How to Re-Invent Yourself When Jobs Are Constantly Reinvented for You
BY: JOHN BOUDREAU AND LACEY LEONE MCLAUGHLIN
The mistake we make in envisioning the future of work is that we think we will go through some kind of dramatic transition and then land in a stable new world. This “different but stable world” view is why you might hear a pundit talking about re-training factory workers to become programmers. That view doesn’t reflect what is happening or the kind of re-invention skills most people will need.
What is happening with work is:
Tasks change, not whole jobs. Work typically evolves, not by humans disappearing from whole jobs, but by AI, robots, and automation constantly replacing tasks within jobs. This gradual change reinvents the work humans do. (see Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work by Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau)
There will not be a stable new world. Change never stops, if anything it accelerates—which means the reinvention of what humans do never ends. Work is constantly both obsolete and new.
The successful future worker will, in response to changing tasks, continually transform their skills. These new skills will help them, and the organizations they work for, keep up with the changing world—that’s good for the company and good for the worker.
Can people constantly re-invent themselves?
Can people respond to this constant transformation of work? In many cases the answer is “yes”; they just need the right mindset and the right support. Because the evolution of work is constant, worker adaptability requires developing habits that change everyday behaviors, not making a dramatic one-time shift. In that way it’s just like fitness; you get and stay fit by doing small things right every day. The sort of things that help people stick with a fitness regime are the things that can help workers maintain adaptability.
As an individual, you’ll want to build work adaptability into your daily life with the same discipline you build a fitness program into your routine. As a leader, you’ll want to put in place programs and tools that support individuals in their efforts to adapt.
Work adaptability, like fitness, starts with the right mindset. To be adaptable you must embrace the idea that you are the master of your own destiny. Phrases like “The Start-up of You” capture this spirit (and that’s the title of a book by Linkedin’s founder Reid Hoffman). In the end, re-invention is personal, it won’t be driven by a corporate program or HR process, even if they are a part of the overall work fitness regime.
After mindset, work adaptability is primarily driven by learning new things every day. In particular, it’s pushing the boundaries of your knowledge and experience into unfamiliar areas, rather than becoming ever more expert in one specialty. It’s about venturing into the unknown with curiosity, rather than feeling safe.
How can technology help with the problem it created?
The right mindset and a desire for daily learning is a great start. Beyond that, most people will need some kind of support. A few lucky ones might find support from skilled leaders or friends, but the vast majority won’t have a useful framework, or the necessary information, networks, and experience. The answer to getting large numbers of people the daily support they need will come from exactly the same source that created the challenge—technology, AI, robots and automation. To be specific, we think smart apps will play an important role in supporting people in the ongoing process of constant change.
This isn’t such a radical idea. We already have smartphone apps that help people change. Headspace is an app that guides mediation for thousands, Woebot is a chatbot app that uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help people with issues like anxiety—and there are many more similar apps. Why not apply the same idea to build apps that advise, motivate and guide people on how to constantly evolve their own work and career? (Some apps to do this already exist, such as our own app “YOU” by Flerish).
As with so much of life, the key is usually NOT in providing canned answers, but rather in asking the right questions at the right time and guiding the person to find their own answers. That’s what research shows makes for a good human coach, and the same thing should be true in an automated coach. Motivated people need what behavioral scientists call ‘nudges’ to gently remind and encourage them to move forward. That means that the role of AI in coaching apps is to identify and learn the patterns of the right questions, and the right “nudges” that maximize progress. Just as AI has learned to play games like Chess and Go, AI can learn to support good work coaching.
We can look forward to a world where people equip themselves with smart apps that offer guidance and encouragement as people build their work adaptability. They’ll get the day-to-day help they need, tuned to their own situation and personality, to keep up with work as old tasks are automated and new ones come into being.
Looking forward to the future world of work
The future of work is constant change. Those who succeed will develop a work adaptability regime that allows them to constantly expand their abilities.Such a future can be empowering, as workers have an opportunity to continually evolve and seek the challenges that they find most rewarding. However, such a future can’t be created by relying on traditional approaches that try to match humans who need help with those that can help.The change is just too fast and too widespread.When we see technology as both the driver of change and the source of the tools that will help people change, we have a match with great potential to help people thrive in this new environment. We should look forward to the future of work with optimism; we have the capability to find constant opportunity in a world of constant change.