“Jobs lost, jobs gained? Don’t’ worry, it’s ok”. Well, it’s not ok.

On reading the McKinsey “Jobs lost, jobs gained” report again, it is easy to see how traditional economists just don’t understand what is happening re the jobs impacts of digital disruption.

Throughout the report, the McKinsey team continually reach back into history for reasons why the current changes will be just like before.

Which is “Maginot line” thinking.

Because, new technology nearly always changes the apparent learnings from history.

Before the second world war, Guderian and a few others understood that the tank and the “jerry can” (the ability to refuel reliably on the run) would change everything supposedly learned from the fixed line, trench warfare, catastrophe of the first world war.

His thinking was not accepted by his superiors, so he went ahead and proved them wrong anyway. And the Maginot line – the result of all the French General staff learnings from the first world war proved irrelevant. Wrong place. The battle was fought elsewhere.

It was the same with the machine gun before the first world war. Cavalry and infantry proved useless against knee height scythes of bullets. The new automated technology created radical change in the operational environment = the battlefield, and everything supposedly learned from history proved irrelevant. New conditions.

And here we are today, with the “old school” not understanding what the “new school” understands only too well. The economists versus the technologists.

Economists just don’t understand that robots REPLACE, that software REPLACES, that automation REPLACES not displaces.

Economists yearn for the familiar. It is unfortunate that we live in an age of disruption that is not just hard to understand, but hard to see in its impacts and effects. “1”s and “0”s delivering change across wires and wireless, operating like termites in a traditional Australian weatherboard house.

Nothing seems to be happening, until the house falls down.

Technologists deal with digital disruption every day. Economists just use the results of their actions – smart phones, tablets and PCs.

Wages growth?

Almost 20% unemployment and underemployment!

Household debt!


They all join up, but they are being misinterpreted by folk who do not understand what is fundamentally causing the change. Even the Reserve Bank governor and his board are mystified as to why the economy isn’t following the rules.

The continual impacts of robotisation, software and automation push down wages, push up underemployment and unemployment, increase household debt and increase productivity.

But we are still measuring the wrong things. Using out dated methodologies, broken philosophical arguments (economics) and looking to the past for clues about both the present and the future.

We don’t seem to have a clue about what is happening right now, let alone what is coming down the highway towards us.

“Ten thousand, high-speed, solar powered, steamrollers” in the form of VR, AR, AI, robots, IoT, blockchain, drones, satellites, BIM, cyborgs, 3D printing, nanotechnology, BI and all the associated changes they bring with them.

Kids, parents and teachers…are you ready to deal with this?

I don’ t think so.

You have been taught the wrong things for a time that now only exists in memory.

This is a new world. And we live in a different time with a different set of rules that are still being defined.

The changes caused by digital disruption across all industry sectors and all business categories are as radical as the “black death” of medieval times. The “black death” very quickly created a condition of scarcity in workforce.

It didn’t just kill millions of people it caused enormous changes in social conditions, disrupting the feudal system irreversibly.

The digital revolution is very quickly creating a condition of abundance in workforce. It is unlikely to kill millions of people, but it will cause enormous changes in social conditions, disrupting the economic system irreversibly.

Because abundance is a bad thing if we can’t manage it productively.

Which at the moment, we can’t. What do we do with a third of the working population when they are unable to find employment?

And not just here. That abundance of the unemployed and underemployed is happening across the planet, caused by the impact of the same technologies.

We are witnessing a time that is very different from the shifting of the workforce from land to factory (industrial revolution), or from factories to services = displacement.

We are now witnessing replacement, and as a society we are being challenged by what we are going to do with the new abundance – too many people, and not enough work.

The future of work and jobs is a big issue.

And we are not ready for it.

First we have to understand why it is happening. The technologists understand this. The economists don’t.

But who do the politicians listen to? The wrong group.

We live in a strange time when governments don’t listen to scientists and technologists as openly or as often as they should.

Second, we have to map the impacts of these technological change agents (high speed, solar powered, steam rollers – VR, AR, AI, robots, IoT, blockchain, drones, satellites, BIM, cyborgs, 3D printing, nanotechnology, BI etc) against the current operational environment.

Workers are being impacted by digital disruption every day.

And so are the businesses and not-for-profits they work in.

Students are being taught subjects fit for the 20th century, not the 21st century. And they are not being given informed advice about the current and near future status of work and jobs.

And people are concerned. Students, parents, teachers and grandparents as well.

I post on the future of work and jobs regularly. These posts get four times more likes, comments and shares than any other subject, with comments from countries across the planet saying, “It’s the same here”, which you would expect, because the causes are the same.

It’s the same robots, the same software and the same technology creating the same impacts.

In some countries the government response is considered and informed. But overall, the threat is universal as is the new opportunity. Because there are many opportunities on offer, but only if the environmental change is managed intelligently.

