How to beat robots and build wealth

Career decisions determine where you invest the majority of your time. These important life decisions have a huge impact on your well-being and quality of life—and your risk of being replaced by a robot.

In the industrialized economy of the 20th century, most people learned a skill and then worked the majority of their careers at one or two companies. That industrialized economy required scale and specialization, so large companies were organized around manufacturing and office jobs. Hierarchies were created to manage large groups of people while creating incentives for advancement.

The information economy of the 21st century is decentralized and global. Widespread access to personal computers and the internet has democratized knowledge so that anyone in the world with an internet connection and a desire to learn can build skills and contribute value to the global economy. The advancement of new technology will require workers to continuously learn new skills. Working as an independent contractor and / or working for many different employers is becoming the norm.

Skills needed in the job market are changing rapidly. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation is accelerating and will replace most jobs that are repetitive or don’t require creativity. Many doctors, lawyers, investment advisors, taxi and truck drivers, accountants, cashiers and most service workers will be replaced by robots and software. Any job that is not creative or complicated is at risk.

However, I’m not yet convinced that our main problem will be robots and software taking jobs from humans. 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. 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!

Our main problem is that our educational system was not designed for a global information economy, and our broken system is not equipped to handle the massive retraining effort needed. Most colleges today don’t prepare graduates with the necessary skills for our current economy. As highlighted in this article in The Atlantic, companies have been complaining for years about the lack of skilled workers, even though millions of people are unemployed or looking for full-time work in the U.S. New models of education are needed.

Although our current system is not yet designed to address the scale of the problem, access to knowledge and training has never been more available to anyone who is self-motivated enough to pursue it. Also, low-cost computing power and the internet provide a path to go around the traditional gatekeepers in many industries, such as media, music, art, publishing, and technology. Here are a few ways to build wealth while pursuing the career you want and ensuring robots will never replace you.

Constructing Your Future

Follow your interests. Build specific knowledge around your interests and find something you love to do. You will gain unfair competitive advantage because your passion will push you to work harder than other people and spur you to be creative and innovative in your field.

Pursue highly technical or creative work. Creative work equals job security. Anything not creative can be replicated and replaced by AI. Specific technical knowledge cannot easily be duplicated.

Invest in continuous learning. Technology advancement will impact every industry. If you are not constantly learning, you will be left behind. Seek out roles and opportunities that accelerate learning. Gain an advantage by building a personalized learning system that keeps you on the cutting edge of knowledge in your field.

Get equity to ensure financial freedom. You will not gain wealth by getting a paycheck. Start your own business or get stock options or restrictive stock units in the company you join.

Move to a hub where your industry is centered. Leverage network effects by building relationships and living in a location where your industry ecosystem is strongest. For example, if you are in tech, move to San Francisco. New York is the best place if you’re interested in fashion or finance. If you want to pursue acting or music, go to Los Angeles.

Seek leverage and compounding value. The information economy has dropped the cost of entry to almost zero. Software and the internet provide a multitude of opportunities to help you make money while you sleep. Find ways to contribute value to the world that do not require you to work by the hour.

Work for people who will help you grow. You work for a person not a company, and your boss will likely determine your growth and satisfaction. Don’t work for people who are not invested in helping you grow, even if the company is great.

Create a decision-making process. Career decisions require identifying and weighting decision criteria. List up to five criteria to evaluate and test potential scenarios. Weight the decision criteria based on importance. For example, if I were evaluating new job opportunities, I would use the following five criteria.

  • Interest level. What is my interest in the mission and the problem the business is solving?
  • Impact. What would my potential impact be in this company?
  • Learning opportunity. How much will I learn in my role at this company?
  • Location. How far will I need to commute to work?
  • Financial return. What will be my total compensation including base salary, benefits, and stock options?

After writing down your decision criteria, assign weights to each criteria on a 0–100 scale based on importance. Maybe the most important is interest level and you assign 30 points, while the least important is location that gets 10. The sum total of the weights should equal 100. After establishing your weighted decision-making criteria, apply a score between -10 to 10 to each criteria for each job. For example, if one job opportunity had a short 20-minute commute I would give it a score of 8. Compared to another job that a  one hour commute I would give a score of -9. This process will help you determine a total score for each job, but don’t get caught up in being too precise. Remember, it’s a tool to help you grapple with tradeoffs and think better.

We live in an unprecedented time of opportunity and prosperity. However, you need to work hard and make smart decisions if you want to participate in this abundance. No one is going to look out for your interests or care about your future more than you do. Find something you love to do that is creative or highly technical and then invest lots of time learning to be the best in the field. Prioritize learning over short term financial gain and find ways to create leverage and compounding value over time. Use criteria and a structured decision-making process for important career decisions to ensure you are on the path to financial freedom. Build specific knowledge in highly technical or creative work and you will not be replaced by a robot.


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