Daniel H. Pink wrote a fascinating book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005). I have found the work to be extremely relevant to so much of what is happening in our society today.
Pink references business globalization’s irreversibility as part of the larger canvas upon which he paints his picture of the future. Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age is happening partially because of business globalization’s irreversibility. Although some have denounced this development as purely an attack upon American jobs, Pink views it as a natural order of positive progression. It is not that America will just lose jobs, but more importantly that the nature of American jobs will evolve with the times and the technologies. Some jobs will disappear, but they will be replaced by other jobs more suited to newer technological opportunities:
“Much of the anxiety over this issue outstrips the reality. We are not all going to lose our jobs tomorrow. Outsourcing is overhyped in the short term. But it’s underhyped in the long term. As the cost of communicating with the other side of the globe falls essentially to zero, and as developing nations continue to mint millions of extremely capable knowledge workers, the working lives of North Americans, Europeans, and Japanese people will change dramatically. . . . Just as . . . factory workers had to master a new set of skills and learn how to bend pixels instead of steel, many of today’s knowledge workers will likewise have to command a new set of aptitudes. They’ll need to do what workers abroad cannot do equally well for much less money—using R-Directed abilities [right-brain thinking] such as forging relationships rather than executing transactions, tackling novel challenges instead of solving routine problems, and synthesizing the big picture rather than analyzing a single component.” (pp. 39–40)
Just as moving from the agricultural age to the industrial age meant that the nature of work changed for most people, so too, as we move from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, the nature of work must change. Moreover, it is the nature of this upcoming change that makes the future so exciting. That is one of Pink’s main points. The nature of work will demand more right-brain thinking. It will reward those who are able to manage the big picture to see business goals achieved.
Think about it this way: With few exceptions, if you could magically transport yourself into a workplace 500 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 30 years ago, or three years ago, would you not have a strong preference for the most modern timeframes? The reason is generally speaking, technology and communal knowledge all produce a more comfortable, enjoyable, and fulfilling workplace with greater opportunities for growth and development. (Again, I am taking the global view here. We can always find specific examples of horrific working conditions or situations in 2014.)
Ultimately, the key is for every professional to seize personal responsibility for his or her own skill acquisition. Other than me, I cannot force anyone to acquire new skills. That is a direction we each must engage. Some of us do better than others and some of us do worse, but that does not deny the point that it remains our own responsibility.
Changes in technology and the labor market are not always easy to navigate. Nevertheless, it can be done and thereby create a better future. We will adjust.