This continues a series of columns from practitioners I respect. The category "Real Deal" describes them well.
From Google’s driverless cars to Amazon’s delivery drones, it would be silly to pretend machines are not taking over many activities humans have been trained to do. In the December Workday Predict and Prepare videocast, I touched on that as one of the 2014 predictions and you can see the dialog Naomi Bloom and I had about impact on jobs and the HR function. In the last few weeks, the Enterprise Irregulars have had a thread going on the topic and Jon Reed of Diginomica was especially eloquent about what he is telling younger people about changing job markets.
Jon has published a book on the virtues of the entrepreneurial life that was inspired by his conversations with college grads about their future prospects in an automated world. Here is a short version:
We find ourselves in a situation where even higher education is out of step with where the world is headed. I have a lot of friends with PhDs that are basically irrelevant to how they are making a living (to be fair, some are happy teaching).
The critical thinking I learned in college was probably invaluable, but for those youngsters who are not entrepreneurial and creative out of the box, I think there is an argument to be made that trade crafts such as plumbing and electric and carpentry are not such terrible skills to have (with modern applications such as solar power and geo thermal installations and so forth) – and may be a far better use of time than a four year degree.
Advanced degrees still offer options in some fields, what I worry about is kids who either don’t finish college or who land in the working world with a general bachelor’s degree and nothing else. I am friends with a number of such folks around here as I write in a couple of the local cafes and brewpubs, and if you’re not careful you can get stuck in an extended period in the lower end of the service industry where the money might sometimes be ok (e.g. bartending, waiting tables) but the future prospects and advancement are minimal.
What I advocate in my conversations and more formal talks with young people are:
- Develop an entrepreneurial approach to your career (make job moves pro-actively and pursue challenges aggressively)
- Develop a personal brand by giving away meaningful content (publishing, code sharing, videos, etc)
- Foster creative skills but don’t count on making money on your intellectual property. View intellectual property as a way to build visibility around your area of mastery which can then be monetized via speaking, consulting, or better job offers.
- Live lean and develop an enforced savings mentality that includes not only retirement savings at a young age but cash reserves, to be invested in both “safer” (e.g. precious metals and real estate) and “speculative” investments (e.g. a stake in a startup or small business). Lean living will also give you more flexibility to take “high upside” opportunities such as an equity role in a startup.
- Develop a “continuing education” mindset about your chosen area of mastery. Constantly invest in learning and networking opportunities around your chosen profession/skill.
- Pursue areas you are passionate about but also consider how marketable such areas are. Use the Internet to market test ideas to get a better understanding of how audiences will respond to your ideas and to reduce some of the risk of pursuing new ventures (e.g. accelerate the feedback loop via blogging on various topics to gauge audience interest, etc).
- As Vinnie might say, be a polymath, learn several related disciplines and always work to connect siloed thinking into new possibilities. Develop related financial and business skills, not just a technical or trade proficiency. Learn how to negotiate and sell so that you can cut deals favorable to your interests. Straddle technology and business.
- Don’t put too much faith in job stability, develop “career capital” that goes beyond one employer. If an employer prevents you from sharing content and being involved in your field in a public manner, change employers.
- Put money into assets beyond your job. Don’t count on salary alone to ensure your livelihood.
- Adapt and change, it’s the only constant.
- Pay it forward whenever you can.
Oh, and: put your phone down and get some real work done.
Jon is a co-founder and frequent contributor to diginomica.com, where he blogs and videocasts on enterprise trends.