How to Make the Best of Automation

This week, I read an interesting fact from a not-very well-known country.

I learned that the Finish government invests a heavy part of its budget in human resources.

It provides its citizens with long-lasting education and financially supports its researchers. It also enables the unemployed and entrepreneurs to venture into new occupations thanks to social protection.

So when new automation solutions are implemented, Finish companies can rely on the country’s existing pool of talent. They can leverage automation less to reduce labor than to create new and better jobs.

This vision seemed to me too good to be true, but after thinking about it, it helps me reconsider the way we usually face automation. We take it as a threat to our skills and autonomy. We think that it makes us slowly obsolete.

We might also view it from an entrepreneur’s point of view: as an opportunity to be adaptable, open to new learning, and to create unique job positions for us and others.

Of course, this is easier in a country or organization that highly values human work.

But for people like you and me having a usual working environment, there’s also a way to extract value from newly adopted technologies. Here’s what it looks like.

The key meta-learning skills

They often say technical skills are the life-saving ropes that will help you overcome automation.

Professions like software design, data science, and digital marketing are highly trending in the job market. That’s not surprising: they bring expertise on very profitable issues for companies today: SaaS Software, Big Data, AI, personalized advertising…

Yet, when you ask employers, the response is not that straightforward. Despite the supremacy of hard skills related to data and computer science, they are not the first criteria considered by recruiters. Instead, recruiters increasingly favor what you might know as soft skills.

According to a 2016 survey, they are looking for workers with “leadership”, “teamwork skills”, “written communication skills”, and “problem-solving”. Specific tech skills like “data literacy” are only coming up in the ranking afterward.

Yes, companies are fond of intellectual and social skills, that enable agile and adaptable thinking. They are mainly of three kinds.

Critical thinking is the ability to question your assumptions and data at hand. It involves judgment, a way to assess possible outcomes and make the right decision. It relies on imagining counterfactuals — what would happen if your plan unexpectedly changes? This ability enables you to face unprecedented situations thanks to common sense and causality analysis.

System thinking is the ability to apply knowledge to other contexts and fields of expertise. It implies using analogies to adopt tested conceptual approaches on new grounds. It’s a way to cross the border between different kinds of expertise to generate new insights.

Social and Cultural Openness is another core skill, as it helps you deal with different social norms and understand varying cultural environments. When you’re socially and culturally open, you can make business with foreign company cultures.

What’s the one thing in common between all these skills? Ironically, they all enable you to create your own job, regardless of the technical knowledge in demand.

Just look at the strategy of work colleges like Berea community college. Compared to work college that builds curriculum tailored to current company demands, they focus on teaching liberal arts to form a prepared mind for an agile future. They consider that these subjects structure your mind in a way that makes you more intellectually and socially flexible. It opens your eyes to new opportunities and makes you confident in leveraging them.

And that’s why great entrepreneurs have these qualities as well. Entrepreneurs thrive when they can question their assumptions, apply analogical business models in unexplored markets, and handle cultural complexity. That helps them find new ways to match their skills to ever-evolving market demands.

These entrepreneurship initiatives make it possible to find new problems to solve, that is, also, inventing tailored-made jobs.

Labor-centered innovative companies

Robert Owen and his social utopia

Robert Owen was a utopian believer that has inspired a generation of visionary entrepreneurs.

During the First Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, he was the first to condemn loom factories’ very harsh working conditions. In these cramped workshops, people worked from early morning to late night and risked their lives on life-threatening mechanisms.

Owen set out to convince public opinion and governments to regulate these places of human shame. He managed to prohibit the hiring of workers under nine-year-old and reduce the working day for children under sixteen years.

He didn’t want to stop there. While contemporaries sought to mechanize everything, he saw the power of self-reliant human labor. Looking for new opportunities in America, he bought a Louisiana-based community town, called “New Harmony”.

That’s where he founded what would become the first utopian cooperation. Owen sought to build a community where workers owned their labor and enjoy the conditions to make their best work. He created an organization that leverages innovation to enrich human work rather than impoverish it.

And his legacy is still living today. Since Owen’s first social organization, many entrepreneurs sought to build labor-first companies.

Cooperatives are the most well-known examples, as every worker in those firms owns a share of the company and its profit. Mondragon Spanish cooperatives, for instance, employ some hundred thousand workers through subsidiary companies.

MCC operates on a policy of “network resource sharing,” a buddy system that ensures that when one cooperative starts to slip, the others rush in to assist with loans or other supports. Also, each business contributes 10 percent of pretax profits to a central fund to finance new cooperatives.

The sole goal of these organizations is to create sustainable jobs while fulfilling customer needs. As they are not reluctant investors or middle managers, these companies can easily shift their business models to more lucrative markets and thus enable better job opportunities.

They see automation, not as a way to reduce cost-intensive human labor, but to empower their precious and nurtured talents. That makes them invent jobs that better fit the ever-changing technological landscape.

Does that mean that if organizations put a high value on human work, they can always find job opportunities through automation? Close from it, as they muster all their innovative resources to create rewarding and value-generating jobs.

How to adapt to automation

You, too, can rise above automation concerns and seamlessly adapt to market change. There are several ways to create a job that fits your talents and resources, and resolve a real problem :

1. Connect the dots between different domains of expertise

Like anyone, you might be especially proficient in some knowledge fields. You might be good at digital marketing, know by heart the e-commerce market, and be able to grow your own retail store. But what if your expertise in e-commerce could be applied to other sectors or activities? What if building a marketplace in the manufacturing or construction sector could be the next big thing? Be open to new analogies.

2. Be open to business opportunities or embrace entrepreneurship

Employment is good, but in an automation-driven world, it’s not enough anymore. Not that I’m saying that you should quit your job and build your own company. What I mean is that you should adopt a keen eye for new business opportunities for yourself or your company. The incredible rate of innovations makes resolving hard and long-standing problems surprisingly common. While talking to customers or partners, you might have crossed an idea that would make their life better. Try to defend this idea among peers or collaborators, and see what they think.

3. Network and find new ways to uniquely connect with people

What do people value most about their work? The relationship they build with the people they are collaborating with.

It is unlikely that automation will change the human urge to connect. So you better expand your social network and find people with who you can talk on a deeper level. As digital communication is increasingly automated, the ones who give their honest opinions, express themselves genuinely, and share problems through their own experience will stand out. Sharing your most human side always wins.

4. Be part of a coop or employee-owned company

New employee-owned companies are built each day, but little is said about them. Yet, they are an incredible way to share value, engage employees, and build a robust work organization. They are also a great place where you can have a good job and actively defend the value of human work. Cooperatives are a reassuring human workplace in times of automation.

Innovation that sustains jobs and not the other way around, that’s the path to human-centered automation!

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