Robot-Proof Your Career: How To Thrive At Your Job In An Era Ruled By Robots

The era of specialization is over. The future world of work will require the same type of skills that made the Renaissance Men of old so successful.

According to a report recently published by the McKinsey Consulting Group, about half of all the activities done at work could potentially be automated with current levels of technology. And the trend is accelerating.

Robots are becoming more mainstream, machine learning is creating more and more powerful algorithms, and cars are starting to drive themselves. It will still take some time before these technologies mature, but the trend has been set.

This means that you will have to adapt.

The jobs that are at risk are not just lowly menial jobs, but also more high-level jobs like lawyers, bankers, or even journalists.

There are bots that are scanning documents and drafting contracts, algorithms that trade stocks, and even articles in newspapers generated by computer programs.

People don’t really agree on what this trend will mean for the world of work. Some are predicting massive unemployment due to technology, while others are saying that the jobs will just be shifted into other types of jobs and new ways of working will be required to get ahead.

However one thing stays constant. Since the world of work will change, you will need to adapt to it. What do you need to do in order to thrive in this brave new world?

The answer is quite simple. You just have to look back in history in order to get it.

Different skills will be needed to tackle the challenges arising from a world where artificial intelligence and robots will take over many of the things that are done by humans today. The skills and attributes that humans need for this type of world are exactly the same ones that the Renaissance Men of ancient times had.

The expert-generalist is making a comeback. There will still be a place for specialists (and some of them will be quite key), however many specialist jobs will disappear to be replaced by automation. Machines are much better at crunching big data, and doing it fast. They are also much better at routine, repetitive tasks.

People holding these types of jobs will need to look elsewhere.

What do you need to do?

In order to analyze what you need to do, let’s try to use your higher level thinking skills and one technique (going back to first principles) that you have in your mental toolset.

Going back to first principles implies starting from basic assumptions and then reasoning up from there.

One basic assumption that is made about the world of the future is that change will be rapid, new trends and ways of doing things will come and go. What does this imply?

It will no longer suffice to learn one thing and then rely on it for the rest of your life. In order to thrive in this type of world, you will need to be adaptable and constantly be learning new things.

Technology will change and that one skill could become obsolete. This will require you to be constantly educating yourself and updating your skills and knowledge.

Another basic assumption being made is that the menial, repetitive work will be automated. Many of the specialist positions will disappear. What does this imply?

This means that the type of skills that you should have are ones that add value and are inter-disciplinary.

What will rise in importance is adaptability, higher level thinking skills, making connections between disparate fields, and human skills. Systems thinkers will thrive in this type of environment.
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Return Of The Renaissance Man: The Future Belongs To Expert Generalists

He’s back!

No, I am not talking about the Terminator, although with the recent advances in AI and robotics, he could be here as well. I am talking about the almost forgotten, and nowdays often maligned, jack of all trades, the polymath, the Renaissance Man.

Now he is referred to as an expert-generalist. Just like the 20th century belonged to the specialist, the 21st century seems to belong to the person who can pull on different strands of knowledge from a wide variety of disciplines.

Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Charlie Munger, all of these guys have one thing in common: their strength comes not in being good at one thing, but in knowing a lot of different things. They are the expert-generalists, the modern Renaissance Men who have gone on to become the icons of our modern age.

The advantage of expert-generalists is that they can bring in new perspectives from a variety of fields, unhindered by the often narrow viewpoint of a specialist.

A specialist can get bogged down in the little nitty-gritty details of their field, forgetting to see the whole picture. A great danger, one that they often fall for, is functional fixedness.

This is because they were taught to do something in a certain way and over the years they have become great at doing things that way. On the negative side this can put blinders on them and result in tunnel vision.

They are great at innovating within their paradigm, but this can also make them a bit stiff when it comes to paradigm change. All kinds of little cognitive biases can prevent them from seeing the forest for the trees.

If you look at the great innovators of our age, most of them were able to combine the knowledge of different fields and come up with something new. They have the ability to not only think in analogies, but also to be great first principles thinkers.

Henry Ford was able to go back to first principles and change the way that cars were manufactured by applying an analogy of conveyor belts from a different discipline.

