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.
Because we are indeed moving from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age, Pink contends we must assess our employment opportunities accordingly. The very nature of technology is rendering certain human skills obsolete while creating demand for different skills. I love the example Pink offers from computer programming:
“Last century, machines proved they could replace human backs. This century, new technologies are proving they can replace human left brains. . . . A small British company called Appligenics has created software that can write software. Where a typical human being . . . can write about four hundred lines of computer code per day, Appligenics applications can do the same work in less than a second. The result: as the scut work gets off-loaded, engineers and programmers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence, more on tacit knowledge than technical manuals, and more on fashioning the big picture than sweating the details.” (pp. 44–45)
This example powerfully illustrates the ongoing need we have to reinvent ourselves at strategic moments in our careers. Just because I have certain skillsets that I started my working life with does not guarantee that those skillsets will sustain me productively for my entire working life. With the technological quantum leaps and the corresponding sweeping changes in industry, no one can ever afford to grow complacent.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what has made the last couple decades of economic and employment change so difficult for so many. The baby boomers along with some additional demographic segments have been so accustomed to an older economic and employment model, that complacency was almost the norm. These sweeping changes caught many by surprise, resulting in tremendous personal and professional devastation. The good news is we do not have to stay there. We must commit to moving forward productively and ethically. Thomas Friedman, in his seminal work, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), affirms it this way:
“The great challenge for our time will be to absorb these changes in ways that do not overwhelm people but also do not leave them behind. None of this will be easy. But this is our task. It is inevitable and unavoidable.” (pp. 46-47).
By becoming more proactive about how we approach our careers—and help others to approach their careers—we can see the labor force make great strides forward. Will it be easy? No. Will it do the best service to the labor force for the long run? Absolutely.