Navigating Your Career Through the 4th Cycle.
The Shift in the nature of work, with AI.
Much of Creative Caffeine is about the internal dialogue that produces our best work. I believe that mindset matters more than tactics. Whereas tactics maybe work for a short period of time (if even that), subtle shifts of mindset lead to permanent changes to your approach, yielding infinitely more benefit.
This essay is about the external world of work. Shifting the light to what’s happening in the market, and what to do about it. This won’t be tactics, per se, but rather it’s about understanding so that you may find the path that suits you best.
The Shifting Nature of Our Work and the 4th Cycle.
I’m starting to sense a subtle shift in the market. I’ve probably seen roughly 3 major shifts in my real working life to date.
It’s hard to describe, other than it just feels like the signals you’re used to seeing are dissipating, and are being replaced by new, more confusing signals that you still need to parse out.
It seems that these cycles are happening faster.
Much of our work is about the overlap of market trends and timing.
If your work is creating Vinyl records, it’s likely that today, the early 2000s, and the 1960’s all yielded different results and opportunities.
If you’re working in say, VR, your timing hasn’t arrived yet, and you’ve been in a holding pattern wondering or not if you’re crazy.
Seth Godin recently detailed out these broader cycles in his blog post here. The Fourth Cycle of the Hive Mind and What to do About It.
Although he didn’t say much about the “What to do About it” component.
I’m hoping to get to that here in a minute.
But first, here is his breakdown:
Cycle 1: Computerization
Making computers that crunch numbers and compute for us.
Cycle 2: Connection
Connecting the computers with each other, and creating the networked world. This created remote coordination and new digital economies.
Cycle 3: Connection + Networks
This allows us to work remotely for a company in Bali while studying archeology at an online institution. This is real time google maps showing you the traffic patterns. Connection + Networks is where we are now, but that’s about to change.
Cycle 4 (where we are now): AI + Predictions
This cycle departs from the previous, and uses a new type of computing intelligence (like the birth of the first cycle) but gives us new questions, new answers, and assisted information technologies to help us achieve our goals.
The computers are already connected.
The people are already connected.
Now, in the 4th cycle, the computers will surface predictions, ideas and questions on our behalf from the information that is being processed at scale.
More specifically, this cycle is Connected, Networked Knowledge and Predictions.
“What is the best color to use on this wall?”
“Who can help me design my comic book?”
“When will the next train to Berlin leave?”
The network crowdsources information and solutions to aid us in our work. And because computers can smartly compute the output of this information, they can begin predicting these answers for us.
This means that when you check Waze, you’ll know what traffic might be like tonight.
When you post to social media, you could know what the response might be like before you post.
When you hop on a dating app, you can get suggestions about how likely you are to be a good fit with the other person.
Like before, these cycles aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just different.
This one, especially so.
Like before, we will adopt them without much thought at all. And once they’re adopted, they just seem like the air we breathe.
For example, it probably made sense to you and wasn’t shocking at all when Waze or Google started predicting traffic patterns.
You probably said, “Oh, that’s cool” and then returned to your latte.
The idea of this shift toward prediction algorithms can be somewhat frightening to a heretic, like me.
I don’t believe I fit into a box that would readily compute with the computers predictive nature for a job, a spouse, a home etc. I don’t have a job history, really. And my degree doesn’t match my field.
It’s possible that my moves may seem erratic, to a computer.
Or that the standards sought or required (for example, how colleges or jobs may use algorithms to seek through resumes) mean I would be ignored and non-existent.
So my only choice is to move upstream and utilize the power of these “hive mind” technologies and be the one using them for assistance rather than the one being used by them to be chosen or told what to do.
And make no mistake, software, very soon, will be telling us what to do.
The “What to do about it” part.
I’ll first start with some things I’m doing, right now. Then I’ll wrap it up with a more ponderous note about the future of our work (and some links for further reading).
Defining Your Work
The opportunity is to focus our time and efforts in the areas that allow us to uniquely add to a given problem or situation, while allowing the computers, no welcoming the computers, to take over the other parts.
This means defining our ambiguous artistic abilities and visions into something that clearly yields an advantage when paired with a computer.
It means understanding yourself so that you can collaborate with AI as your partner to make it work for you.
It means building a body of work and describing said body of work, such that it hints at a broader perspective we hold and can bring to a given situation. This is what defines our careers now.
It means pushing to edges, instead of the middle. Discovering new opportunities, fields, and industries and jumping into them when they match with your vision for the work you want to bring to the world, rather than sitting on our heels (effectively waiting to be told what to do).
Exploring New Edges
This week I jumped on the phone with an emerging VR company to discuss opportunities about this new technology. I’ve been looking at it as an investment. Our discussion covered their new camera, and we spoke about the wedding industry (will people want VR wedding videos?), the “relaxation” industry (will people want nature scenes to view in VR)?
