HR Leads Business

Nov 28, 2018 | Ginny Engholm

Danny Iny, on How to Future-Proof Your Job

Digital disruption is transforming the world of work. The skills that workers will need in the long term are changing at a rapid pace, and this is causing employees — and employers — a lot of anxiety.

Workers fear being replaced by tech for good reason — a 2017 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that 38 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of being replaced by automation by the early 2030s.

Some industries, such as transportation, wholesale, manufacturing and retail, are particularly vulnerable to automation. But no industry is safe. Even scientific, technical and human health fields are seeing an increased risk of job losses from technology.

This shift toward greater automation means there will be winners and losers. While many fields will see job losses to AI, individual workers’ preparation for a digital future will mean the difference between continued success or obsolescence.

How can workers protect themselves so they're not vulnerable to being replaced by technology? What can people do to make sure that they’re doing work that machines can't?

We reached out to Danny Iny, author of “Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners, and Experts with Something to Teach,” to learn how business leaders can future-proof their jobs.

Focus on Developing ‘General Intelligence’

Humans won’t win out long term in a skills race against machines when it comes to highly specialized tasks, Iny says. “When people think about future-proofing their jobs, they usually lean into getting good at things that are really hard. And a lot of the things that are really hard are the first things that computers are going to get better at than we are,” he says.

Think of the example of IBM’s Watson, says Iny. IBM built it to demonstrate that computers could do a complex task like play “Jeopardy!” better than a human player. But playing “Jeopardy!” is highly specialized and requires a skill that computers are very good at — rapidly combing through and analyzing data.

By contrast, Iny says, “the things that we do very easily and instinctively, like recognizing emotions in somebody's face or walking on two legs, are incredibly hard. And we're still struggling to get computers who can do it with any degree of ability.”

Iny describes it as a difference between narrow intelligence and general intelligence. An example of narrow intelligence is an algorithm that is substantially better than doctors at identifying breast cancer on a mammogram. That technology exists.

General intelligence would be an algorithm that could diagnose any disease. “It turns out that's really hard,” he says. Diagnostics is about how all the parts of the body fit together, and it’s far beyond the reach of machines at this point.

The takeaway? “It’s counterintuitive, but it’s important to not be hyper-specialized at the expense of general knowledge,” he says.

Get Good at Being Human

It sounds simple, but future-proofing your job means getting good at being human. “Lean into the parts of your job that human beings are good at. We're good at connecting with other people. We're good at relationships. We’re good at showing empathy,” Iny says.

The buzz term is “stempathy” — creating a bridge between highly technical STEM fields and empathy.

Being good at your job is always to going to matter at least a little, Iny says. “We're not going to get to a place where computers are so good at things that our jobs are just to get along really well with other people,” he says. But just being smart and good at your job won’t be enough.

Take, for example, the machine that can diagnose breast cancer via a mammogram. This diagnostic task might be automated in the future, but the patient is still going to need a real person, trained in compassionate care, to deliver the diagnosis and discuss treatment options.

Cultivate Grit

Education models traditionally focus on building knowledge and skills, and, to a lesser degree, teaching critical thinking and creativity. But Iny says the thing we need to be learning is fortitude. We need to cultivate grit, optimism and resilience.

“Real success never lies in the knowledge corner,” he says. Long-term success comes from having the grit to fail and try again.

“We all know that Michael Jordan was famously cut from his high school basketball team,” Iny says. “He wasn't cut because he was amazing and an unappreciated genius. He just wasn't that good at that time. There was a gap between where he was and where he ended up being. Some of that gap was in technical skills. That's the relatively easy part. The hard part was developing his unique creativity that the brought to the game.” That part came from the resilience to keep trying even in the face of failure.

Carve Out Time to Learn

The No. 1 way to future-proof your job is to stay curious. “Carving out time for learning and development is very powerful,” Iny says.

Pick something you're interested in learning more about, even if it’s not directly related to your work. If you work at an online company, you might take a class in graphic design or programming. “Focus on learning something that you're genuinely interested in and that you think will be of value to you,” Iny says.

He says his company makes learning a part of the culture. The third Tuesday of every month is Learning Day, where employees are encouraged to learn about things that interest them, on company time.

Staying curious and investing in your own learning can help future-proof your job by allowing you to gain valuable new skills and knowledge, differentiating you from competitors.