Adapt or Perish
Change: A contaminant or a condiment?
Date Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Shifting demographics, emerging technologies, globalization, climate change, and other factors—foreseen and unforeseen—will no doubt change the nature of the American workplace over the next 70 years.
Let’s just look at how quickly technology has changed within our own lifetime. One aspect of technological change is how quickly new technology is adopted. Malcolm Gladwell refers to this as the "tipping point,” where new becomes the norm.
For example, centuries passed before 50 million people were reading books produced on Gutenberg’s printing press. Compare that to the 38 years it took to get 50 million people to adopt the radio. What has changed over our lifetime is that the change is happening faster. It only took 13 years to get 50 million people to adopt the TV. In just about one-third of that time, 50 million people took to the World Wide Web. And then the iPod came along, and 50 million people were downloading and listening in just 3 years. That’s nothing compared to the growth experienced by Facebook and now Pinterest on an annual basis.
Each time a new technology arrives, industries and companies adapt or die. These changes will make some jobs obsolete, just as they have always done. Change simultaneously has always created new jobs, new products, new services. With new jobs, workers need new and better skills.
A recent article in The Futurist, "Thriving in the Automated Economy,” expanded this discussion. (Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, March-April 2012, vol. 46 no. 2, www.wfs.org/content/futurist/march-april-2012-vol-46-no-2/thriving-automated-economy) The authors believe that the key to global competitiveness is not to compete against machines, but to compete with them. You need to look no further than the art and science of data mining to grasp this concept.
The Institute for the Future’s recent project with the Apollo Research Institute on the future of work describes some of the new work skills—adaptive thinking, cognitive load management, cross-cultural competency, sense making—to name a few. ("Future Work Skills 2020,” Anna Davies, Devin Fidler, and Marina Gorbis, 2011, www.iftf.org/futureworkskills2020) Collaboration is a must-have skill going forward too. But again, the scope of collaboration is something that most people don’t yet grasp.
Big data is BIG and only growing bigger at a faster pace. For example, man created 150 exabytes of information in 2005. In 2011, it created over 1,200 exabytes of new information. To provide a point of reference, 5 exabytes equals 37,000 new libraries the size of the Library of Congress. By 2013, the amount of traffic flowing over the internet is expected to exceed 668 exabytes.
This explosion of data is one thing. Based on current rates of technological progress, desktop computers will reach the computational power of the human brain in 2020—and continue to double in power every year after that. By 2053, they will be equivalent to the entire human race. By 2057, they will be equivalent to all brains in history. By 2083, a single desktop computer will match the raw intelligence of 9,223,372,037,000,000,000 human brains—or the same as a billion Earth civilizations. (www.futuretimeline.net/21stcentury/2080-2089.htm)
Organizations that can produce data but also understand and apply it will have the competitive edge moving forward. But the ability to mine even small bits of information requires analytical skill sets that few people have. Finding a solution to mine big data requires not only exceptional "making sense” skills, but also the ability to collaborate with machines. That is why by 2018, the United States alone could be short 140,000 to 190,000 people with the analytical skills necessary to use big data to make effective decisions.
As president of Success Performance Solutions, Ira Wolfe helps organizations find and hire the right employees and identify high-potential leaders. He speaks nationwide on hiring, workforce trends, managing the generations in a presentation entitled Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization.