Why we should worry less about the robots, and more about ourselves

As if concocted by some kind of Industrial Séance, the past 100 years has turned people in the developed world into a cohort of economic outpatients. We’ve abdicated our entire financial responsibility to institutions who must now provide us with a stable job, a career for life, increasing wages, and skills that are relevant in perpetuity without the requirement of an upgrade. A strange desire given that this has never happened before.

A close look at history any time before the 1950’s, and we can see we’ve never had any of those things as a certainty of life, quite the opposite in fact. The level of stability, of economic growth and the increase in living standards we’ve experience in the past 70 years is unparalleled in recorded history. For all we know it could be a fortuitous anomaly, a once off that we’ve been lucky enough to experience first hand. But we’re not thankful, instead those who’ve been the major beneficiaries are demanding in advance that the good life not be taken away. That the life we live is some kind of right, a standard we are now entitled to, without any heavy lifting required on our behalf. While very few indeed are asking the resources needed so they can get to work on personal transformation.

Automation & robots

This kind of upheaval isn’t new either. Every period of humanity which found itself in the middle of a technological shift, had those who were disenfranchised and displaced. Some even had entire their civilizations destroyed based on technological lag. Given our current global and economic interdependence this is an unlikely outcome, but yes, the technological shift is big, the biggest in many generations, and yes, it’s happening much quicker than all the others have. The challenge with technological shifts, is that there isn’t any lessons on how to deal with them. It’s not in the text book. We instead must rely on those old school skills of ingenuity and adaptability.

But this time, there is one important difference.  For the first time we have a choice on whether or not we adapt. Every other time if we didn’t have the resources at our disposal, coping in the new system wasn’t just difficult, it was nigh on impossible. This time we’ve been given the dignity of choice. We can prepare, we can up-skill, and we can participate in the shift to the greatest period of entrepreneurship we’ve ever known. We can relearn the art of self reliance. We can do all these things, mostly for free.

Hence there are two approaches we can take to sure up our uncertain futures.

The common approach: We can wait for the Government to fix things, hope for a universal basic income, regulate against technology which destroys our industry’s business model, support populist and protectionist policy makers, and pretend inevitable technologies can be stopped to maintain our status quo.

or

The better approach: We can start today, firstly by admitting what might change in our industry, our economy and our future. Then, we can quickly start working with our communities to create an infrastructure (Physical and Informational) which provides all of us access to the tools and skills we’ll need to help shape the future economy. We can lead others and inspire them to believe they can adapt by sharing what we learn. We can meet with like minds creating income producing ideas, and expanding industries we couldn’t even imagine yesterday. We can decide that hoping everything will be Ok, isn’t a plan, and remember that we aren’t the first generation to face a challenge which might effect how we work and live. But mostly, we can sleep better at night knowing we aren’t helpless outpatients, but the architects of the future we want to live in.

Coming Soon – The Lessons School Forgot – click here for free advance chapter

The economic future of the Western World

The economic future of the Western World is bright, so long as it doesn’t squander its opportunities. So long as it remains open to the growth of developing nations and we manage to collaborate cross borders. Isolation and protectionism is not the answer, just ask China before it reopened to the world. Yet, all we ever hear is about the impending doom of the middle class and the end of manufacturing.

Abandoned factory USA

While reading my Quora feed I came across a brilliant answer to this question by Balaji Viswanathan:

What is the future of the American middle class in a world where manufacturing can be done so much more cheaply in Asia and Latin America?

About a decade ago, I was chatting with my buddy who was working at Windows Mobile. He was lamenting how the mobile industry was racing to the bottom where everyone was trying to produce $10 phones. Industry experts thought that the future of telephony was ultra cheap commodity. 

A year after that conversation, an American company came with a nice gadget named iPhone that started at around $500 [without contract]. And another company in the same city brought a great competitor in Android. In a matter of months, it was clear that the future of phone market was not down, but up. Apple went on to be the biggest the most profitable company ever. Android became the biggest ever mobile OS.

That is the future of American manufacturing and middle class, if they can focus on out-innovating the world, rather than constantly whining about cheap countries. And the US is still a world leader in manufacturing with the likes of GE, Caterpillar, Dow, 3M, Boeing etc [see more: How does the USA make money despite much less manufacturing?]

There is a whole range of exciting new technology ahead of us – Virtual reality revolution, a 3d printing revolution, autonomous vehicles on land, air and water, robotics revolution, clean energy revolution, space exploration revolution and so on. Just like how Apple changed everything in a span of mere months, there could be enormous new innovations that are to come in the next few years. 

This is probably like being in the 1950s – where everything is exciting and every field is getting rapidly changed. US has all the energy sources, a large market, the biggest labs, the most innovative companies & the best of universities. If you cannot win with all these advantages, there must be something wrong. 

Do you want to build that tomorrow or keep complaining about losing the yesterday?

It’s worth reading twice. And here’s a few more of the so ons:

Internet of things, quantified self, nano technology, molecular manufacturing, genetic engineering, vertical farming, crypto currencies, block chain technology, crowd funding and fintech, wearables, quantum computing, augmented knowledge…. I could continue, but we all know that there’s enough opportunity in this list for every industry known to humanity, and the prices of all of them are dropping – which means the cost of innovating with them is low and the opportunity for value creation is high.

Now lets get excited and lets get going.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight.

It’s the value we create that matters

Sad little boy

It is possible to earn a lot of money and create very little value for society.

It is possible to earn very little money and create incredible value for society.

So how to do we know when we have it right, for a startup or even life? Here’s my measure – how much would people miss you if you didn’t turn up? And how long would it take for them to notice after you stopped turning up? The more our not being there gets noticed, the more valuable we know our work is. I’m pretty sure the world wouldn’t notice if Wall St took a year a two off. While I’m sure most children will notice the day their mum and dad didn’t come home.

How long would it take for customers to reach out to your startup once you stopped shipping or your software stopped working? It’s an interesting question. And while we often hope to attract a large quantum of customers and scale, I’d rather have 100 people who really cared if I wasn’t there, than a million people who clicked elsewhere the moment I disappeared.

Follow me on SnapChat – search ‘Sammartron’ for more business insight.

Why experiences are the new consumerism

The Experience Economy

It’s not surprising that ‘consumerism‘ emerged as a thing in the post World War 2 era. The last 50 years of the 20th century was a time when we quickly homogenised under the influence of the TV Industrial Complex. We all drifted into a suburban symmetry with little variety in the western world. People had to find a way to display their worth to their tribes and wider community. As many of us entered administrative jobs (think white collar clerk work) which literally looked like we were doing the same things, we needed to find a way to show our position in the hierarchy. And boom – hello consumer land. The more people had, a better car, better clothing, more expensive toys, better furniture, the more successful people would think we were. It was an unwritten ground rule we all abided by. And it was a very effective way to show people that we were creating ‘economic value’. Someone’s consumption patterns told the story of where they sat in society.

I’m starting to wonder if the ‘experience economy’ has the same underlying driver. Sure, we all claim that we’ve moved beyond shallow consumerism, that experiences are more valuable and worthy, but it could be that they provide the same emotional benefit and are just different tactic.

For me it’s more than a coincidence that the experience economy is emerging at a time when people now have the tools to show off their experiences. In the past, our experiences were invisible to all but those who viewed a photo album in our home or heard our story first hand, face to face. Now our experiences are only matched by our desire to share them on every social tool we use. The shift to the experience economy has come at a time when it’s finally possible to share what we do, in ways we never could. Just like conspicuous consumption, experiences can now be shared with strangers, loose associates and colleagues. Even the profile pic is best suited to a tropical locale, or the burning man festival. It sends a message just like a fancy automobile can.

