It’s unavoidable: the Internet of Things will kill many jobs. Self-driving cars alone could put millions out of work. And the manufacturing sector, already reeling from decades of job losses, could see millions of more jobs replaced by machines. The convergence of IoT and cognitive computing could also threaten many prestigious jobs as computers learn to perform thinking tasks rather than solely mechanical ones.
“We will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value,” write venture investor William H. Davidow and technology writer Michael S. Malone in Harvard Business Review. “Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century.”
But great challenges also bring great opportunity. Connected intelligent platforms are poised to enable a quantum leap in productivity and revenue. IoT technology may do away with the need for some jobs, but it will create job opportunities as well. Here’s how professionals and companies can stay competitive in an IoT era:
1. Put AI to Work for You
In September, Amazon announced that its Alexa voice-activated software had acquired more than 3000 skills, up from 135 in January. IBM’s cognitive computing platform Watson can read 40 million documents in a mere 15 seconds. Even more astounding is the exponential growth curve of such technologies, which are already starting to replicate tasks once performed by highly paid workers.
But instead of fretting about the quickly expanding power of artificial intelligence, smart workers should study it and find opportunities for leveraging its power. Look for ways to use the power of AI to augment, rather than solely automate, human work, recommends Babson College professor Thomas H. Davenport in Harvard Business Review.
The strategy has proven to work in chess, where teams of humans and machines, or “centaurs,” have defeated the best chess software. In human chess matches, players are forced to analyze the pros and cons of each possible move. But in centaur chess, human teams can deploy chess engines to do this work for them and suggest moves. Then, the team can choose between those suggestions, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the chess engines making them.
The same basic approach is suited for the workplace. In fact, financial planners are already beginning to use a similar tactic to assess investment recommendations for their clients, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some companies are also using technologies like IBM’s Watson technology for recruiting applications including screening résumés. Expect this trickle of activity to turn into a flood.
2. Tap the Power of the Crowd
Western workplace culture has long expounded the virtues of the individual worker. “Most businesses are built on the idea of an ideal worker being like an eagle, strong, self-motivated, and independent worker,” says Tripp Braden, an executive recruiter at Strategic Performance Partners. “But the paradigm is becoming more collaborative and team-based.”
Tamara McCleary agrees. “As we head into a new age, we are disrupting the notion of one job being completely distinct from another. IoT is also leading to shifts in collaboration between fields,” McCleary says. “It is breaking down barriers between different fields such as big data, security, energy and utilities, smart buildings, and industrial manufacturing. And for many companies, IoT is enabling a transition from product to services. This shift demands more skill versatility from workers.”
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The traditional advice of being a “team player” doesn’t go far enough. Professional collaboration should be more like crowdsourcing, McCleary says. This involves thinking strategically as a group, accepting that roles and responsibilities are fluid. “You can’t say: ‘this is marketing,’ ‘this is sales,’ and ‘this is the executive position,’” McCleary adds. Instead, study the potential strengths of the entire group and develop a strategy to best harness them. “The more diverse the group, the better the problem solving can be,” McCleary explains.
While IoT is certainly fostering diversity and collaboration, it is also bringing groups together, like companies' IT and OT departments, that are not accustomed to collaborating. It can be difficult to work with professionals with backgrounds seemingly completely different than your own.
Marcia Walker, principal consultant at SAS Institute, says that taking improvisation classes can help build this capability. “Improv teaches you to listen intently to your scene partner, drop your assumptions, and enter their world,” she says. “This skillset is critical for IoT success. You’ll be working with people who may be from fields other than your own. Rather than walk into the conversation with preconceived assumptions, improv teaches you how to build toward success together.”
Walker acknowledges that, even with practice, collaboration can be difficult in a diverse group. She also recommends that professionals step outside of their comfort zone and go somewhere where they feel foreign “In my case, that was Germany. I did graduate work there, and having to navigate an unfamiliar world taught me a lot about new ways of solving universal problems and how to treat people,” she says.
“Understanding how different people think and different cultures’ needs is huge,” says Felicite Moorman, CEO of StratIS EMS. “What we want in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily translate to South Korea, for instance. You have to have a global perspective.”
Thinking globally requires immersing yourselves in not only in different cultures but also understanding the unique struggles facing professionals. “You have to be a fish out of water before you can even see the water,” says Marcia Walker of SAS. “But seeing the water is essential to success in innovative areas like IoT.”
3. Develop Rigid Flexibility
As the number of connected objects explodes, so do the number of things fighting for our attention at a given moment, giving rise to what Tamara McCleary calls “shiny object syndrome.” Our collective attention span, already shortened in an era of texting, could become even shorter.
Maintaining focus will be a crucial skill as employers become more adept at tracking the productivity of their workforce.
Concentrating, however, doesn't have to be a chore. As Einstein wrote: “That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”
Tripp Braden, having interviewed people who knew Einstein, says that the scientist's ability to concentrate was legendary. “You couldn't break his focus," he sys.
Braden says that one of the pitfalls of concentration is it can cause rigidity, especially when ego gets in the way. “If you want to drastically lower your chances of being unemployed, make sure you have emotional intelligence,” Braden says. “What do you do when you find out that you are wrong? What do you do when you see that something you held so dear wasn’t right? I asked the Dalai Lama that and his answer was: ‘I change,’” he adds. “For most people, there is room to be more flexible. Great thinkers, and employees, have rigid flexibility.”
