diverse as insurance, travel and retail have made a big deal of social causes with a direct link to their workforce and other stakeholders. Such a strategy directly associates the business with a purpose and helps strengthen their social license.

Taking a position on social matters demonstrates an understanding of what is important to both the staff and customers in the community that they work with. Doing so isn’t without controversy, but in this the transparency of decision making on the corporate position is particularly important and self-reinforcing.

Similarly, donating a percentage of earnings and, even better, giving customers a choice on where it goes, makes good business sense. Simply understanding how a donation can be made goes some of the way to explaining the financial structure of the business.

These trends help explain why simpler business models, such as single product providers in energy and telecommunications and online providers of insurance are becoming more popular. Some of these providers have combined their simplicity with social causes demonstrating a particular affinity with the communities they service.

There is no reason, however, why the wider business community can’t achieve the same goals. Opening-up organisations through open data, culture change and genuine community engagement, combined with transforming for simplicity can only make business more effective, sustainable and help reverse the cynicism of business that permeates our society today.

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Fashioning the future

We know that the future is coming, but it is sometimes hard to imagine what it will look like. The very clothes we wear are a good place to start, after all the industrial revolution was arguably fashioned by the mills of the textile industries that are synonymous with gritty manufacturing towns of the time. With the fourth industrial revolution fast approaching, it is likely that we will see some radical changes again in this all-pervasive industry, perhaps giving us some hints of wider changes in the decades ahead.

Because clothes are everywhere we look, we often forget the industry that supports them is even there. Yet fashion is worth trillions of dollars and employs many millions of people across the globe. Despite all the positives, textiles and clothing manufacturing still have a social and environmental dark side through poor work practices, excessive use of chemicals, huge volumes of water and waste at every stage of the business.

The drivers for change are everywhere: increasing consumer wealth, social awareness, opportunities for automation and emerging materials technologies. With all of the foundations in place, it is no surprise that investment is flooding in to take advantage of markets that haven’t even been defined yet.

Increasingly affluent consumers are seeking the latest fashion trends, which is driving more rapid product cycles than ever before. That means the gap between design and delivery to customers will continue to shorten. We can expect that customisation (akin to traditional tailoring) is going to be an expectation rather than an exception.

With greater affluence also comes social and environmental awareness. Consumers want to know which garments are ethically produced, the environmental impact and the carbon footprint of the supply chain. Integrity of this reporting is going to be increasingly important with digital signature technology likely to play a role.

Textile and clothing manufacture is still a highly labour intensive industry that has complex supply chains. The opportunity and cost motivation has allowed the exploitation of the most vulnerable workers globally. The nature of clothing, with rapidly changing styles, often short runs and complex material interactions has not lent itself to the same automation that other industries have enjoyed.

Technologies are emerging which overcome these obstacles. Radical new materials enable textiles to be 3D printed rather than produced in large quantities. The emerging generation of artificial intelligence combined with more dextrous robotics has the potential to solve past automation challenges.

With the automation of manufacturing, the cost drivers, and pursuit of faster consumer delivery, it is likely production will move closer to the end customer. This will combine with body scanning technology that is maturing to do away with clumsy tape measures and sizing guesses and allow an almost immediate turnaround of a custom garment.

Accurate fitting is the nirvana that online retailers are looking for as they disrupt their bricks-and-mortar counterparts. It is also a threat to established brands who have long depended on customers getting to know which size they are in a particular brand’s clothing making return custom an easy decision.

If the power of the brand reduces, individual designs are going to be even more important. Fashion designers are already frustrated by how quickly their intellectual property is borrowed. The Louis Vuitton monogram is an early example of trying to reduce knockoffs of their designs. However, counterfeiters have few qualms in making blatant copies. New materials are going to take the monogram to whole new levels, with embedded technology making those who choose copies immediately stand out rather than blend in.

But the impact of new materials and manufacturing goes beyond today’s fashion. We can look to the popularity of wearable computing to sense how technology embedded in our clothing will evolve. The killer use cases are only emerging, but we can assume that step counts will be derived directly from your pants, your heart rate from your shirt and your hydration needs from the perspiration detected over your body. The medical profession can look forward to providing ongoing care such as through detecting small blood spots which can be a sign of skin cancer.

