Innovation is a great thing — but what happens when it begins happening so fast that we don’t have time to respond to change? Consider that in the last 25 years, the cell phone went from being a rare, brick-sized luxury to a small, pocket-sized commodity. There are children growing up today who will never know what it’s like to have a home phone. That type of technological change is accelerating, as innovation transforms flip phones to smartphones, smart cars to autonomous cars, and autonomous robots to self-replicating code, faster than human beings can keep up. The workplace is changing rapidly, and the only way that you will stay competitive and viable in it is by learning how to be as adaptable as possible.
Adaptability Starts with a Culture of Learning
A successful friend of mine once told me: “you should always strive to be the dumbest guy in the room.” If this bit of advice sounds counter-intuitive, that’s fine–but recognizing that those around you who already know what they’re doing are actually invaluable resources is absolutely key to being adaptable. Rob Glander, President & CEO of GWC Warranty told AE Magazine in an interview that those new to the job market should “join a company with an exceptional leadership team, strategy, and culture. If you find that, you will have the opportunity to learn from the best and apply your strengths immediately.” Naturally, entry-level employees might be able to teach the old dogs some new tricks as well, as long as they are receptive.
Of course, this is a two-way street. Entry-level employees won’t be able to learn anything if senior employees aren’t making themselves available to help out, and when it comes right down to it, middle- and upper-management are going to be absolutely instrumental in making a culture of learning possible. This means more patience in the workplace as new hires and low-skill workers are subject to upskilling.
Management Must Embrace Upskilling
The online magazine Digital Trends suggests that automation will commandeer around 5 million jobs by 2020. That means that 5 million workers are going to have to resign themselves to joblessness, or will have to improve current and even learn new sets of skills so that they can flourish in an environment where automation handles most of the low-skill or repetitive tasks. The types of skills that robots are inching closer to mastering generally involve processing information quickly, racing accurately through large data sets, and even doing heavy lifting and physically challenging tasks. The good news is that machines still need people to run and program them. They don’t adapt to change well and aren’t great at thinking outside of the box.
The main opposition to these initiatives will be employees complaining that they don’t want to do any more learning, and managers who feel they are too busy to facilitate upskilling. A message to the managers: employees of this ilk will never serve your company well, innovative disruption or not. To new hires, those managers are always going to be too busy for you. Ditch the company immediately, and start looking for an environment that will both allow and encourage you to adapt and grow as necessary.
Become More Tech-Savvy
More innovation and disruption is happening as a result of technological advancement than anything else, and because technology builds upon itself you’ll have a leg up if you start learning more about it. Technological literacy used to be something that people were able to live without, much like farmers and industrial workers were able to get by in the world without actual literacy or any type of “book learnin’” a century ago. History is slowly repeating itself because you can’t get by without tech. People without Facebook accounts are considered “suspicious”, and the job search now relies heavily on LinkedIn representation and the supplementary gig economy, which is highly mobile. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and learn coding tomorrow, or that you have to have to start buying all the latest gadgets–but it does mean that you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that technology will continue to alter the world around you quicker than you realize.
The reality is that there’s no stopping the advance of innovation–and that’s not such a bad thing. Innovative advancements are the reason we’ve achieved the lowest rates of traffic caused death since 1940. It’s reason we may stop 90% of remaining traffic fatalities with the implementation of smart cars. It’s the reason we aren’t all still working on farms. Of course, all of these advancements come at a cost, but if we can continue to weather the storm and persist at exemplifying adaptability as a species as well as individually, the good will always outweigh the bad.
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