One Innovation That Will Change Entire Categories of Work
Picture this. You’ve wanted a new BMW convertible for quite some time. You get a promotion and a bonus. Your first thought is to order your brand new car.
So you go to BMW’s website and build the car online with all of the options, “Individual” paint and leather as well as a few other options to customize your purchase. The magic moment arrives. You hit send and the dealership down the block prints out your beautiful new car.
There is no big factory.
The dealership keeps no inventory.
There isn’t any shipping.
Does this sound like a pipe dream?
Not anymore. 3D printing is at a turning point. The cost of the machines plummet every day. The interfaces are now so simple that virtually anyone can run some of the systems. In fact, the technology has moved so far beyond a novelty phase that it is, in fact, turning mainstream right now. GE is ramping up production of jet engines, medical devices and home appliance parts using 3D printing.
How will this one technology impact our world?
If you are working in a traditional manufacturing, supply and distribution setting, your best move could be to reeducate and reinvent yourself. In the next decades, China may well lose the factors that make it the world’s cheap manufacturing center. Thousands of other organizations are following suit. While the direct costs of using 3D technology are often higher, when we add flexibility, lowering inventory and eliminating certain forms of shipping, the overall costs will soon be dramatically lower.
I offer this scenario in an attempt to raise the volume in how much all of us need to learn how to change ourselves. Why is this so important? Because, when we learn the skills of self-change, we stop being at the beck and call of global change. In fact, many of us become the source of positive change. That, is a much stronger and fulfilling place to live.
For years, people have used The Inspired Work Program to redefine their professional lives, to evaluate their options and take the ones that best fit their career DNA, character as well as what is meaningful. That it happens in 48 hours serves notice to each participant they can change and now have a roadmap for doing it with greater ease.
Why must we learn how to change?
How do we change?
First, defining what we would love to do, want to do provides the investment. I’ve often said that many of us don’t define a clear mission, vision, and purpose because we assume, on some level, that people will not help us succeed. This reveals one of the most important skills of change. Because, once we do define that commitment, our success if purely based on the quality of support that we build.
During the 300 years where the Industrial Revolution define virtually every aspect of livelihood, support was frowned upon. Consider, that accelerating change requires that we become far more effective we become with the kind of self-inquiry that keeps us in ongoing touch with ourselves and the world around us. Clarity in our personal mission, vision and purpose allow us to customize our support systems.
Let’s return to the example of 3D printing. Our country seems to be in a trance about technology. Task-based work is being eliminated by technology. But, it is also offering freedom from task-based work! Work will not go away. It will change. In Germany, constant training is keeping manufacturing employees continually grow and change. Here, we lay people off. Once again, defining what we want to do with our freedom, is a far healthier way to move forward. For example, 3D printing will eliminate task-based work. But, it will also provide millions of people to become micro-manufacturers. Artists will be able to mass produce their work. Small business owners will be able to provide customized products. Later, biologists will be able to manufacture new organs using the patient’s DNA. If all of this sounds like my head is in the clouds, read and devour information! For example, in Kevin Kelly’s recent book The Inevitable, he puts forth ten emerging technologies that will produce more change in the next ten years than in the last twenty. Finding one’s place in this new landscape requires learning, unlearning, and relearning.
My readers are used to a theme. Technology is offering us freedom from mind-numbing and repetitive tasks. History has proven time and time again, that work will not go away, it will change. One of my clients brought in two pictures. One was of Pope Benedict’s christening in 2005. The other was of Pope Francis being ordained in 2013. Both were shot looking out to St. Peter’s Square filled with thousands of people . There was one difference. The more recent photo had blinding light coming from the audience as smartphones captured the moment. My client looked at me and said, “It is a bad idea to simply get irritated and complain about smartphones taking pictures. The real question is, “How can I get my message onto that phone?”
As technology takes over task-based work, virtually every profession is or will be deeply impacted. Already, attorneys with minimal business development skills are being impacted as task-based work is handed off to Legal Zoom. Software is routinely taking aways tasks from CPAs.
We fail because of isolation. The skills of change include the ability to perform rigorous self-assessment on a regular basis. As sales cycles speed up, such as looking for new work, the ability to connect with others effectively and quickly must displace that periodic and painful “networking” to find a new gig. In fact, our greatest existing success stories are filled with people who have taken the time to build extensive and highly engaged communities, all in support of their mission, vision, and purpose.
Years ago, I was asked to meet with chief human resource officer. Her organization was one of the biggest in California and it was falling apart. She asked what I believed was their biggest problem. I responded, “It has already happened. You have lost your most creative and adaptive people. These are the individuals who know they can succeed in other places. They have built reliable networks of people who love and support them. If you don’t have a safety net in place for these individuals, they dust off their resume’s, call their friends and tell them, “This isn’t fun anymore.”
Back then, the creative and adaptive worker was so rare, I had to name them. Today, anyone who wants to work must also want to grow. Anyone who grows must become an active learner. Active learning will inform us of growing rather than shrinking industries. The communities that we build will bring us new opportunities.
What does 3D printing tell us about work?
Rather than demonizing or dismissing the technology, how can you use it to your benefit?
If rote and monotonous work will be taken away from you, if you are given your freedom, what can you do that is more meaningful and interesting?
Perhaps the single greatest problem we are having with this topic is the lack of imagination and vision within our leaders. By its very nature change can be frightening and uncomfortable. If there is any one thing that is causing so much turmoil in our culture, it is underemployment. In a recent survey, 48% of America’s workers characterized themselves as underemployed. This equates to the real emergency in our culture, the one of far too many people being kicked to the curb by change.
3D printing is already in the process of turning how we manufactured things on its head. Virtual reality will change how we communicate, train, and educate others. It will eliminate unnecessary business travel. Artificial Intelligence will unleash the power to solve many of the world’s most vexing problems and it must be managed by an entire new class of workers.
If we want to be a part of this world, it is time to work on our curiosity, open-mindedness, humility, and enthusiasm. Cynicism and contempt will only delay or doom our progress. Aimlessness and resignation will keep us out of this game, entirely.
I have been at this game since 1990. My company has been in a vortex where we have witnessed the best of change in others. But, the last ten years have been revelatory and frightening. As a work culture, we went from a talent war to the worst economic recession since the Depression. The event distracted employees and workers from the accelerating change hitting the world of work. Now, the wave is growing bigger every day.
It is time that we learn how to surf.
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