Future of Work: Learning To Manage Uncertainty
Coauthored by Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley
Change is coming at us with the greatest velocity in human history.
In the single second it took you to read that sentence, an algorithm executed 1,000 stock trades. Computers at the credit card network Visa processed over 3 million transactions, no doubt a few of them providing payment for the 17 packages that robots helped pack and ship from Amazon warehouses. Right now, 56,000 Google searches are returning tens of billions of results links. At this very moment, more than 2.5 million emails are being sent, not all of them by actual human beings.
Technology is accelerating the pace of business at unthinkable speeds, so much so that the job you have today is changing as quickly as you read this page. If we can barely imagine one second’s worth digital deluge, how will we get our heads around the stunningly different future of work. Because, to be clear, the team you lead and job you have today — if they exist at all — will be very different in 18 to 24 months.
For generations, new technologies — from the steam engine to the Internet and beyond — have fundamentally changed the nature of work and the economy. But it is happening faster now while we are living longer. Where our parents and grandparents might have experienced only one, or even no, significant change in their lifetimes, you have likely already experienced a dramatic technology-driven shift in your career, and your children will likely absorb a major shift every ten to fifteen years across theirs.
And let’s be very clear: there is nothing evolutionary or linear about this change; it’s exponential. Each step forward is double the past step and the further we get along in those steps, the greater the change becomes. The early Internet gave us access to information when we sat in front of a computer. Now, we can get to almost any information, use millions of applications, and tap into machines and sensors using the smart phones in our pockets from almost everywhere we are. Soon, virtually all products and systems around us will have some intelligence and some ability to tap into the Internet; we will become part of a coordinated external neural network. Autodesk Fellow Mickey McManus refers to this as the moment “when things wake up”. If every non-biological object around us has some intelligence connected to an external neural network, it is not hard to see that the algorithmic thinking of managing a known and routine processes can be almost entirely achieved with very little human intervention.
This potential reality is driving the dystopian provocations about the future of work. The “humans no longer required” mindset imagines only a world of where today’s paradigms and current work are overtaken by algorithms and robots, leaving little meaningful work for people.
We reject that dystopian view. Instead, we believe we need to move beyond the limitations of our current thinking. We need to recognize that as we leave the third and enter the fourth industrial revolution our systems of learning — that is, codifying knowledge into a curriculum, then transferring that pre-determined knowledge to accepting students so that they can become productive workers — can’t support a rapidly changing world where new knowledge is continuously created and new skills are required to capture opportunity. Deloitte’s John Hagel argues, and we agree, that workers and organizations must now strive for “scalable learning”, the ability to rapidly adapt to new information and quickly deploy new skills to act upon it.
Rather than learning with certainty, we believe the greatest opportunity rests with those who embrace “learning uncertainty”. Learning uncertainty is the agency and agile mindset that empowers now and future generations to thrive in a rapidly shifting economy that shifts from one set of known experiences to another at break neck pace.
Why is Learning Uncertainty so important? Bear this in mind that according to research by the McKinsey Global Institute only a fraction of our economies have been digitized: 18% of the US, 17% of the UK, 12% of France, and 10% of Germany.
That means more than 80% of today’s economy has the opportunity to build a new model before the digital economy disrupts them. The first fraction of the economy was digitized in a couple of decades; the exponential change curve we now ride suggests that remaining 80%+ will transform even more quickly.
Without question it is this velocity of change will be difficult for many. Yet it is also a tremendous opportunity for those who are ready to lead the shift into learning to manage uncertainty. This new mindset enables you not only to survive the onslaught of change, but to thrive in it.
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This article was previously published in OEB Insights as part of the OEB conference, the largest e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors. The conference and exhibition takes place each year in December in Berlin, Germany under the theme “Learning Uncertainty”. Heather E. McGowan will be a keynote speaker at the Berlin event in December 2017. More at https://oeb.global.
McGowan and Shipley speak internationally on the future of work and future of learning and they are collaborating on a book on the Future of Work due out in 2018. More information can be found at www.futureislearning.com