Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Welcome to the 21st Century: You're Fired

Ten years ago I wrote a blog post entitled Selling Technology vs. Selling Business Consulting.

In that blog post I presented one of my favorite examples of surviving in a changing business environment: Fisher Body Works. Fisher built bodies for horse drawn carriages. And rather than go out of business when the world changed, they decided to retool and build bodies for automobiles. They dominated that field, building auto bodies for several brands, including both Ford and General motors. They were eventually bought by GM - but survived 75 years after their competition because they were in the transportation business and not the horse drawn carriage business.

In my SMB Roadshow presentations, I talk about how fast the world is changing. I believe very strongly that the pace of change will only increase. And, as a result, large groups of people will lose their jobs to technology. Let me be very honest: I'm okay with that.

There are already too many jobs that simply shouldn't exist except for the fact that people refuse to let them go. The number of obsolete jobs is going to skyrocket in the next five years and explode in the five years after that.

Several people in my seminars have mentioned the web site Will Robots Take My Job? You might argue about the accuracy of specific numbers or industries, but the fact that this web site exists demonstrates a real shift in economics.

The most obvious industry that will disappear is related to automated vehicles. I argue that the entire trucking industry will disappear within ten years. That's not just truck drivers who will be replaced by driver-less cars. Truck stops won't be needed when truck drivers aren't human. No need for showers, truck stop hotel rooms, restaurants, or shops that sell cups, shirts, and truck-related chachkis. Gone. An entire industry and its infrastructure gone.

According to that site, there are 1.7 million "heavy tractor trailer" truck drivers. But there are many more millions who work in related industries.

Everyone deserves a job, but no one has a right to the job they have. Everyone needs employment, but no one is guaranteed that their industry will continue to exist.

Whether we like it or not, training for the future has to be a regular, ongoing piece of what we do - from now until we die. Change won't stop. You can fight it and resist it as much as you want. But you can't stop it.

Even in the last 25 years there have been plenty of "jobs" that ceased to exist. Where did TV repair shops go? There are a few left. But there used to be thousands of them. Same with video stores. Same thing happened to elevator operators, telephone operators, and travel agents. Yes there are some left. But not many!

If you've been watching the news, you may have noticed that fighter pilots who actually climb into airplanes are being replaced by drone pilots half a world away from the target. And at the local level, big box stores and the local grocery are replacing cashiers with self-service.

People get on their high horse about this stuff and will lecture me about how horrible it is. But they shop at Home Depot and overwhelmingly don't stand in line for the one human cashier. We want convenience and value. That doesn't always mean a low price.

I buy my shoes and t-shirts online because I know exactly what I want and I don't have to stand in line, drive to the mall, or spend my time. There's no experiencial trade-off for me. I don't enjoy standing in line, driving to the mall, or spending my time buying shoes. I'd rather click a button online.

The answer to future employment cannot be to stop technology. That has never worked. John D. Rockefeller fought for years to prevent electricity from being widely available at a reasonable price. Why? He was a forward looking guy, right? Well, he had a huge stake (the largest stake) in oil and kerosene. If electricity won the day, kerosene sales would plummet. 

But electricity prevailed because it was inevitable.

The cloud is inevitable.

Robots are inevitable.

Automation is inevitable.

There was a time when intelligent people debated whether we should write down our thoughts in order to preserve them. Did the written word actually make people less wise? As Plato says, "You give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality."
(See http://www.units.miamioh.edu/technologyandhumanities/plato.htm)

There you have it. One of the most basic technologies - writing - opposed by Plato in 370 B.C.

People have opposed one technology after another. Rarely have they turned back the clock, or even slowed the advancement a little.

The path forward is knowledge. We all have to be life-long learners. And many of us will find that we need to create jobs that are unique to us. 

The super good news is that ALL technology will be re-created and refreshed in the next five years (and every five years after that). That's good because it means you can learn it. Someone will be the "the best" at every technology. And the never-ending parade of new technology means that anyone who chooses can learn a new thing and become one of the best within just a few years.

Interestingly enough, the biggest deterrent to massive change is corporate America. Large corporations are very comfortable being one or two generations behind. We make fun of the military for using old computers. But virtually all of the largest companies in America are using old technology because they've already invested in it.

So some jobs will be around awhile. But if you're not in one of those jobs, now is a great time to think about what you want to do in the next five years. And start training!



  1. Great post, Karl. If these truths were more universally accepted, we wouldn't be redirecting energy, effort and funds from trying to save dying industries to preparing their workforces for the next evolution of jobs that will accelerate progress.

  2. I think I hear an echo - http://blog.ciaops.com/2015/09/skill-up-or-fade-away-it-that-simple.html

  3. The Dan Pink video in this post as well as his book are very informative if you haven't read them. http://blog.ciaops.com/2016/11/major-trends.html

  4. Great post! I am a big Train fan and I find myself referring to the transition the Railroads made from Steam to Diesel (here is a good article: http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2013/05/11/history/post-perspective/locomotive-diesel-engine.html) to describe how many jobs are lost when an entire industry changes like is happening now with several industies. Sure it won't happen overnight, however, it will happen and soon a generation will only look back on it as history till the next great advancement.

  5. You are 100% correct. Regarding corporations tech-lag, there also reasons we still have servers running w2k. In our hospital system we support 9 separate hospitals with disparate systems. Global we are working to merge them I to one homogenized system everywhere. That takes a lot of time due to budgets, manpower, vendors, and Drs who insist we preserve the buggy whip. With over 15,000 PCs and 2000 WinTel servers, we have no hope of staying current and stable. We have chosen stable. My current laptop is still w7 because they have not vetted all compatability issues for applications beyond that. We are still building 2012 servers. It's not that we don't want as much as we can't push as hard as IT wants to go because in the end, the users pay the bills. One department was tagged with a bill for over $300,000 on top of what their application vendor charged to upgrade their servers to get off w2k3. Our IT a decade behind the rest of the world, but we know that soon we will have to move to Windows 10.

  6. Happily, Robin, you are in a growth industry and probably will be forever. But even with that, the growth will shift over the next decade or so. More and more systems will move to hosted servers. At that point, they can be managed from anywhere. Many of your servers are already VMs, right?

    Don't take up coal mining or driving a truck.

  7. I linked this post at SubChat (www.SubChat.com), where a couple of disgruntled subway workers were complaining that subway trains really need a two-person crew. They made snide remarks about a bright guy who disagreed with them (not me). If they were truck drivers, instead of looking for the next opportunity, they'd be saying that self-driving trucks will never work.

  8. Thanks, Andrew. Denial is maybe the first step in the process.


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