Fascination and fear, excitement and doubt.
These are my feelings when I think about the future of work and the impact of technology on my job.
But, I also continue to ask myself: Is the world as we know it really changing?
There appears to be no single or straightforward answer.
Sometimes I think it is just too early to tell. Others tell me it is better to embrace a “wait-and-see” attitude. We will only “know” the answer when technology becomes more mainstream and more data becomes available.
Some claim that automation (and decentralization) is all hype, creating a bubble that will burst very soon. The “sceptics” often refer to the current pricing of crypto-currencies as a prime example.
But, most of the time I believe that drastic change is coming.
And many other people that I meet and talk to seem to share the same observation about how artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and data-analytics are transforming our jobs. They are genuine game-changers.
How then should we prepare for a tech-driven and digital age?
What can we do to “get ready” for an uncertain world in which “software is “eating the world” and “AI is going to eat software”?
I have always been fascinated by technology and innovation. I have always been a “techno-optimist”. I’ve always believed that technology will solve most of the societal problems and improve our lives.
And I always thought that I was up to speed with technological change. But, that all changed one year ago, during Christmas 2016.
I love this time of the year, because it takes me out of that “business-as-usual” feeling. It gives me time to reflect on what has happened and what the plans are for the future. I know it is a cliché, but it really works for me.
Last Christmas, I was reading about new technologies. In particular, recent developments in blockchain and smart contracts caught my attention. Surely, I had heard about it and knew that it was the technology underlying bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.
What I hadn’t realized, however, is that the potential of blockchain technology was much bigger and went way beyond cryptocurrencies.
I realized that there was much more going on, and that these technologies shouldn’t be looked at in isolation.
Technologies accelerate each other and by working together could lead to mind-blowing applications. Particularly, the power of blockchain in combination with other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and sensors, interested and excited me.
I discussed “my new discoveries” with my wife and felt that I had to be much better prepared in order not to fall behind in my work and teaching. I wanted to understand what was going on and what the impact of this technological revolution would be on our collective future.
So, I started to buy some best-selling books on digital technologies in order to learn more and get prepared.
But I soon realized that it wasn’t just about buying and reading books.
If you want state-of-the-art information, “traditional” sources of knowledge aren’t sufficient anymore.
So, here are the five steps that have worked for me in preparing for a new age of technology and continuous uncertainty.
Here is my digital journey to prepare for the future of work.
I embraced an active self-directed learning strategy.
I found articles and videos on online media. The range and depth of available material was genuinely mind-blowing. I have already mentioned Futurism in another story. I also started to see the power of new platforms, such as Medium.
I was constantly consuming all of this information, but soon realized that I needed to do something more. Self-directed learning — by itself — was not going to be enough to really understand what is going on in the world today.
I started to share this information with colleagues that had also become interested in the exponential growth of technology.
We started to share ideas, came up with new potential applications and started to make predictions of how the on-going digital revolution would change the way we live, work and learn.
We helped each other “curate” the best articles and videos.
But we also realized that reading, sharing and discussing, however interesting, had its limits. More was needed.
In order to fully understand the impact of new technologies on our jobs, it helped me to document my experience and become more “creative”. I started writing about it (both academic articles and blogs) and teaching about it (creating content).
Particularly important in this context were the “co-creation” efforts. Writing and teaching together proved to be very useful to fully understand the challenges and opportunities of our current digitizing world.
Writing and teaching also helped create a network and become part of various technology-oriented communities that I didn’t even know existed before.
These networks were necessary to receive maximum input and feedback while being on the digital journey.
This enabled me to learn much faster. The dialogue and interaction that emerged with people that you don’t know really added something to the experience and made me so much “smarter”.
It didn’t matter whether people agreed or disagreed with my views. The dialogue and their input was of tremendous value in honing ideas and arguments.
Learning, sharing, creating and networking were all necessary steps in my attempts to become “future proof”. But the best thing that they did was to open the door for continued experimentation.
Actively experimenting provided the opportunity to really engage with emerging technologies. Experimentation allowed me to identify problems, find solutions and reveal new opportunities.
I have written about this before, in the context of blockchain. A process of continuous experimentation has worked for me. But, my colleagues have all had a similar experience.
What is, of course, very interesting is that the experiments were then being used to kick-start a new cycle of learning, sharing, creating, networking and experimenting.
So, how should we prepare for a tech-driven and digital age?
How do we “future proof” ourselves for the workplace of tomorrow?
Of course, you have to discover and embrace your own digital journey. You need to make the journey part of your life. You have to make it your life.
But the five steps (learning, sharing, creating, networking and experimenting) are a good start for everyone to help change your lifestyle and prepare yourself for the new job opportunities of a digital age.
And a final thought:
What is also interesting is that this approach applies to business, as well as individuals.
In order for a business to remain or become the creator of future jobs, it is necessary to constantly innovate and remain relevant in a digital age. And these five steps (“learning”, “sharing”, “co-creating”, “networking” and “experimenting”) provide a powerful template for discovering new and digital strategies to achieve this goal.
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