Saturday 6 April 2019



In Chapter Two, "Freedom for the Robots", I started exploring a series of megatrends – still in evolution – which will shape the business landscape of the 2020s. In that post I introduced the concepts of carbon-based robots (people) and silicon-based robots (real robots), and highlighted the importance of understanding the required roles of each group. We must leave behind the paradigm that has been in place so far, and that is quickly losing relevance.

In this Chapter, I will close this exploration of megatrends with those relating to people (carbon-based robots), and describe how we will transform into different, altered-carbon robots.

An aging population

Death is a finish line that has been continually defied in the last century: advancements in medicine and better public health, including improved sanitation and widespread use of vaccines, have led to increased overall life expectancy.

Compounded by declining birth rates in many developed countries, we are seeing significant increases in the number of older adults, not only in absolute terms, but as percentage of the total population.

Based on projections of the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2035 the US population will consist of more people 65 years and older than under 18.

Centenarians, people aged 100+ years, are the fastest growing demographic across the globe.   Japan currently boasts the most, with approximately 68,000 centenarians among a global population of 450,000. 

While living longer seems  a positive thing, it provokes several practical challenges for societies.   It can disrupt the balance of the pension, healthcare, and other benefits that older adults typically receive based on contributions from younger generations.

Regardless of how rising life expectancies affect government policies and incentives, from a pragmatic perspective, this means that for most people a retirement in the band of 60 to 70 years will become unfeasible. The level of savings required to reach higher ages with reasonable income will result in more people working into their 70s, and even into their 80s.

Job-sharing, flexible working patterns and telecommuting will play a core role in helping people remain in the workplace longer. Cognitive technologies and (silicon-based) robots will also help seniors work longer by compensating for qualities that people may lose with age, such as strength or flexibility.

The conventional three-stage life of education, work and retirement evolved  to support a standard 70-year life. This pattern cannot be reasonably stretched to cover a 100-year life. Additionally, the second stage of life, work, repeatedly scores poorly in the area of life satisfaction. If a 100 year life requires a 60-year career as its second stage, then living longer becomes a curse  rather than an opportunity. For this reason, our longer lives will see an increasing shift towards a “multistage life”: recreating ourselves multiple times throughout the journey.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and co-author of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, emphasises the responsibility of both governments and businesses to share a new narrative of these multistage lives, in which people are able to take career breaks; working longer overall, but in phases and across various fields. 

Dynamically Skilled Workforce

Technological breakthroughs are quickly changing the dynamic between human jobs and machine tasks. As a consequence, labour markets are undergoing massive transformations, and will continue to. Though debate has exploded around this matter for a while, we remain largely unprepared.
This spread of new technologies is shifting the core skills required to perform a job. Gradually, more and more people will need to be reskilled and upskilled. Organisations must manage these gaps, through automating activities, hiring new skills and retraining existing employees.

Considering these elements as well as our aging populations, it becomes clear that the days of a lifetime job, with a single curriculum and training for that job, are long gone. People will have to study and learn their whole life,  ever ready to embrace new trends and develop new skills. Within this context, it is essential to be equipped with foundational skills that will provide strong pillars independently of a specific job.

In  21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari argues that general-purpose skills should dominate schooling; that children should be taught critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity rather than technical skills and rigid disciplines. Only in this way will they be able to learn new things and preserve their mental health in unfamiliar situations as well as fit the emerging demand for “human” skills in industry.

The Generation Z

Generation Z, those born from the mid-90s, following the Generation Y /Millennials, are already starting to shape the workforce and consumer trends. This generation is parented predominantly by Generation Xers, a generation renowned for self-reliance and self-sufficiency. They are quite different to the generations preceding them in how they learn, what they value, whom they trust and how they get things done.

Tamara Erickson, adjunct professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School calls this generation the Re-generation, as  the responsibility will fall on their shoulders to tackle the challenges of renewable energy, recycling, reducing carbon emissions, and resource limitations. They will need to rethink and renew.

They typically feel a general disenfranchisement with many existing institutions. With a desire to be less short-sighted than previous generations, they are quick to react to the issues of limited resources. The emerging sharing-economy is  popular with Zs: why own music, when you can stream it as you want? Why own a car, when you can GoGet or Uber?

Technology, of course, is a powerful influence on this generation. Its members are the first unconscious participants in an era when everyone has access to virtually all information, everywhere, at all times (some true, most... not-so-true). While older generations use technology to improve productivity, for Gen Zs, technology is an integral part of being. Connectivity is an assumption, a basic human right. As constant connectivity enables different ways of getting things done, they come with a different mindset in relation to how to do things. Having grown up with social media, they interact with communities online as second nature.

They have a different overconfidence to that of previous “younger generations”: their overconfidence is borne of  unlimited access to content. In their minds, such access places them on par with any adult in their lives as an information authority. As a result, they do not intuitively consider their parents or teachers as reliable sources of answers. This barrage of information has also exposed this generation to the existence of multiple points of view (again: some true, most not).

Corporate practices and values will be under high scrutiny from this generation. They expect to have a new type of relationship with their employers: one based on choice and transparency.

Augmented Humans

In  Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Max Tegmark speculates about several possible scenarios for the future of humans, including full integration between human and machines much smarter than their creators.

This is a controversial but very valid hypothesis. Today, we have a massive ecosystem of technology, which is primarily focused on improving almost everything orbited around humans. Why not consider, then, improving the core of that ecosystem: us?

Every technological invention has intended to alleviate a fundamental weakness of human beings. Tools were created to augment our hands so we can build faster, bigger, more complex things; cars were designed to augment the limitations of the distance humans can travel. Technology exists to extend human capabilities; it  allows to do things we could not do before.

While it is true that a physical integration of humans with technology will take time, we are already seen a massive virtual integration. Be honest: how dependant are you on your hand-held computer (your mobile)? How dependant are the younger generations? It seems as though people have developed a symbiotic relationship with these devices, which doesn’t look like reverting anytime soon. Sometimes it feels like we have sacrificed a hand to our devices.

In the next few years we will see artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies take these devices to new heights. We will see our dependence on them to operate in the world of the future increasing in the same way. In the years to come, we will see our intrinsic association with smart silicon-based agents becoming essential to operate in both work and domestic environments.

It is too soon to discuss physical integration, but certainly there is an open door to a world full of possibilities through human augmentation, in our path to be less limited humans.

The Challenge

The diversity agenda has been top of mind for most organisations for the last decade, not only because of laws and regulations, but because the associated deeper level of innovation, adaptability and creativity found in diverse talent pools.

Based on the megatrends above, the challenge for diverse workforces is about to increase exponentially: organisations will need to adapt their workplace practices to cater for much greater variety in age, job-sharing, loyalty, values, skills and energy.

How can organisations can respond to these trends and attract, retain and develop top talent across this multitude of new factors?

Stay tuned ...


Summary of Chapter 6

  • This Chapter explores the last - but certainly not least - megatrend of this series: those relating to people.
  • Longer lives, multiple careers and the subsequent need for continually expanding in skills, different generational treats and human augmentation are the key people trends to observe and respond to in the next decade.
  • Organisations  need to rethink how to adapt to this new, blended workforce reality.

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1 comment:

Maurice said...

Very profound, William. Thanks for sharing.