4. Build Your Tribe
It’s not enough to merely be an expert in your field and to be constantly learning. “You have to create the foundation and the perception of influence,” says Michael Sim, a Chicago-based consultant. This requires building a personal brand, and a community around that brand. This advice applies as much to individuals as it does for companies.
“We need groups that we know and trust and that we build,” says Felicite Moorman, CEO StratIS EMS, LLC. “It’s never been more about who you know than now. Volunteer your expertise. Give it away to a group that means something to you,” she recommends. “Be a giver and someone will give a job. Opportunities will follow you.”
Another element is developing a reputation for being a thought leader in your field.
Sim recommends enlisting the help of professionals to help build the perception of influence. Examples include hiring a professional photographer to take a high-quality headshot and a consultant to help optimize your LinkedIn profile. He also suggests taking online courses to hone your jobs skills, and to add that information to your LinkedIn résumé. “In the professional world, LinkedIn is one of the first places that people go to,” Sim says. “A personal website can be helpful, too.”
After you have a solid sense of personal brand, you can start developing a strategy for representing that brand through content on social media. “Your content should prove you are an expert. You can reach out to your audience and engage them throughout the day to create the perception of influence,” Sim says. “You can use tools like Buffer to automate the process, so you are freed up to do other things during the day.”
Marcia Walker, principal consultant at SAS Institute, says that an important part of being influential is storytelling. “Everyone needs to be inspired, and technical specifications rarely inspire anyone,” she says. “The best way to inspire others is to tell your own story, which requires vulnerability. Share how you made a mistake or faced a challenge, how you grew from it, how you evolved. Make it honest. If it feels a little scary, you’ve found the right story. It will plant a little seed inside your listeners that will grow.”
Over time, this storytelling will help gather a tribe of like-minded folks working with you toward the goal. Finding the right stories can fuel change throughout an organization. “Be authentic and passionate, and inspire others to be the same,” Walker says. “But don’t be afraid to ask for help. Organizational change is a specialty in consulting circles for a reason. You wouldn’t leave something like your database architecture to amateurs; your change management ‘architecture’ is every bit as important. It pays to hire professionals to map out a change strategy and help you implement it.”
5. Start Small but Be Bold
Business coaches often recommend thinking big, starting small, and then scaling quickly, says IoT recruiter Bill McCabe. All three parts of that are vital for the Internet of Things. And the same general principle applies to individual workers who can benefit from a bold vision of blue-sky possibilities tempered with pragmatism.
The advice is vital for enterprises as well. Many companies fear the risk inherent in thinking big and prefer to focus on incremental improvement. These companies risk business model disruption and cut short the potential of digital transformation initiatives, which should extend throughout all levels of organizations.
Other organizations understand the power of having a grand vision but decide to rush products to the market before they are ready. These companies aggressively launch products that may have significant security or functionality problems. “They risk massive reputational and financial risk,” McCabe says.
But companies that think big and start small can identify practical applications of IoT technology that can scale up in the future.
Matthew Littlefield, president and principal analyst at LNS Research, also recommends this approach. “It is fairly simple to get concrete ROI benefits [from IoT deployments] by driving improvements in energy efficiency, reliability, quality, and remote visibility," Littlefield said in a webinar. “Once improvements in those areas can be demonstrated, manufacturers can start broadening the scope of their [industrial Internet of Things] initiatives.”
6. Focus on Self-Disruption, Calmly
Whatever business you are in, there is probably someone somewhere who thinks they can do a better job at it than you. And there are ever-more examples of digital companies who have done just that, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, etc.
“With the companies I often consult with, the pressing question is always: how do we future-proof the business to avoid being disrupted, digitally transform ourselves, and at the same time maintain daily business as usual without interruption?” McCleary says.
For many organizations, the answer to that question is to gather more data in the hopes that it will lead to smarter decision making. That data can quickly become overwhelming and can take your company’s focus away from its strategy.
McCleary recommends asking questions like:
- What are your business challenges?
- What is your brand's vision?
- Who is your competition?
- How can you differentiate yourself in an overcrowded marketplace?
- What questions do you hope to answer through big data analytics?
- What solutions do you hope to find?
“It's too easy to get caught up in chasing the multitude of shiny objects with new tech, (technically old tech), the IoT. And now [the problem is compounded with the] supercomputing capacity of big data analytics, and predictive analytics with machine learning,” McCleary says.
Marcia Walker, principal consultant at SAS Institute, says that professionals that focus on too many moving objectives is not only stressful, but it can also kill creativity. Walker recommends professionals weave some form of relaxation practice, like meditation, into their daily life. “Some people say they are too busy to meditate, but they’re the ones who need it the most,” Walker says. “I have five issued patents and more pending, and none of them would have happened without the creative space I fostered by regularly stepping away from information overload.”
The other part of self-disruption comes from education. “Individuals and organizations need to build their learning capabilities,” says Tripp Braden.“What works today will change tomorrow. Successful organizations in the future need to know how to apply just in time training and development to help facilitate the changes that are happening in their organizations and their industry. Lifetime learning and development will help individuals be more agile in their careers and lives. Strong leaders will leverage learning opportunities to see how their teams adapt and thrive in changing conditions.”