Technology – blight or boon to your career?

For the career-conscious among us, will technology prove to be a blight or a boon to our dreams and ambitions?

A few years ago, I was one of a number of government policy civil servants endeavouring to understand the true impact of “disruptive technologies” upon business model development in the telecommunications and content industries (by content industries, I mean broadcasting, media, publishing, videogames, etc, etc). Back then, Google and its equivalents were already cutting swathes through more traditional business models by seeking to provide easier access to content. Much of it free rather than paid for. Consumer behaviour was changing radically as a consequence. Understandably, the content owners were hugely anxious about how all this disruption would pan out for their businesses. Much brokering and discussion had to happen behind closed doors between the “disruptors” and the “disrupted” before commercially-viable compromises could be found. Umpiring skills came in handy in those days, as I recall!

Those years gave me a good taste of how painful and uncomfortable technological change can be for many parties. And also, of how exhilarating and liberating it can be, at the same time, for others. The key learning is – business models have to evolve and change, just like the products and services they represent. Why? Because consumers don’t stand still. They like shiny new things. They want to be hip; they want to be cool. They also want their businesses to run more efficiently and cost-effectively. And if rapid advances in technology can help them achieve all of these things, they will vote with their feet and with their credit cards.

Think of how many “disruptors” we have quietly absorbed into our businesses and our lives in very recent years: cloud technologies; digital streaming and distribution; incredibly fast chip processors; 4G; the internet of things; wearable tech; artificial intelligence; social media and social intranets; virtual worlds; augmented reality; uber; Airbnb; 3D printing; drones; big data; virtual reality – and increasingly, driverless cars. Next over the horizon will be 5G mobile technology, subject of much excitement and buzz at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

Each of these disruptive technologies has brought major benefits and changed the way we as consumers do things. Each “disruptor” will have also threatened the longevity of other existing – sometimes very long-established – products and services, as well as career paths. Think uber and London black taxis or New York yellow cabs. Change is a rocky ride!

Rather comforting to know that as far back as 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes was worrying about the “new disease” of “technological unemployment”. And indeed, it’s been happening for centuries, according to The Economist (The Onrushing Wave, January 18th 2014). They point back to the manufacturing, automation and steam engine “disruptors” of the 18th and 19th centuries which changed the employment landscape so significantly. But technological change in our century will not impact on all workers or all sectors in the same way. Some of us will find that our skills complement new technologies and we can move forward with ease. Others will find a P45 awaiting them on their desks and a strong need to reinvent themselves.

Interestingly enough, the professions least likely to be negatively impacted by computerisation as mentioned in the Economist feature were recreational therapists, dentists, athletic trainers and the clergy. Those most likely? Telemarketers. Oh, and accountants and auditors.

So what can we all do to stay current, in this shifting and volatile employment landscape? A few thoughts:
Get interested in the future: start horizon-scanning. Join a futurist meetup group or network: there are a few good ones around. Debate and discuss what’s coming over the horizon with futurist thought leaders at conferences and workshops. Not everything is the “truth”, sure, at these events, but they will give you a flavour of what’s possible. And you’ll build a valuable network.

Invest in yourself: keep up your continuous professional development and stave off skills obsolescence. Invest in good quality training e.g. learn about agile and scrum methodologies to boost your transferable skills. Get an on-going mentor and/or have some career coaching if you need to reinvent yourself (check out my website!). Subscribe to authoritative trade magazines and news feeds and read up regularly and widely on what’s hot and what’s not. These investments will show potential employers and business partners that you seriously want to add value to whatever you do.

Get out there and get noticed: which are the key events for your industry/profession? Or for the sector you wish to join? Don’t know? Find out! Actively networking at key trade shows will boost your profile and visibility. Offer to lead a group discussion or give a talk – most conference organisers and trade associations welcome new contributors. (But be aware that some events companies charge speakers as part of their business model). It’s amazing how many people will come up and ask for your business card if you’ve stood up in front of them and said something pithy and meaningful.

And above all – don’t panic! Having to reinvent yourself and keep yourself current allows you to move more and more towards doing what you really enjoy. And away from your previous slave-to-the-wage existence. Thanks to technology, there are so many more possibilities out there for you to try.

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