In this article, we look at the future of work: as technology helps to automate more of our day-to-day processes, can we spend more of our time and resources on learning and innovation?
The Learning Machines I am referring to are not the Artificially Intelligent products of humans, but the humans themselves.
More Learning, Learning More
The acceleration of the pace of change of the last fifty years and our feeling that change will be even faster in the next fifty years is breeding a new type of human. People who will be spending a smaller part of their working lives delivering value and a larger part learning and innovating. In their jobs they will be generating more value in less time because they will be delivering new or improved products and services with new and improved tools and processes. In parallel they will be learning and innovating more than ever before.
The trend is a long-term one starting from the early days of universal education and the continuous increase of years in education before beginning to work. But learning is not just about taking courses at schools. It is also about developing useful skills on and off the job. Formal education will be supplemented by lifelong learning, with more frequent and shorter course often taken remotely.
The working day will evolve from 95/5 to 60/40. That is, if in 2000 people spent 95% of their time at work actually working, and 5% learning or innovating, by 2050, about 60% of time at work will be spent delivering value to others and 40% learning or innovating. My figures are surely imprecise but the trend is not. In fact it is already happening.
Broader learning, deeper learning
Many jobs will cease to exist, many new ones will be born, all jobs will change – and all this will happen faster. More new knowledge will be generated and more old knowledge will become obsolescent.
There will be deeper learning to acquire, as new know-how (knowledge and skills) new products, services, models and processes replace old ones. There will certainly be broader learning to acquire for people who must take on entirely new jobs.
The choice between breadth and depth, becoming more of a specialist or more of a generalist, is never easy. More than ever a person must plan the evolution of her skills over her lifetime, while leaving plenty of margin for the unknown.
New Ways of Learning, Learning New Ways
Learning will take place in new ways, with live and remote delivery, with or without human instructors and with new methods and tools we cannot even imagine today.
The outcome of good learning is in the magnitude and quality of its impact in practice. Sometimes this is immediate, as in training to use new software to serve clients next month. Sometimes it is less immediate, as in learning how to think creatively or critically or how to collaborate better or beginning to understand the potential of data science.
Imparting new know-how is of course easier than convincing people to adopt it, as many a change manager has learnt the hard way. However the pressure on people to change will only increase. And good learning makes change more comprehensible and more palatable and, for many, more exciting too.
Personal Responsibility, Institutional Responsibility
Each person has responsibility for their own learning. To an extent. It is also the duty of employers and society to help people renew themselves as the world moves on. Employers who stubbornly stay in 95/5 mode are not doing their companies or their people a favour and countries who neglect lifelong learning are betraying their people.
In many ways the axiom “knowledge is power” (or better still “know-how is power”) will remain true even if a lot of knowledge is stored and developed by machines. As has always been the case in education, socio-political issues of fairness arise. Like today, the positions in which continuous learning and change are embedded tend to be for those with well-paid white-collar jobs. The incumbents have mostly grown up in families who value education and who pay for their children to have it. A wicked, complex and unavoidable challenge is how to help alleviate the inequalities that ensue.
The transformation of humans into learning machines is a journey all people must take, earlier rather than later.
About the Author
Keynote speaker, consultant and trainer in leadership, creativity and innovation. His model for innovation was published in his book The Art of Innovation and followed by Leading Innovation in Practice, a roadmap for innovation in organizations. Dimis has extensive international experience at Director or Executive level in international private companies and public organizations. As a speaker, he provides audiences with out-of-the-ordinary experiences through his original material and use of magic.
Featured image via Unsplash