We have a choice. Between a jungle and a farm. Unmanaged or managed. Same market forces (seeds, earth, water, air, sunlight, competition) – but one is managed the other isn’t.

We don’t leave agriculture to nature. We manage it to our advantage.

It is time to do the same thing with our societies. In the past we didn’t have the tools. Today, we do. Blockchain is a good example.

It is now time for our politicians and CEOs and boards to wake up to exactly what tools they now have at their disposal and use them productively.

It is time for the politicians and CEOs and boards to listen to the technologists not the economists.

I called somebody in the Queensland Department of Education yesterday to discuss how we might be able to help, by using our 50,000 survey results to highlight exactly where each new technology would impact on each industry sector and every one of the 500 individual business categories in Australia.

Knowing this would help students, teachers and parents make wiser decisions about their future. And make wiser decisions about which subjects to study and which subjects might lead to work and a job.

Or which subjects might best lead to the opportunity to start a business. Or collaborate with other students to do something under their own steam.

Because a “safe” decision to become a lawyer, knowing that every contract of every kind in the world would soon become an automated “smart contract” on blockchain and replace the bread and butter work for every law firm, might be influenced accordingly – ie “not so safe”.

That’s just one example.

And there are many others for each of the 500 business categories and their associated jobs. And knowing how technology is changing the environment is useful information.

Was the advisor in the Department of Education interested? No. She was too busy.

Being too busy isn’t unique to people in the Department of Education. These days everybody is far too busy. But far too busy with what?

It seems that everybody is so busy with next quarter’s bottom line, or their KPIs, or impending role review that nobody has time to consider the future. Even CEOs and boards, for whom this should be “job one”.

Because, no clear view of the future = no business, no CEO, no board and no future.

There are some very big companies in Australia in this condition right now.

So I wasn’t too surprised about the response from the Department of Education.

It’s a big department and all the people have more important things to do working on education for the 20th century, than to wonder what education for the 21st century might look like.

So to add to the RED Toolbox – https://theredtoolbox.org – we have started building the “ED Toolbox for schools, and teachers and parents”. Regardless of the Queensland Department of Education.

“Too busy right now”, is just another example of Maginot line thinking.

It’s understandable. Most people don’t like change. Most people don’t like revolutions. But revolutions do come along occasionally and then it’s “bend or break”.

To avoid too many breakages, we need to share information and insight as widely as possible, so people can consider their destinies wisely.

And we need to plan for the future, based on what we now know. Which means making time to think and consider, not being too busy.

For that will ultimately lead to new school and university curricula based on that knowledge.

To match real demand and supply.

To stimulate imagination and dreaming.

To encourage entrepreneurship in schools and universities.

20% of students in entrepreneurship programs will later start their own business = 5 times the general population.

Lots of people are talking about innovation.

We are even starting to do something about innovation.

But we need to do more.

For we will need lots of natural innovators, discovers and explorers, which is where all children start out.

Until the system squeezes it out of them.

We need to introduce lots more school based, innovation programs with prizes for real world innovation. They do exist, but we need lots more of them in all schools.

Encourage students to visit low-income regions to learn about social entrepreneurship.

Encourage them to engage with the “wicked problems” food, climate change, extinction, war, disease, pollution and inequality. Set them the biggest challenges, not the smallest.

Because disruptive change is happening and it is happening faster than most realise. And the impacts of change are being camouflaged.

Is unemployment 5.5% or 9.1%? Does underemployment (10.2%) hide the real impact of digital disruption on jobs? Yes, of course it does.

Is the current level of household debt a litmus test? Yes, of course it is.

If 47% of jobs are due to disappear because of robotisation, computerisation and automation, then what?

It is not enough to just ask that question, we have to do something about it. “She’ll be right, mate” isn’t an appropriate response this time around. This is not displacement this is REPLACEMENT.

Which one or more of these technologies – AI, robotisation, IoT, VR, AR, blockchain, biometrics, mobile apps, remote sensing, 3D printing, cyber-security, drones, nanotechnology, big data, cloud services, BIM, cryptocurrency, identity management, facial recognition, social media, Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Uber and the rest – is going to sweep you away?

It shouldn’t be guesswork. You should know.

And which one of these technologies can you surf to success?

Threat comes with opportunity, as always.

So students, parent and teachers need to understand what is happening. Understand why.

Understand what is needed to adapt. Understand what options exist already, what skills might be needed and where to get them.

For this time around, not everybody will easily find a chair in this remorseless new game of musical chairs.

The unskilled, the wrongly skilled, the unabled, the disadvantaged, the excluded and the people already living on the streets.

There will be a lot more people living on the streets and in cars. And we don’t want that.

For not everyone is fitted to play the new technology game successfully.

Not everyone can be trained to play the technology game.

What do we do about the third of the workforce who don’t fit into our current jobs and work environment?

They will be angry. They will be depressed. They will be upset.

Big question.

And that is the subject for another post.


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