We’re living through a remarkable moment: the beginning of The Information Age, a transformation reshaping society and how we work. As we shed the Industrial Age, like a snake slithering out of old skin, we discover that we need a new toolbox of skills and work habits.
In ages past, our ancestors’ primary skills changed from hunting and gathering to planting seeds and harvesting crops and eventually to operating machines in factories. In our world today, information technology is rapidly changing what skills are needed in the job market. To understand which rare and valuable skills you should work to acquire, determine which skills will be most valued and will cultivate the kind of creativity needed in today’s job market.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are accelerating and will replace most jobs that are repetitive or don’t require creativity. No profession will escape. Any uncomplicated job that requires no creativity is at risk. In addition to affecting taxi and truck drivers, accountants, and cashiers, automation is now rippling through knowledge work, impacting industries such as healthcare, law, education, and financial services.
In a very short period of time, we have seen personal computers, the internet, cable TV, mobile phones, and cloud computing go from science projects to mainstream, essential infrastructure. The largest tech companies in the world, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Alibaba, did not even exist when I was born. And I’m not that old!
Historically, we do a poor job of imagining the jobs of the future because we are blind to the new industries, technologies, and services that will be created. Benjamin Franklin famously did not see much utility in his electricity experiments. In the early days of the internet, few people believed it would be useful in everyday life. Many voices are warning that robots and software will be taking jobs from humans. I’m not convinced that will be our main problem because I’m not convinced that we can confidently predict where our biggest problems will arise.
But I am convinced that to keep pace with innovation, you will need to reinvent yourself again and again. Standing still is moving backward. Ongoing investment in learning new skills becomes mandatory or you risk your skills being obsolete every three to five years.
Just as gunpowder separated military power from physical strength, information technology separates worker productivity from hours worked. One person with specific knowledge coupled with machines can replace hundreds of workers. And knowledge and information can be shared at the speed of light, which dissolves geographic boundaries and enables a global workforce.
An opportunity not to be wasted
Find the intersection of what you’re good at, what you’re interested in, and what the market will pay you for. You are facing a wide-open frontier bursting with opportunities if you have the courage to stake your claim. The Information Age will be the age of upward mobility. Your social status and geographic location at birth no longer predetermine your chances to succeed in the new economy. You have the opportunity to transform your life and earn your freedom.
You can pull three main levers to gain a competitive advantage and increase your market value:
- Increase productivity
- Build rare and valuable skills
- Invest in relationships and broaden your professional network
If you invest wisely in these three areas, you can measure success not just by how many zeros you add to your net worth, but also by how much you pursue your interests, spend quality time with friends and family, and realize your potential.
Don’t get left behind
You’re no longer competing with job seekers in commuting distance of a particular office. More companies are adopting remote work due to improvements in video conferencing, messaging, and software tools. Therefore, employers can access a global talent pool.
Most professions are already dominated by the Pareto principle (80/20 rule), which means 20% of workers are responsible for 80% of the results and reap a disproportionate financial return. Global competition will amplify this effect.
If you’re not in the top 20% in your field, financial freedom will be hard to find. As competition intensifies, we are increasingly moving to a “winner-take-all” economy. Earning capacity is moving away from getting paid by the hour and toward performance professions like professional sports, music, and entertainment. Being “average” will not make the cut in the Information Age.
Don’t get stuck. If you get distracted and procrastinate, you will likely fall further and further behind. And the accelerating pace of change will make it harder and harder to catch up.
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