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How to compete with the robots to stay relevant, and employed.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Apart from being an astronaut or a ballerina, maybe your childhood response was a job like – a teacher, a lawyer, an artist or an accountant.

What about the babies born today? What jobs await their future?

Every day I read another article about robots and automation that are destroying these “dream” jobs we once aspired to. A ‘Robot Apocalypse’ that will leave us, and our babies, jobless in the future.

Is this really the case? And if so, how can you prepare for the disruptive change that lies ahead?

Robots already in action

The use of robotics is not a new thing. The biggest buyers of robots today are car makers using robots to increase productivity and efficiency in their operational and manufacturing processes, to boost overall competitiveness. Now, other industries including metals, electronics, food and consumer goods are also already using robotics.

What we’re seeing is that robots are getting smaller and cheaper, which is helping to drive their sales and build their case over people.

Robots shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, will cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labour markets over the next five years,” said The Future of Jobs report, published by the World Economic Forum in 2016; coining the phrase the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

So will human workers really be replaced by these unstoppable mechanical foes?

Actually, it seems to me it’s not that simple. Jobs will certainly be lost to automation – some 5 million by 2020 – but, there will also be opportunities. This is true for all change. I absolutely subscribe to the worldview that when you let something go, you create space for something new to emerge.

New opportunities emerge

CSIRO released a report last year about the megatrends and predictions about the future of work. They predict by 2019 you’ll be seeing jobs like:

  • Remote control operators directing ships, planes, cars and other devices from a remote location with just a remote control
  • Big data analysts especially in the field of cyber security.
  • Customer service experts with good social and people skills. Ever more important with the growing trend of online shopping.
  • And don’t worry – your executive coach and personal trainer will still be in business as professional development becomes increasingly important, and preventative health workers help to curb the growing obesity epidemic.

Similarly the State of the State report (Deloitte) Oct 2016 suggests interactive roles, which require “a high degree of personal interaction, including jobs such as teachers, social workers and police officers”, face a 23% chance of automation. While senior roles that require strategic thinking and complex reasoning are less likely to be automated. Right!?

Could your CEO be replaced by a robot!? Now there’s an idea! Luis Alvarez makes a good case for this change in this article I stumbled upon last week, and I’d be interested in what impact this would have on leading and motivating employees.

From the research, it seems the roles most under threat are those that are repetitive and predictable like administrative and operative roles. But by when?!

Timing is still part of the current debate

Interesting results emerge from different studies, like this recent report that claims telephone banking operators will be replaced by AI within 10 years, retail salespeople within 15 years and robots are predicted to be trained as surgeons within 35 years and managing ‘all human tasks’ by around 2060 (if you have young kids they’ll be around 45 years old by then). This timeline of change is depicted well in this image from Business Insider:

future of work timeline

So, in 10 years from now will robots really be writing the lyrics to a new hit song? And will your dear little Sally who dreams of growing up to be a doctor, have to rethink her career options?

Business Insider also published this great article on how crazy things will really become in the not too distant future. In the medium term imagine all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed into your eyes and overlaid on the world around you. These augmented reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images straight into your eyes, are being refined as we speak.

Then in the longer-term things get really crazy … have you heard about neural lacing? At Neuralink, a company founded by Elon Musk, there’s another frontier beyond augmented and virtual reality in the works, where a computer will build into your brain through a ‘neural lace’. This technology will lay onto your brain (I shudder to think how exactly!) and bridges it to a computer. This blending of the physical and digital worlds where ‘man and machine become one’ scares the daylights out of me! And it’s also exciting 😉. With my ever-growing passion and curiosity about human behaviour, I hope I’m around to see it all come to life…

How do you prepare?

Regardless of the specifics of the change, what’s clear is that much more is coming. So how do you prepare?

One answer is to use your intelligence and your emotional intelligence.

The race for relevance is compounded by the threat of Artificial intelligence, as AI presents a “far more formidable competitor than any human” (HBR). It will require future employees to take their cognitive and emotional skills to a new level.

I love this quote from the same article:

“What is needed is a new definition of being smart, one that promotes higher levels of human thinking and emotional engagement. The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning. Quantity is replaced by quality. And that shift will enable us to focus on the hard work of taking our cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.”

A new way is demanded

It’s clear that we can no longer solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s thinking and tools. We know the future is infinitely complex and ambiguous, and individual and organisations must evolve their approach for relevance and success.

Perhaps the future isn’t a robot or human, but a more nuanced way of working to get the best out of technology and ourselves. At Blue Seed, we believe this goes beyond intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ) to Change intelligence (CQ).

CQ is the ability to lead through disruption while applying a unique way of thinking, acting and being. It helps advance complex ideas into outcomes with wisdom, courage, curiosity and discipline. And I believe, the best defence is preparation. This is beautifully summed up by this quote:

“As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these: a) Anything can happen to anyone. and b) It is best to be prepared.”
—Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Thing


Tell us what you think. Is the risk real for you? How can we best prepare?


Our purpose is to make transformational change achievable and create a lasting capability for our clients. Our unique approach empowers organisations to create the best return on investment for their change efforts.

We’ve seen that the sooner an organisation is willing to identify and address its (human) change capability needs and gaps in detail, the quicker it will be likely to reap the rewards.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help deliver your organisation’s change agenda