Human Potential

Fourth Industrial Revolution: Calling For A 'Growth Mindset' Over A 'Task Mindset'

The World Economic Forum predicts five million jobs will be automated by 2020 (The Future of Jobs, Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2016). Furthermore, research by Frey and Osborne (2013) predicts, 47 percent of the total jobs in the US are in the high-risk category and could be automated or computerized within the next 20 years. Some of the facts, figures, predictions, as well as Hollywood productions (Westworld, Transcendence, Interstellar), have many of us fearful of the impact of artificial intelligence on the future. However, never underestimate the power of human potential.

The debate about technology impacting work is one that goes back hundreds of years. In 1776, Adam Smith wrote 'The Wealth of Nations' in which he described the division of labor - a separation of different tasks for different people in order to improve efficiency (1776). During the (first) Industrial Revolution (1760-1820), jobs were being 'automated'. Productivity increased with the invention of the steam engine and by allocating specialized tasks to workers. Now, one can only imagine the fear in the 1800s of "what will happen to me with this new technical advancement?" But indeed, society survived and even thrived. In the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914), the railroad, telegraph and machine tools were invented. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes noted, "The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labor absorption" (Keynes, 1933). Keynes predicted "widespread technological unemployment due to our discovery of means of economizing the use of labor outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labor".

And yet, here we are approaching the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Scholars (Levy & Murname) pose four questions for this new age:

  • What kinds of tasks do humans perform better than computers?
  • What kinds of tasks do computers perform better than humans?
  • In an increasingly computerized world, what well-paid work is left for people to do both now and in the future?
  • How can people learn the skills to do this work?

Key skills, the World Economic Forum has identified will be in demand in 2020 are: complex problem solving, critical thinking, cognitive flexibility, mathematical reasoning, and active learning. And I would add, beyond skillsets the need to bring about a shift in the mindset, encourage a 'growth mindset' over a 'task mindset', and increase an individual's agility to learn. But how? How do we all become learners? One of the ways is to actively experiment, make, and create. The mindset and behavior of design thinkers are geared to focus on human values, have a bias towards action, embrace experimentation, to show and not merely tell, craft for clarity, be mindful of the process, and be radically collaborative.

With the understanding of the trends on the future of work and impact of AI, and an invitation to make with robots at the World Economic Forum - Annual New Champions Meeting in Dalian, China, I set out with a Hummingbird kit to build a robot with the help of my 10 year old niece. The Hummingbird Kit by Carnegie Mellon that I will use to coach executives in China is 'child's play'. Although children often learn by experimentation, we adults like to have a plan. (Spaghetti and Marshmellow challenge anyone?) But it's through experimentation, in a safe place, that we can actually learn. When we first opened our Hummingbird kit, the directions were not included, and so we installed every sensor, server, LED light and turned them all on to figure out how it worked. We googled 'hummingbird robots' to gain inspiration on what others had developed, and then together set out to develop a robot designed for and by a 10 year old girl, with the help and awe of a leader in tech.

Change is always a bit scary - imagine seeing the first steam engine. The invention of the switchboard, electronic typewriter, spellcheck, home computer, etc. You may have been one of the individuals that crossed the technology chasm as an early adopter, or you may have waited and watched the on others and then joined in. Innovation and invention happen because of people, our unique creative abilities to grasp change, and improve upon it. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, may we all reach our own next level of potential - let the robots do some of the routine work and let us be creative and have a bit more fun. #YayRobots.