Are Machines Taking Over?

As the industrial revolution makes way for the digital revolution, with machines performing ever more complex tasks and online platforms replacing bricks and mortar businesses, more and more jobs in today's economy will begin to disappear.
09/29/2015 10:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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As the industrial revolution makes way for the digital revolution, with machines performing ever more complex tasks and online platforms replacing bricks and mortar businesses, more and more jobs in today's economy will begin to disappear.

Many people fear a jobless future -- and their anxiety is not unwarranted. Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2025, up to a quarter of all jobs may be replaced by either smart software or robots.

A further study from Oxford University suggests that 35% of existing UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.

And perhaps the most alarming of all, a 2013 study from academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne warns that up to 47% of US jobs have a high probability of becoming computerized or automated to some degree.

Publishers, manufacturers, the public service, and banks are all rapidly downsizing. Retailers that once resisted online shopping, extolling the virtues of bricks and mortar, are now racing to build internet sales because the margins are higher.

But on the flip side the more optimistic of the experts studying this global phenomenon, agree that whilst robots will undoubtedly replace lots of human jobs in various industries, humans will continue to innovate and that will in turn create new jobs, just as they did after the industrial revolution.

While it is hard to fully understand or conceptualize the true impact machines will have on our future, one thing is for sure. Jobs that require creative thinking, human input or judgment will last the test of time.

So what makes a job susceptible to automation?

a) If you're in a white collar job, where paperwork, research and writing are key elements of your day to day activities (think telemarketing person, accountant or even lawyer) then rest assured these tasks are already being performed to a very high level by machines and software bots.

b) If you work in a business and a percentage of the tasks you perform each week are repetitive or laborious, there's a good chance at least a chunk of your job will soon become automated.

c) If you are a business to consumer (b2c) or business to business (b2b) sales person and spend your days showing off products or explaining your services to prospective customers, there is a high probability your days are numbered and you'll soon be replaced by an online sales platform or procurement portal.

To gain further insight into this topic I recently caught up with Cian Mcloughlin founder of Trinity Perspectives and author of the soon to be released book Rebirth of the Salesman,

Cian Mcloughlin is a regular sales and marketing commentator in the mainstream media and has worked with many Fortune 500 companies from around the world.

Below he shares 3 simple and practical steps, any person can take to rise above the machines and decrease the chance of their current role becoming automated or obsolete.

1. Become consciously competent

Far too many experienced business people rely on instinct, muscle memory or plain old gut feeling in their day-to-day business activities. Focus on what you're doing each day, be specific and write things down. When you're preparing for a business meeting or customer presentation capture:

• what you do beforehand;
• where and how you conduct your research;
• who you speak to (internally & externally);
• whether you do a dry-run, if so, how long before the presentation or meeting; and

Get this information out of your head and down on paper. You may think you run the risk of giving up your secret sauce or letting folks get a peek behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain.

But what you're really doing is quantifying the value you bring to the organisation and providing another outlet for your skills and knowledge.

2. Find yourself a reverse mentor

Whenever we hear the word mentor, we inevitably think of a single directional flow of information and knowledge. A Yoda-like industry veteran taking a young and enthusiastic recruit under their wing to guide and advise them as they build their careers.

The problem with this old mentoring model is that all of the value flows in one direction. Demand some value in return, I say. Take a leaf out of former GE Chairman Jack Welsh's book, who was one of the first champions of the reverse mentoring phenomenon.

Become a mentee, ask these young people stupid questions, it will encourage them to ask you stupid questions in return (remembering of course that there's no such thing as a stupid question).

More importantly it will help you to keep your skills sharp. Ask questions like:

• Where do you go to access news content?
• If you were going to buy a new car or a new computer, where would you research it?
• What do you like to read in your spare time?
• What technology platforms do you spend the most time on,
• Who do you admire in business and in life?

Don't just do this because these individuals are the customers of the present and the future. Do it because it will keep you relevant, connected, increase your level of differentiation and reduce the risk of your skills becoming commoditised or completely redundant.

3. Stop confusing 'busy' with 'productive'

You're busy all...the...time! Talking to customers, writing proposals, preparing for meetings, prospecting for new leads, submitting expenses...the list goes on and on.

The funny thing about the really successful people in life and in business, is they often seem to have magically acquired an extra couple of hours each day, to give them the breathing and thinking space that the rest of us lack.

The best strategy I've come across here is to pause and take stock of the tasks you perform in any given day/week/month. Spend a day or better yet a week noting down the different daily activities you undertake:

• How much time you spend on email;
• On the phone and internet;
• Chatting with colleagues or friends;
• Participating in non-value adding meetings; and

And a million and one other great time wasters that we're all guilty of.

Once you have a better sense of your day-to-day tasks and activities, take some time to prioritise them. Which do you believe are really important activities: talking to customers, preparing for presentations or workshops, problem-solving for clients or working on new innovations with your colleagues?

Now look at the non-core activities...if you're anything like me, this will be a long and rather confronting list.

The key to avoiding automation in the workplace is to begin outsourcing these non-core tasks as quickly and effectively as you can, before someone else decides to outsource them for you.

By finding a person (or a machine) better suited to delivering these non-core activities, you free up your time to focus on higher value tasks, which are far less likely to face automation.

Master these three techniques and you will have gone a long way towards reinforcing the value you bring to the business you work for and future-proofing your skillset against the slow but inevitable rise of the machines!