Disruptive Technologies

Disruptive Technologies
Disruptive Technologies

Disruptive technologies will shape the future

If you’ve read our post on What Comes Next, you already know we are in an era of extraordinary social, technological, and economic changes.  In fact, the fabric of our society is undergoing an incredible transformation, one that humankind hasn’t witnessed in recorded history.

If you’re not familiar with the term “disruptive technology”, you need to read about it.  The term was coined in the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in 1997.  .  By his definitions, sustaining technologies are those in common use that are being improved and refined more or less continually, for example typewriters before the introduction of word processors.  Disruptive technologies are those that are initially not widely applied, but end up supplanting sustaining technologies with exponential improvements in performance and production.  An example would be computer and word processing technology that replaced typewriters.

As the Technological Age comes into its own, we can expect to see a tsunami of disruptive technologies surge into the culture and the economy.  Examples of currently recognized disruptive technologies include genome mapping, mobile internet, 3D printing, and advanced robotics.  And we mustn’t forget self-driving vehicles, which seem to be bearing down on us at breakneck speed.  The total economic impact of just these 14 technologies could be more than $14 trillion per year by 2025.

For perspective, the steam power was a disruptive technology.  Whole industries grew up around it, both to manufacture and maintain steam engines.  Skilled steam mechanics were in demand.  When the internal combustion engine burst onto the scene, the manufacturing facilities that produced steam engines became obsolete very quickly, and the mechanics that were in demand when steam was the primary power source suddenly found that their skills weren’t useful in maintaining and repairing the new motors.  A radical economic shift ensued.

Because today’s economies are so much larger and far more interconnected and interdependent, disruptive technologies have much bigger impacts.  More workers are either displaced, replaced, or retrained, and whole economic sectors can be left in tatters.  Remember travel agents?  Computer and internet technologies devastated that economic sector in the space of about 5 years.

Preparing for technological change

Over the next 10 years, disruptive technologies will be responsible for more job losses in America than an economic depression.   Economists estimate that 20 million of todays jobs will no longer exist in 2025.  That’s just 9 years from now.

It is inevitable that each of us will be affected by this onrushing techno flood.  Some of the changes will include medical breakthroughs that extend and improve the quality of life for many of us.  Some will allow us to have more freedom than ever to pursue new opportunities and more free time to enjoy our favorite pursuits.  Unfortunately, some of these technologies will result in remarkable economic displacement as employers and employees are unprepared for lightening fast and seismic changes in demand for products and services.

Now is the time to take a serious look at your job or career.  Does it have longevity given what you know about technological advances?  This is not necessarily an easy question to answer, unless you are a commercial driver.  If that’s the case, you may have between 5 and 10 years before your job is either eliminated or your services are in much lower demand.

Nearly every job that requires repetitive action, even action that requires great dexterity and skill, is at risk from automated replacements in the next few years.  A friend that works in management for a large retail department store has frequently lamented the difficulty their bakery departments have in finding and keeping good employees, particularly cake decorators.  The corporation may now be months away from replacing several existing positions with robotic equipment that will increase their production with far fewer employees at less cost.  The problem for the company is deciding when purchase the new equipment since the technology is improving so quickly that the quality, efficiency, and cost could be much more attractive even within the next few months.

Before you lament the jobs that will be lost from technological improvements, you should also consider what will be gained:  New jobs will be created, although obviously far fewer than those that are lost.  The costs of manufacturing will be far less, which had darn well better translate to lower product costs.  And automated, precision manufacturing should improve the quality of just about any product you can imagine.

Even though predicting exactly how and when disruptive and improved sustainable technologies will impact your job or your career, or your viability as a job candidate in the future is extraordinarily difficult, there are some practical steps you can take now that will help you to make the transition from todays economic reality to the onrushing future.

  1.  Leverage your earning potential to it’s highest level as soon as possible.  The means if you’re not working for the highest paying firm in the highest paying position for which you’re qualified, you should start taking steps in that direction now.  In 2016 and beyond, there is no such thing as a bond of loyalty between employers and employees.  CEOs, corporate boards, shareholders, and business owners act in their own financial best interest, which is only rational.  You must do the same.   If that means negotiating for a wage, or finding an employer that will pay you more, do it.
  2. Make yourself the most valuable employee that you can be.  If that doesn’t appeal to you because you know that means longer hours and harder work, then you’re probably in the wrong job anyway.  If you have plenty of savings, and you’re confident you can survive a lengthy period without the income from your job, then feel free to ignore this advice. Otherwise, be the employee you’d like to hire if and when you own your own business.
  3. Cut your expenses and save every penny that you can.   It may mean foregoing gratification now, but technology is improving so quickly that the things you’ll be able to buy in five years will likely be cheaper and far more capable than the ones you can buy now.  Mainly, though, as optimistic as I am about the future, there is no question that there are going to be some painful weeks, months, or years of transition.   Change means uncertainty, and markets don’t respond well to uncertainty.
  4. Stay abreast of changes that may affect your job, industry, or field of expertise.  If your position could be automated, learn all you can about the companies that build the robots or systems that may replace you.  You might be better off working for them.  Familiarize yourself with Google Alerts, and set up an alert for new technological and other developments that may affect your job.  Share them with management, because information is still a valuable currency.
  5. Take advantage of massive open online courses, or MOOCs.  These include sites like Udemy which allow you to take classes in pretty much any subject you can imagine.  You need to use a little discernment when selecting the courses, but you can dramatically expand your knowledge and skill base with MOOCs, and the cost is far less than university or even community college course work.  And many of the MOOC courses offer more relevant and marketable skills than traditional colleges which are often juggernauts that aren’t agile enough to respond to changing technologies within a useful timeframe.
  6. Find a source of side income.  Check the link for some ideas to get you started.  There has never been an easier time to do this, since you can offer your services on sites like fiverr.com, freelance.com, glance.com, craigslist, and many more.   This maybe the most important of the steps you can take to secure your income, and may be exactly the transition to freedom that you’ve been looking for.  For ideas and instruction on developing side income streams, read more here.