Illustration Michael Taylor
A Toast to awful times and the explosion of opportunities they create
“The best way to predict the future is to choose it”
– Abraham Lincoln
Almost everything seems to be in a state of endless flux, difficulty, and disrupting convulsions. According to the most recent World Economic Forum report, the rapidly changing job market is causing many of us to experience an existential crisis as 50% of all work tasks are predicted to be done by machines by 2025. While we see a daunting number of jobs eliminated through automation, hastened by the pandemic, it’s also important to note this report also cites the creation of 97 million new roles and jobs, particularly in care, big data, and the green economy. In context, it may be more accurate to describe all the disruption we are feeling is a massive shift more than the big job loss droned into us every day. These facts are great news but also an extreme challenge to our usual view about work and the new roles and skills many of us will need to thrive from the shift.
The great leaps of creativity and transformation most often come on the heels of disrupting tragedy when the world seems to be going straight to hell
Despite all the recent disruptions, I see unprecedented levels of creativity and invention at a level I have not seen before. There has been an explosion in the creation of online collaboration tools and techniques, online teaching, coaching and counseling, home fitness courses and products, cooking, and a cottage industry of products that make it safe to work and play. For many, the definition of work is changing from a place we go to what we create and produce. The redefinition of work has given way to more flexibility and creativity in lifestyle, and how we integrate work into our lives, and where we live.
Surrendering our traditional ways when everything seems to be changing can be frightening. Yet, it is precisely this surrendering we’ll need to free up our mental resources to rise to opportunities ahead. This freeing up can be as mundane as finding more time to think and work on ourselves because we commute less. Or it could be the recognition that the world has an exploding demand for new roles, skills, and fresh thinking that has far outstripped the availability of people with the right skills to fill them.
There is a skills gap leaving a record 6.8 million jobs unfilled.
We keep hearing that the job market is awful, people are taking our jobs, jobs are going away, and our middle class is falling off a cliff. These are true, of course, but it is also true new opportunities piling up, untapped, right before our eyes, because it’s hard to see past all the bad news. When we are more focused on the natural obsolescence of jobs going away, our fear can blind us to the wave of new opportunities that are also occurring.
If you look at human history, the great leaps of creativity and transformation most often come on the heels of disrupting tragedy, in other words, when the world seems to be going straight to hell(like now). One example of massive disruption was the shift from a rural farm labor economy to a mechanized urban economy during the industrial revolution. Shifting to a new kind of mechanized job from a farm job must have felt like a moonshot in 1890 and it was disorienting and painful. This massive shift was also followed by significant increases in the standard of living, increased life spans, and great leaps in human potential, wealth, and new opportunities that never existed before.
Is it a bigger risk doing nothing or to move out of your comfort zone and learn new skills that are in much higher demand?
I believe we are in farm to factory times now and like the industrial revolution, we need to tune our awareness to see more than the pain of the disruption but to also see what we can learn and do to make this big shift your next big chapter. Here are a few ways you can start the process:
Take a long view, and ask yourself: Am I taking a bigger risk doing nothing or moving out of my comfort zone and learning new skills that are in much higher demand?
Give yourself permission to start where you are: That means if you are doing something new, you won’t be as good at first as you will be after working at it for a while. Learn to enjoy the process of trial and error, of learning from stumbling, failing, and then trying again until you see the changes you are seeking. Realize the awkwardness and imperfection of learning new ways IS the path to your next big chapter.
Worry less, ship more: Most of us harbor insecurity about doing new things so we spend more time thinking and perfecting our new idea than actually doing it. Adopt a “minimum viable product” approach with a bias on getting your new skills and ideas out there(ship) faster, rather than paralyzed trying to perfect them. The world desperately needs people who are addressing new problems so a useful mental model might be to think of yourself as a piece of software, always improving and releasing updates as you make improvements. If you do your homework, the world will be darn happy to receive the 1.1 released version of your up-skilled self so why make everyone wait for the 2.0?
If you can occasionally step out of your immediate situation and observe the world with a wider-angle lens, you’ll spot new opportunities germinating in the chaos. If you look, you will see needs unmet, new ways to help, and interesting new ways to make progress. I cannot predict the future, but it seems to me the world, more than ever, needs new skills, and maybe a few you haven’t learned yet. I think Abraham Lincoln said it best, “The best way to predict the future is to choose it.” I hold my half-full glass up to you.
November 22, 2020