Beyond The “You Will Never Be Able to Fully Replace” Mindset

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A caution to the business brain of the future:

If you ever read an article and the incumbent industry leaders react to a new technology with a line akin to, “you’ll never be able to fully replace that,” be careful.
This is especially true when we allude to the idea that technology can never replace how a human is currently doing any/most kinds of work.
We are in a new era of creativity, work and the commercialization of very complex technologies (that have exponential growth attached to them).

Take a beat before nodding along in agreement.

Brain task: Open a notebook (or a blank document) and (in bullet-point form) start listing off answers to this question:

What would need to be true for it to work?

It is a great question that Michael Bungay Stanier often encourages me to reflect on.
It forces you to remove yourself from your current thinking, and absolves you of all inherent biases that you are clinging on to.
When you can’t think of any more reasons, open up a tool like ChatGPT and ask it to reflect on the question.

We are seeing this problem everywhere.

“You will never be able to replace a human voice with an AI-generated one.”
“You will never be able to replace in-person meetings with virtual ones.”
“You will never be able to replace fiat currency with cryptocurrency.”
“You will never be able to replace [insert any form of art] created by a human with a computer.”

Think about how many of these past ideologies were proven wrong…

“You will never be able to use an app to find someone to love.”
“You will never be able to get someone to put their credit card information into a website.”
“You will never be able to sell physical goods on a website.”
“You will never need a computer that you can walk around with.”
“You will never be able to replace newspapers and magazines with a website.”
“You will never get people to buy virtual clothes (or any kind of virtual good) for an avatar.”

The list is long and goes much further back in time (look into the history of the printing press, libraries… and keep going further back).

We’re seeing new innovations come out all the time that people never could have imagined, with AI currently being the tip of the iceberg (and concern).

And, we should be concerned.

When we have this many technologies being developed at an exponential pace (think digital commerce, blockchain, cloud, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, etc.), it calls for a different kind of work (and, how we think as workers).

Take a look at this data point:

“One in 16 workers may have to switch occupations by 2030. That’s more than 100 million workers across the eight economies studied.”

This was highlighted in the McKinsey Global Institute‘s recent study: Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages.

For all of the potential disruption that this causes the workplace, always remember that we are also – at the exact same time – the consumers who push the adoption of these new technologies forward.

Another truth:

Some technologies are trends and fads, while some of them will change the very fabric of our society.

How can we tell the difference?
How do we know when there is something bigger happening here?

There is one simple metric that removes the early adopters, “look, a squirrel!” thinking to every shiny new object, while avoiding being the laggard, fighting to get back into a now-competitive landscape.

Think: Has this technology changed how consumers actually buy?

When this happens, the foundations are re-setting.
Worry less about how quickly things change, and focus more on if this tech has changed how people live – day to day – moment by moment.
Smartphones were ridiculous when they were introduced.
Now, it’s almost unheard of to not have a smartphone.
Now, it’s almost a detriment to your work if you do not have one.

Look for the essential.

If we dismiss everything with a snide, “you’ll never be able to fully replace that,” we may be face to face with the exact technology that will replace the work that we care about.
Who knows what kind of amazing innovations are waiting for us in the future?
I don’t.
You don’t.
We don’t.
So, instead of dismissing it… tinker with it.

If it changes you/how you think about work, just imagine what it might do for the rest of us?

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