And say, for example, Airbnb… will they need to re-shoot all of their apartment listing photos, but now in VR?
This is just one example avenue to explore.
At these edges, new opportunities emerge, and value is outsized relative to the value opportunity in the future, if only because you are first.
People will pay more because the work and knowledge about this is scarce until it’s not.
Being brave an entering unknown space is crucial for creating asymmetrical opportunities of risk/reward.
Connecting People Across Networks
I’ve also been exploring the landscape of Financial Technology, or “Fintech” to understand this massive trend that’s emerging, online banking and investing.
This includes Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are a topic of another day. I’ve been discussing and interviewing industry leaders on a podcast in this space to stay informed and on top of what’s going on. I’m connecting with as many people as I can in this industry, and I’m connecting them with each other when the opportunity arises.
These human networks and clusters are important for surfacing unique information and insights, and are crucial for meme-spreading ideas and what Venkatesh Rao calls “Stack Luck.” Stack Luck is anew type of career path which isn’t linear; but rather hits occasional drastic advances, moves that are both lucky and random. I believe what Venkatesh Rao means here is that luck in a complex world is emergent and unpredictable. It seems that clustering yourself among human networks possibly increases the opportunities for luck.
Think of this as the filter bubble, but instead of the algorithm defining it for you, you define and build it for yourself. These networks will be unique to you. They are your niche, within niches.
Last, I’m thinking about getting started in building my own personal AI assistant. If our work in the future is about Human + Machine, I figure that the longer I have a machine assistant, the better it will know me and help me into the future. I’m also on the lookout for AI that can help me today in my work, and I want to play with it to see if it helps me scale my vision for the work I want to produce.
By feeding machines your tasks, or observing which areas can be automated (like with Zapier, for example), you will get a feel for what will be valuable in an AI world.
This isn’t to say what I’m doing is perfect, or that I really am sure about any of what I’m trying. I’m only trying to Stack Luck, and look clearly at the world as it is today.
I hope that this only serves as some example of what someone could do to explore and begin the process of this transition. And the good news is, you’d still be early relative to the market.
Part of the appeal of say, VR video production, is that no one else is pursuing it (yet). You quite literally might be the only person in your town who does it.
So, If you can tie these all together:
- Building a Body of Work and perspective with insight.
- Explore the edges and take emotional risks to jump into something new.
- Connecting with others, connecting others, and adding value through niche networks.
I feel that you will have an advantage in exploring a world where your computer and AI help you do creative work, but better.
So what does this mean for our day to day, and how things will feel when our work shifts?
I don’t think it will be as bad as we think. I believe that computers will help automate out much of the drudgery we’re used to so that we can focus on the more artistic tasks of our work.
For example, I’ve been doing some manual processes related to marketing, surfacing data and cohorts within a community, and this is something I could easily automate (and save me from digging through spreadsheets).
I’ve also been having to make decisions about what to do with some of this data. This is something that a computer could suggest.
And finally, I have a point of view related to my work, but I would welcome an external source, a computer, prompting me with questions that I hadn’t thought of, or giving me more information from which to make a decision on.
Computers will continue to develop software and systems that help us scale our creative work.
For example, if you were a street artist, years ago you would do everything by eye.
The work you created would only be seen by people in your town.
You would rarely get hired for this work. And your work would take decades to progress.
Today, if you’re a street artist you can build on the entire depth of the history of the industry. You can view art from around the world on your phone. You can stream your sessions live (Lushux). You can watch tutorials on youtube. And computers can help you generate ideas or mockup buildings before you paint them. They can even help pair you with clients.
I think for those who have a vision and a perspective, who are open to taking emotional risks, and who are happy to find creative ways to improve their work and scale it, there is work opportunities for you that will be fulfilling and you will find meaning in the myriad of ways that you express yourself in the world.
For those who dig in, rebel against this trend, and try and hold off the machine taking their boring work from them rather than seeing this as a freeing ability, it might be tough.
We’re about to learn a hard truth as a humanity.
Intelligence comes in many forms.
And it always has, but we’ve built a monolithic belief that intelligence is just one type, just one way, and that way is “Human.”
The reality is intelligence is Human, machine, and sentient animals (and we may discover more). This narrow definition has hindered our species in that it has alienated those with alternative types of intelligence.
We will be forced to see this, thanks to AI.
Humans have a beautiful intelligence which has nothing to do with specific memorization or computation. This was just a necessity for us in the past.
Today, I’m hoping we can realize this, and embrace it.
Freeing all of us to create in the future.
For Further Reading:
The Fourth Cycle and the Hive Mind, Seth Godin
The fourth cycle of the hive mind (and what to do about it)
The first cycle of computers was good at: This meant that if you wanted to know how strong a bridge was going to be, or…
Stack Luck, Venkatesh Rao
Last year, I sensed my luck changing. It felt like a streak of good fortune, stretching back at least three decades…
The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly