In my last note to you I referred to the real internal threats to our business success. There are many, but I summarised my own take on these as the following:
- Organisational inflexibility – lack of depth and leadership.
- Lack of imagination – we are much vested in our traditional understanding of how things work.
- Lack of agility – we resist change and we have systems and processes that are hard and costly to change.
- Cognitive bias – we look for and consider only the evidence that supports our pre-conceptions.
- Egos – we compete against each other instead of collaborating.
I referred to external threats and listed the hardy annuals such as Regulation (like POPI), Skills Shortages, Disruptive Innovation, and Global Competitiveness. Of course, these are threats, but these threats are the Rules of the Game. I referred to the much bigger systemic threats that are now embedded in our environment, the biggest of which is Unemployment. This is especially so in South Africa – but it’s now being experienced all over the world.
We hear raucous political noise around us – the Wealth Gap, Selfish Capital that will not invest, and therefore perpetuates growing Unemployment. We hear that the answer is to nationalise – land, banks, airlines, power utilities and so on. The profit motive is apparently driving disinvestment, and causing further income disparity and greater unemployment.
This is probably partly true – but it is a red herring driven more by emotion than by facts. The main thing that is driving, and will continue to drive even more Unemployment, is Technology, often dubbed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Technology brings Automation, and Automation is mostly more efficient than manual. Machine Learning is augmenting and even out-performing good old intuition. Years and years of education and experience in any field can and will be rendered irrelevant overnight.
When I started my career in 1982 we still had typing-pools and comptometrists, (what is that?), filing clerks, indoor messengers and cheque books with deposit slips. All of those jobs and many more are simply gone now. Even modern jobs like network cabling technicians are disappearing after just over twenty years.
We at Tarsus are in the Technology business. The better we are at our jobs, and the more we adapt to new Technology, the more jobs will be eliminated in our whole environment. Admittedly, many new ones will be created; but not nearly fast enough to absorb the thousands of young people coming into the job market every year. There will be noise about rolling back Technology – making it compulsory to do certain things manually – but Technology and Innovation is an irresistible tide that’s coming in. It will not be stopped or even slowed down.
Whose problem is this? You can make sure that you stay personally relevant – the Humanities, Data Analytics and other fields are just getting started. What, however, about the masses of people who miss the bus?
Government can set policy and promulgate laws and regulations to help with that – but they cannot re-invent a whole system on their own.
So, this is actually our problem, and to pretend otherwise is simply foolish and denialist.
This is what “keeps me awake at night”.
But this is also what I get really excited about, because if we can contribute to solving this problem through our workplace, we can create another whole layer of meaning and purpose. If we don’t, we die. If we do, we not only survive – we contribute and thrive.
We should all be thinking about this: how do we involve and engage far more people, especially those who appear to be unqualified for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Miles Crisp is the Tarsus Technologies Group CEO