Tomas Bata was able to revolutionize the way shoes were made and make his company one of the first true global companies, not only because he had a good understanding of making shoes, but also because he had a deep knowledge of other things, such as the psychology of people.

If you go back to Charlie Munger and his investment strategy, you will see that the secret of his success is the fact that he has a wide variety of mental models from different fields that he can call upon when needed.

The idea of an expert-generalist is as old as humanity, but the term itself was coined by Orit Ganiesh, who is the CEO of Bain Consulting. Her definition of it is:

Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries, and topics. He or she can then, without necessarily even realizing it, but often by design: Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas. Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.

The role of an expert-generalist is not in the trenches, doing the routine work, but instead high on top, doing the strategic thinking and making crucial decisions. This is where their expertise is needed.

Now that I have convinced you of the value of expert-generalists, one question arises: What you need to do to become one?

Well, that’s the whole point of this blog, to give you the tools that you need in order to become an expert-generalist and be able to smash through any obstacle in your way.
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How To Quadruple Your Salary And Get The Job You Want

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I remember sitting in my chair at work one day, looking around and noticing all the sour faces sitting at their desks. It was an open office type of set-up which has become very trendy for big multinational conglomerates, but also increasingly started appearing in the smaller firms as well. Everyone was sitting, staring at their screens, clicking away.

I thought to myself: I don’t want to do this. I didn’t want to work at this type of job for the rest of my life. Freshly out of university, I ended up getting hired to do what was essentially a dead-end job.

Most of the talk at the office revolved around people looking for other jobs or getting a mortgage in order to buy a house. People were tired of doing things that even a trained monkey could probably do. They didn’t like taking home paychecks that ended up barely covering the necessities. They had studied long and hard in college and suddenly once they entered the real world, it didn’t turn out the way they expected.

When you are young, you have these big dreams about the world and your place in it. You dream about making a difference, doing something you love and making a lot of money. However once school ends and it’s time to get a real job, reality hits. The world isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

Most people adjust to this reality, ending up just going through the motions. The reason for them conforming is usually internal. They cannot overcome the mental barriers that they have, whether it is a lack of vision, not having the right priorities, being afraid of risks, or just plain laziness.

For me, it was different. That day I decided that I am not going to get stuck in this endless cycle leading nowhere. I resolved to do everything necessary in order to pull myself out. I had bigger plans for myself and they did not involve resigning to my fate. If I was going to go down, I was going to go down fighting.

In order to chart out a course of action, you need to sit down and analyze the situation first. You need to know where you are and where you want to be and then do a gap analysis. It’s OK, if you don’t know precisely where you want to be, but it is important to plan a course of action that leads somewhere. Pick a direction and go for it. You can always change mid-course.

I took a cold, hard look at what was going to bring me to my preferred destination. Doing the actual work that was supposed to be my main task was not going to do it. It was essentially doing what we jokingly referred to as “copy+paste”. People who would blindly just execute the tasks were going to get stuck doing the same thing 30 years later. In order to rise up, you need to do things differently.

In any start-up, you have essentially 3 main roles:

the visionary
the project manager
the coder

The visionary comes out with the ideas and plans out what is going to get done. The project manager follows the work daily and oversees the tasks and makes sure that the plan gets done. The coder is the guy who does the actual work.

This type of framework does not apply only to start-ups, but also in other jobs, including in the corporate world. You usually have the guys who set the direction and strategy, the ones who come up with the ideas, then you have the guys who oversee that these ideas are carried out and then you have the guys doing the actual day to day work.

I wanted to be the visionary.

There was only one problem. How was I going to go from being a lowly clicking monkey in a dead-end job to a person who makes the decisions and has others execute them? And how was I going to do it fast?

I was starting from the bottom. I had graduated with a degree in economics and after a long period of searching for a job, I ended up getting hired for a big multinational in order to work in sales support and finance. The work consisted essentially of updating databases, getting data from databases and creating reports in excel, and when I changed positions, applying some formulas to come up with prices that salesmen could then use to bid for certain contracts.

It was very boring. My brain hurt every time I did it, but not from being challenged at work, but instead because of the incredible dullness of the work I was doing.

However I noticed that people were stuck in their own little routines while doing the work, but that they were not efficient. Things could be done differently.
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