The bored and redundant: Life hacks by Charles Assisi

Hindustan Times | ByCharles Assisi
Nov 02, 2019 06:08 PM IST

As technology redefines our jobs, we can either choose to be bored into redundancy or adapt to suit the jobs our future holds

History is easy to understand because it is a series of events that can be examined and explained. Attempting to imagine the future is difficult because multiple possibilities exist. How far out into the future must we plan our careers then?

When we do the same job for decades, we get bored of it. But we often can’t change jobs at this stage if we lack additional skills.
When we do the same job for decades, we get bored of it. But we often can’t change jobs at this stage if we lack additional skills.

Eighteen months, on the outside, argues Peter Drucker, the legendary management teacher, consultant and author, in his seminal essay, ‘Managing oneself’. While it may sound incredible, I have come to believe that he is right.

Most of my friends and acquaintances have now invested 20 or 25 years at work in the same domain, and sound unhappy. Asked what’s next, clichéd answers emerge such as, ‘Open a boutique café in a quiet town’. Whatever is the matter? When did imagination die? Drucker offers pointers.

Most people in the generation that preceded us engaged in ‘hard’ (or physical) work. After having done that for 40-odd years, most are now content doing nothing.

But knowledge workers (people like us) have replaced them across most domains. Twenty-odd years into a job, one of two things happen.

a. By now, we know our jobs inside out. We are actually bored by them. To feel alive, we must do something else. But we don’t know we are bored and imagine we are going through a mid-life crisis.

b. The industry we are at work in has transformed. But we haven’t. We are redundant. But incapable of doing anything else because we haven’t ever learnt to.

In both scenarios, people like us don’t know how to deploy the remaining years of our lives. Then, there is the nature of life itself. Knowledge workers who got into the workforce have only seen the upside. But as Drucker succinctly points out, “No one can expect to live very long without experiencing a serious setback in his or her life or work… There are tragedies in one’s family life: the breakup of one’s marriage or the loss of a child… In a knowledge society, however, we expect everyone to be a success. This is clearly an impossibility. For a great many people, there is at best an absence of failure. Wherever there is success, there has to be failure.”

A report by the McKinsey Global Institute has it that by 2030 we will be at the point where, at least in theory, half of the jobs we are now paid to do can be “automated using currently demonstrated technologies”.

A caveat must be filed, though. Technology can take time to evolve and often meets with headwinds. That is why, after factoring in for some caution, the authors of the report sound confident that in at least 60% of the occupations they surveyed, one-third of the tasks humans currently manage will be capable of being automated. Simply put, 10 years from now, our workplaces will be very different.

But the boredom I pointed to earlier is already evident because the precursors to change have started to make themselves felt. Conversations with friends who work in logistics, transportation, finance, hospitality, and industries where physical labour is intense have the same narratives to share. Between artificial intelligence and automation, it is only a matter of time before they are either downgraded or made redundant. What they feel now is exasperation because they worked for over two decades to get to where they are now.

But it is incumbent upon us to proactively manage adversity. If that includes shedding all narratives about our success, prepping for new careers, and beginning all over again, so be it.

A World Economic Forum report is an eye-opener on the kinds of jobs the future needs. These include organ part creators (those who can combine 3D printing skills with stem cell research to grow organs on demand), landfill work operators (robotic earthworms operated by humans) and mind transfer specialists (people who transfer what is in the brain to a computer), among others.

These sound incredibly exciting. But to get on top of it, work must begin now. It takes at least 20 to 25 years to craft a new future — roughly the same time it took most exasperated professionals to get on top of their current game.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

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