Textiles, clothing and fashion were the harbinger of major changes to society in the past. We can look to this sector again as we navigate the fourth industrial revolution. There has never been a more exciting time for those with imagination to fashion the future.

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Navigating the future with lifelong learning

Flourishing in the future of work requires all of us to embrace lifelong learning. But you can’t train for jobs of the future when you don’t know what you don’t know. While most discussions on education concentrate on funding, it is just as important to motivate employees to learn and redesign work to encourage incremental change.

In general, learning budgets are spent to help each worker get better at their existing job. The pressure that so many employees feel day-to-day mean that they often don’t embrace training that isn’t immediately applicable to the role that they play. At the same time, more and more workers are instinctively feeling the need to move jobs with increasing regularity. This is true of all demographics but particularly evident in surveys such as that done by Deloitte on the “Millennial” generation.

The future of work suggests that everything that can be automated will be automated. This creates two challenges. The first is that many entry-level jobs that provided basic skills are the most at risk of automation. The second is that as fast as new roles appear old ones are rendered obsolete.

The first challenge requires entry level jobs to be thought of as a capital investment rather than simply in terms of operational efficiency. I’ve previously argued that teaching is an important part of more senior roles (see Experts make better decisions with an understudy). If future roles require junior levels as a source of talent then designing jobs that will create those skills early is simply an investment in the future.

The second challenge requires rethinking the design of jobs over time. Shortly before the latest Millennial survey, Deloitte also asked executives about their readiness for the future in a survey on the fourth industrial revolution. In summary, executives know there is change coming but acknowledge they aren’t ready.

Rethinking education and engaging everyone in evolving their own jobs is a good step towards sustainable career pathways and reducing churn as employees seek new experiences to avoid obsolescence. Historically, students were encouraged to set career goals and ambitions based around a target job. It’s become a glib, but accurate, comment that the job you want to do hasn’t been invented yet.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is often tied to these jobs of the future, which is then assumed to particularly mean learning to code. Although it would be great if everyone could program, there is little evidence of a link between coding skills and the majority of future jobs. What is important, as more jobs embrace automation, is numeracy skills through a mathematical foundation. When combined with a broad syllabus of foundational subjects, a student is as set up for the future as they can be.

In the absence of certainty about that future, an evolution of jobs rather than a single radical change is the best approach. Too many employees see their roles as fixed and fear becoming obsolete if they don’t move. These same employees seem unable on their own to make the leap to develop their skills over time. If anyone spends too long in a fixed role, all the training they receive simply reinforces the same set of skills, potentially to a dead-end. An evolving job can be aligned to a training programme of “micro credentials”.

Rather than accepting job hopping as the norm, leaders should work with their teams on evolving their existing roles in this way. Managers find their people have various attitudes to change but regardless of their comfort should not let any of them become isolated by a lack of skill development. This should even include the ecosystem of gig, casual and part time workers. Like the upfront investment in entry-level roles, the culture organisations create to develop their workforce pays back over the long term.

A good opening to the creation of sustainable careers is an ongoing investment in the streamlining of each job. Sometimes referred to as “pixelating”, each role can be broken into its constituent bits and the team members invited to consider which activities are candidates for automation in the near or more distant future. Anything that is done by rote is a likely candidate for some form of automation either now or as artificial intelligence matures. No matter what, leaders shouldn’t fall into the trap of waiting for the big ticket technology project, small investments in automation will establish the design for future systems if or when they come.

Most of all, leaders and their teams should be curious. One of the strengths of humans is our ability to cross-pollinate ideas. Something that is making progress in banking might be highly relevant in health and vice versa. The curious mind is unlikely to be obsolete.

No matter what the time pressure, the most impactful things that anyone can do are often the least time consuming. Everyone should be encouraged to make even the smallest of investments of their time each week to progress one strategic idea or advance at least one new skill no matter how trivial.

After all, the biggest long-term obstacle to being ready for the future is the lack of even minor progress over an extended period. There are no dead-end jobs, only leaders with a dead-end mindset.

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