I don’t know if this idea resonates with anyone else, but I do now that a great deal of our human drivers have not changed in 200,000 years – just the ways we express them does.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Ignore what the teacher told you, and just make things up

old school

Watch a 5 year old kid play for half a day and you’ll see levels of creativity that’ll blow your mind. You’ll wonder in awe where their natural ability to ‘make things up’ comes from. You’ll be inspired by how they see the world and what it makes them think and do.

We used to see the world that way too.  But what happened was for the first 18 years of our lives we got told how to see the world. In fact, the concept of making things up brings back some very strong and personal memories for me. I can remember when I reached High School (Grade 7-12 in Australia) and that it was no longer Ok to make things up. We had to reference where we got our ideas from. All of a sudden my opinion didn’t matter. What started to matter was researching someone else’s opinion, someone who had been ordained by industrialised society and had been published. It felt so weird. Why couldn’t I just write what I think? Why did it have to be a quotation from someone else? Why did what they think matter more than what I think? We all got taught  got taught stop thinking and start rehearsing. Rehearsing for what you may ask?

Rehearsing the lines for some kind of monetary industrial pantomime.

We were getting taught how to play inside the the modern economy.  An elongated economic play in which we would become ‘extras’ in someone else’s dreamscape. Someone else had the starring role, but they needed all sorts of support so they could be the stars of the show. And we went along with it. But now the exact opposite of what we got told, is where all the value is being created.

The trick they pulled on us to not have any original ideas, to not create anything new, to keep our opinion to ourselves is rapidly becoming redundant. And this gets me excited. We all still have the ability to just ‘make things up’. Now that we have access to the tools to create anything, now that the economy is being totally redesigned, we just need to forget what we got told, and start to write some of our own lines.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

The evolution of employment

Hunter

Shepherd

Farmer

Craftsman

Employee

Projecteer

While the flow of jobs through history here clearly simplifies the reality, but there is no disputing the type and structure of work we do is in a constant state of flux.

Soon employers will realise they don’t actually need employees. They will work out the thing they actually need is tasks completed, projects managed and leadership provided. And in a connected world they won’t need to pay for people to do these things 5 days a week – especially when large amounts of that time paid for are unproductive.  What we need to remember is that companies pay people based on the value they deliver, not by the hours they are present. If a person cost X for 5 days work, but it really only takes 3 days to do, they the company would be happy to pay the equivalent of 4 days  for previous cost of the 5 days output. Especially when it reduces the overhead of carrying the employee. On average an employee costs twice their salary to carry. In a connected world roles for employees will fragment into pieces and projects purely because the balance sheet will demand it. When this does happen will happen and we will enter the age of the projecteer. And I truly believe this will be better for everyone. Projecteers we gain a greater revenue clip for their time given, and companies will save on cost for activities done.   In addition to this, neither party will be chained to each other mentally providing a more creative work life ecosystem.

So the question for all of us are:

How are we building our personal brand?

What are we developing our pinch hitting expertise in?

How can we create more value by being cross fertilised, nimble value merchants?

And how can companies connect with us?

We all about to become entrepreneurs whether we like it or not, best we get ready now. 

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Most people I know…

… want to get rich so they don’t have to care about the company they work for, or the crappy project they are doing. Once they make bank they can do what really turns them on.

I used to be that guy.

Now I just do what really turns me on, and all of a sudden I don’t care so much about how many zeros are in my bank account.

My father once told me; “Regardless of how rich you are Steve, you can only eat 3 meals a day, lay your head on one pillow and enjoy the company of those around you. Money is an illusion. The art of becoming wealthy is actually knowing what it means.”

Needless to say my dad is the richest man I know.

So what we ought do, is not let the Industrial Complex redefine wealth on our behalf and make us live a life of postponing what we care about. Because once we can feed ourselves and have somewhere warm to live, the rest is in our minds.

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