Why Complicated Work is Becoming a Commodity

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Last month a momentous technological feat quietly occurred. A computer beat the world’s best Go player in a best-of-five match. In fact, the Google developed computer program called AlphaGo won three straight games before the human opponent achieved a win. The computer then won the final game of the match to earn a decisive 4-1 victory.

At its core, Go is a game of complex mathematical choices. Some consider it Chess on steroids. The opportunities on a simple 19 X 19 board boggle the average mind. However, much like a computer beating the world-best Garry Kasparaov at chess in 1996, the AlphaGo victory indicates that we have arrived at a new point in history!

I cannot help but apply this historical moment to the future of our employability. As the title suggests, much of our work is becoming something that can be done by machines. Computers now weld our cars (as robots), vacuum our homes (thank you Roomba) and autopilot our planes as we sip champagne. As more and more of our work becomes automated, some are raising concerns about the future security of our jobs! So should you be worried that computers or robots will take your job? Maybe! After all, history teaches us that they already have. Therefore, the secret is to determine which jobs computers can’t do – and I think I know which ones!

Last summer I wrote a short blog about the difference between complicated and complex. Although these two words may appear to be synonyms at first glance, they are unique as we consider the future or work. Here are the differences between these two terms:

Complicated – Something with many interconnecting parts. Intricate. Examples: Imagine a rigorous math problem on a white board. The ability of Big Data to assess your on-line browsing habits in order to predict which products to advertise on your web browser also fits into this category. These things are complicated.

Complex – A system of interconnected parts that constantly change. Fluid. Examples – If an ocean beach lifeguard leaves their tower for 30 minutes, they may come back to a very different scenario. The ability to understand the needs of a crying baby is also a complex matter.

Last week I posted a list of skills that experts believe the workforce will need by 2020. It includes things like creativity, negotiation and emotional intelligence (see Improving Your Work Relationship With Your Robot Assistant). In short, this list was full of complex skills. Technology has demonstrated an increasing ability to deal with complicated – like the game of Go. However, technology has not mastered the complex! Therefore, wise employees will equip themselves with skills that allow them to deliver complex solutions. Things like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and mega-management are complex abilities that will equip employees with the skills they need to succeed.

You will be employable in the future. This is because you are a human and you were designed to do complex things. However, to ensure your future success, you must equip yourself with complex skills. Those who only focus on complicated will at some point, find themselves beaten by the latest version of AlphaGo!


 

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

Photo Credit: Wired Magazine

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