Why We Need a Conversation Before Fearing Jobs Being Lost to Automation and Robots

Before we can address the question of what jobs will be created for humans as automation takes over current roles, we need to focus on a question that most people are not asking. We have so many people talking about the future of work and yet, work has evolved so much over the last few decades that we no longer have an understanding of what work is. Is it having a job? Is it getting a paycheque? Is it contributing to society? What work will look like is an important question we need to ask before we focus on skills and jobs. What kind of world do we want to live in, anyway?

What if purpose mattered?

In the current western world, we like to segment everything into neat little boxes, and in that process, meaning is lost. While businesses come out of peoples’ passions to create something in the world that others would find valuable, we’ve turned people into consumers that need to be sold and marketed.

From an organizational perspective, too often we lead with structure instead of purpose. For example, most organizations claim to hire the best and the brightest, and yet most of their efforts focus on transactions like recruiting and onboarding instead of shepherding people throughout their time with the organization by providing them with ongoing information sharing and the ability to feel like they are valued every day.

What if we asked new questions and created conversations?

In this business journey, we have lost our way. The first question we need to focus on is how work fits into our changing lives. Work is not separate from life, nor is it more important, although many people define themselves by what they do (i.e. their title and organization affiliation). At a recent talk, I was asked how we could help people on the verge of retiring who feel that they will no longer be able to share with people who they are. The answer is simple: This is an opportunity for us to take our voice back and see life as an adventure, of which work is only a small part. What if we created sessions where people can talk openly about who they are in the world and why they are here that focuses on making a life instead of making a living?

What if fear of automation and technology is not new?

The automation of the auto industry brought job losses. But some of these are “jobs” that are better off without human involvement, like elevator operators or factory work. They illustrate the need for us to ask ourselves new questions, like whether it would be more valuable to society and our world if we had more people feeling like the work they do is valuable and makes an impact.

One of the biggest changes we face today is the need to let go of fear and focus on what we can create. When we create people-centric organizations, we start designing work differently. We stop putting band-aid solutions on antiquated systems that are cracking. We can either buy into our fear and rush into creating tips and tricks for people to “save” their ability to “work” or we can create forums where we have open conversations on what our world, society and lives look like and, as a result, what role work has in our healthy lives. These conversations are popping up now on the edges and not in the mainstream, where fear unfortunately continues to guide the conversation.

What if there is only H:H (Human to Human) instead of B:C (Business to Consumer)?

When we create thriving 21st century organizations that are people-centric, we will not worry about jobs. We will remember the purpose of our organizations: to create projects and initiatives to deliver them, and to bring in people to co-create with and thrive.

The skill that is needed here is a “what do we want to create on the planet?” mindset. We need intuition, imagination and creativity. We need people to understand that we are in the human-to-human experience and purpose-driven era, where business is a force  of good that does not threaten humanity or our planet with constant loss and fear.

This cannot happen in a world where furniture is an asset on a financial spreadsheet and people are deemed a liability.

What is the bigger focus?

The bigger question to ask is, when do we start valuing people more than shareholder value that requires constant layoffs and shuffling the deck chairs so the ship won’t sink?

In the words of Bryan Welch, CEO of B the Change Media from my upcoming book,

“We are on the verge of a revolution in business. Consumers are becoming more aware every day of the availability of information and their own power to understand the value systems that govern businesses and to demand that the businesses they patronize share their values. What’s about to happen is that people are going to start exercising that power. Businesses are going to need to do good in the world to earn the patronage of their customers. As this occurs, business will become the most powerful force for good that human society has ever seen.”

We’re facing both a choice and a huge opportunity for the future of humanity and our world. Are you ready for creating people-centered organizations where robots, technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are not part of the equation?

A version of this was first posted on

Photo Credit: @yojosemere Flickr via Compfight cc