In 2006 I was introduced to Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. It was the first time I had my eyes opened to the idea of a real possibility that automations of various sorts could, ultimately, displace people from their left-brained, linearly-focused jobs.
Fast forward a decade and we are slowly seeing this happen far more widely than I think many of us would like; me included. There are robots that flip burgers at a zippier pace, computers that engage in complex formulas more accurately and quickly than the most skilled math nerd, precise and delicate surgeries that are being done with the da Vinci robot, most items to be shipped to buyers are pulled from Amazon shelves by their “robot army,” and I’ve seen with my own eyes how a robotic arm is used to install parts of a Ford F150 with ease and an eerie poetic beauty. And these are just a few examples of ways technology is being used today that’s different than the not-so-distant past.
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and automation. I love that there are things I can set up and forget and that just happen the way they should. I love that there are integrations that make it possible for me to make things work together that wouldn’t usually, using things like ITTT. I love that surgeries done by the da Vinci system are less risky and have a faster (generally) recovery time. And I realize that every single thing I automate (or that’s automated for me) was once done by a human. I struggle with whether the improvement is worth the negative impact on the lives of the people no longer doing those jobs. Even so, efficiency and effectiveness win out for me, every time.
Right now, the biggest automation I use and struggle with is my “assistant” Amy, who is artificial intelligence and schedules an unlimited number of meetings for me for $39/month. She’s cracker-jack at that single task; so good, in fact, that people don’t even know she’s not a person until I tell them. She saves me time, and she saves me money; if I had my beloved human assistant do the same work, the monetary cost would be at least four times as much. If my AI scheduling assistant weren’t as good, that would be a different story, but she is (sorry, Nicole!). I’ve chosen to use her because she’s terrific, and it frees Nicole up to do other things that really do need her attention and for which I’m happy to pay.
Removing my emotion from the equation, using well-crafted automations is a smart allocation of resources.
But the fact that Amy exists and is so amazingly good lets me know that more of that replacement automation is on the way to businesses like yours and mine; companies are working tirelessly to create bots and automations to save us all time and energy, and, ultimately, money, too. And like so many other productivity hacks, the idea is that the time you save can be better used to do more of other stuff to move you forward in some way, and who can really argue with that?
One of the things that has me twisting a bit is that as this develops more, I feel certain that the first segments of work they’ll be aiming for are the ones they think aren’t critical. Like admins. Amy, my scheduling assistant, is just the tip of the iceberg. Automation is coming for the work you do, my friends, and I want to share my thoughts about what you can do about it to get ahead of things now, while there’s still time. (Man, I sound a bit like Chicken Little, don’t I?)
There’s one HUGE difference between Amy and Nicole that bears mentioning. No matter how advanced Amy gets, she’s never going to be human. She will only ever be as good as her programming and the scripts she’s given. She has no critical thinking skills, so she can’t connect most dots, offer off-script suggestions, a compassionate word when someone’s clearly having a bad day, or remember a detail from a past email conversation which gets applied to a new conversation with someone different. She can’t suggest ways for me to make my work-flow more flowy (or suggest anything at all to me, for that matter). She can’t find a solution to any of my problems, apply anything she’s seen to new situations or offer to do other things for me than schedule meetings; she simply doesn’t do anything else and can’t be taught new skills (by me). She can’t take initiative, either.
But damn, can that AI assistant schedule a mean meeting!!
All that to say, if you are a doer, and not a getitdone-er…if you are giving clients answers but no real solutions…if you find what you’re asked for, but don’t connect the dots and answer the next question and the one after that (without the client actually having to voice those questions), returning to your client answers with solutions, or if you aren’t developing and using the things that make you fully human in service to your clients, then you, my friend, can bend over and kiss your ass goodbye—‘cause there’s no way you’ll be able to keep up with what’s already here, much less, what’s coming down the pike.
Am I suggesting you be a mind reader? Not in the least. But I am suggesting you learn your clients at every turn, creating an internal database of knowledge about each of them that you can then draw from when you are looking at vendors, services, solutions. And I’m suggesting you work to develop your critical thinking skills, creativity, compassion, and intuition. I’m suggesting that you become more agile and adaptive. I’m suggesting that you develop what machines can’t replicate, and in doing so, that you become indispensable.
I’m also urging you to think again if you think it’s hard skills clients clamor for. If you think that you need to know how to use a cart, or handle social media implementation, or any other particular “hot” skill? That’s not it at all—a trained monkey (or robot) can do that stuff, or will, one day. What clients are clamoring for without even knowing it are your soft skills.
Most of all, they ache for you to make things easy for them. You don’t do that when your brains shuts off at the first level of thinking, nor when you hide your heart away and never get vulnerable enough to take chances with suggestions you offer based on your knowledge of them. Go deeper, always deeper. Therein lies your future, and your success.