I'm scared of heights, as my children will attest to. The cable car to Montjuïc in Barcelona, and climbing the narrow spiral staircase to the top of El Miguelete in Valencia, are two occasions I'm reminded about constantly (well, to be accurate I only made it about half-way up El Miguelete). Yet, this fear of heights does not come close to the fear I felt as I was reading '21 Lessons for the 21st Century' by Yuval Noah Harari.

You may well know Yuval Noah Harari as the author of the bestsellers 'Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind' and 'Homo Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow', and his latest book looks at the most urgent challenges of today. As the book cover says Yuval Noah Harari takes us on a thrilling journey through today's most urgent issues. The golden thread running through his exhilarating new book is the challenge of maintaining our collective and individual focus in the face of constant and disorientating change. This is scary enough – maintaining focus in the face of constant and disorientating change – yet this is still not close to the fear I experienced as I read Part I: The Technological Challenge.

In Part I, Yuval Noah Harris talks about how biggest challenges humankind has ever encountered is not due to the rise of technology, rather the merger of biotechnology and information technology. As the author says Humans have two types of abilities – physical and cognitive. In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in raw physical abilities, while humans retained an immense edge over machines in cognition. This is changing - this merger may well result in machines outperforming humans.

The fear I felt (and still feel) is when Yuval Noah Harris chillingly wrote: …most people will not suffer from exploitation, but from something much worse – irrelevance.

And just to be the 'harbinger of doom', with the technological revolution we can expect new jobs that haven't yet been invented to appear. Add into the debate that the confluence of, for example, Artificial Intelligence with advances in neuroscience and behavioural economics may mean humans can't compete with machines, and irrelevance may be a possibility.

This is, of course, depends on your mindset. Is your cup 'half-full' or 'half-empty'? Is your reaction nothing more than millennia of biological evolution with the 'fight-or-flight' response kicking-in? If you are a 'half-empty/flight' kind of person you may see irrelevance as a significant threat to survival. If you are a 'half-full/fight' kind of person, irrelevance offers an opportunity to learn, develop, and reskill. I'm a 'half-full/fight' kind of person – my fear of irrelevance is the stimulus, not my reaction. My reaction is to keep moving forwards.

I recently read about the corporate lattice – rather than the corporate ladder. And I like this term. Rather than a series of linear career paths, lattice organizations offer more flexible options for growing and a multitude of opportunities to develop. Could this approach be an answer to stave-off irrelevance?

I was talking to an organisation recently and we coined a phrase 'philosophy of opportunity'. Organisations need to provide opportunities for their staff to learn, develop, and reskill – and to provide sustainable opportunities necessitates more of a 'lattice' approach than a ladder.

I'm writing this a few days before Christmas 2018 (a 'time-capsule' moment) and this reminds me of the classic festive story 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens. We have the 'ghost of technologies past', the 'ghost of technologies present' and the 'ghost of technologies yet to come'. Looking at the 'ghost of technologies past' (and not having to look that far back for now obsolete technology) did your organisation have a philosophy of opportunity to promote reskilling into different (lattice) areas as things changed? Where are you now? Are you able to see the 'ghost of technologies present' and reskill as needed to meet immediate workforce needs? As for 'ghost of technologies yet to come', organisations have the ability to address potential irrelevance head-on by ensuring they are not linear in their career mindset.

Putting in place the infrastructure to support a lattice approach is key. I'm not just talking about moving between roles/levels – rather ensuring development is linked to advancement (if desirable), reward, motivation, workforce planning needs – in essence, taking a more holistic view of careers. At QA, we take such a holistic view when working with organisations to help them build their career paths. We call it Human Capital – and we work with organisations to ensure learning is linked to building the future workforce to meet strategic goals.

We have been faced with the prospect of irrelevance before - the Industrial Revolution no doubt fuelled fears of us all becoming irrelevant, and this didn't happen. Likewise, I'm sure the merger of information technology and biotechnology won't make us irrelevant either.

Going back to my time-capsule moment, I may well look back in 2050 and see if we – humankind - are irrelevant. I'll be retired (assuming retirement is still an option in 2050) and my children will be my age, so irrelevance will not impact this current generation – yet it is incumbent on us all to ensure we future proof organisations for the next generations. Not doing this is my biggest fear.

If you would like help working out what learning needs best suit your organisational goals, please get in contact: QAL.consultancy@qa.com

 

About QA Group

QA helps individuals and organisations achieve their potential through world-class Learning Strategy and Solutions. This includes: training and certification, innovative Talent Solutions that solve both business critical skills and capability gaps, Business Transformation solutions, enabling change and transformation through engagement and education of workforces, and Managed Learning Services. In addition, QA provides consultancy, apprenticeships and post graduate degrees on a range of technical, business and leadership subjects. With over 22 UK training centres – including Apprenticeships, Consulting and Cyber Academies – and a range of online learning options, QA offers an unparalleled set of learning solutions to both private and public sector organisations.

About the author

Ian is a highly experienced consultant, author, educator and speaker with over 20 years’ experience in project management, organisational change and learning. He leads a team of consultants who work with organisations to develop capability, so they are ready for the future of work.

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