The Future of Work is Not Work

As the co-director of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and the parent of two teenage children thinking about the future of work is not only my day job but a personal preoccupation.

One phrase I keep coming back to, as I muse about what Cost Centers One and Two could and should do when their time comes to punch the clock, is the old fortune cookie homily, “if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”.

Variously attributed to Confucius and Marc Anthony (and quite a few others) this is, at first glance, nothing more than another mass produced missive from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious. Pass another Fried Spring Roll.  

But, if you stop and think about it for a moment, it really is quite a profound and important idea, particularly when you’re pondering what the future of any type of work is. Because what in essence it means is that the future of work is not work; if you love what you do you won’t feel like you’re working. We all want to love what we do ergo we all want to feel that we’re not working.

Before you start imagining I’ve got caught in some logician’s loop and am beginning to lose my ball bearings just pause to noodle on what the future of work not being work really means. As arbitrage and automation advance and begin to nip at the heels of the bourgeoisie (that’s you mate!) our salvation, we all concur, is our very humanity, and central to this, our creativity. Regular readers will be familiar with some of my recent thoughts on this narrative

If this is the case, and this recent paper from “the robots are coming” sentries Frey and Osborne at Oxford University adds heft to the argument, then loving what you do is absolutely central to your future. Doing things that you don’t love – i.e. work – is, over the course of the next 5, 10, 20, 50 years (who really knows?), set to be swallowed up by ever more powerful Turing Machines (none of which incidentally are going to look anything like Benedict Cumberbatch; in fact there’s a derivation of the Turing Test for you – could you imagine a computer ever coming up with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch?)

Put another way, one could say there’s no future in work. Only a future of doing things you love.

With me so far? Good. But here’s the catch. Those of us nutted by reality in our 20’s and 30’s know that loving what you do is not hard. Getting paid to do what you love though is really hard. Very, very, very few musicians, comedians, writers, actors, artists etc – who love what they do – make enough money to sustain a career of not working. The 99.9% (recurring) of people for whom not working doesn’t work find themselves back in the pool of the working class facing a future of work that stretches into an uncertain, hazy, far distant vanishing point.  

The trick therefore – the answer to the question Cost Center Two asked me the other day; “what job should I do when I grow up?” - is to balance work with love. To do something that has as little work in it as possible and as much love. The people who find, or engineer, this easily are the lucky (or just skillful) ones. For the rest of us finding the balance is tricky; sometimes a lifetime’s (dare I say it) work.

In all honesty people who don’t work – i.e. who make money from doing things they love – probably don’t love everything about what they do. The musician often hates talking to the record company executives; the actor hates doing the press junket; the top coder hates dealing with the end-user. At those moments even these folks who don’t work for a living are working …

So in reality, everybody works at times. The trick, again, is to “accentuate the loving, eliminate the working, and don’t mess with Mr. In-between” … Get a job, or make a job, as full of love as possible, and with as little work as possible.

To personalize this for a moment, I don’t love everything about what I do for a living. When I’m doing my expenses or my timesheet or schlepping home at 11pm at night I know I’m working. But 90% of the time being the Co-Director of the Center for the Future of Work doesn’t feel like work at all. Writing this piece didn’t feel like work. Doing a presentation this morning didn’t feel like work. Kitting out our new office in Manhattan didn’t feel like work. Because I loved doing all those things.

If you love what you do chances are you’ll be good at it and if you’re good at it chances are a robot is going to have a tough time competing.

Of course, at times, your 9-5 (or 5-9, or whatever hours you keep) will feel like work; those who can honestly say they’ve never worked a day in their life are truly the unevenly distributed. Your mission though (and you should choose to accept it) is to make sure that you’re working as little as possible.

So, when you have your next check in with your boss, just explain that you’ve hardly worked at all since the last check-in. Once he or she has got over the shock of what you’ve just said you can explain why that’s the case, and start mentally spending the pay rise, prepping for the new job title, and picking out a new house plant for your upgraded pig-pen.

Robots may replace work for us one day in the future; but they’ll never replace love … well not until a few more revs of this …

Collaboration To Fuel Next Generation Pharmaceutical Innovation

As more and more people are becoming health conscious than ever before, the expectations from physicians, healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies are also dramatically changing. We expect new, innovative and quick ways of diagnosis, treatment and prevention based on our Code Halos.

However, in last few years efficiency, productivity and cost pressures have been dominant in pharmaceutical industry. The operating models and time to market are unable to meet with people’s therapeutic needs and lifestyle issues. It is estimated that the total cost of average new drug that comes to the market is about $ 800 million to $ 1 billion, with average development time of 10 years and success rate of 10 % across all therapeutic areas. That’s a huge cost for a very low success rate. Moreover, new technologies are putting a huge demand for innovation from the pharmaceutical industry – think about fitness trackers, sensors based medicines.

So, what should companies do to bridge the gap between demand for wellness and efficient rate of innovation?

One way is to effectively leverage collaboration across the board to speed up innovation. With new technologies of social, mobile and cloud, collaboration has become much easier than ever before. Therefore, it becomes imperative for companies to invest in:-

  1. Strong leadership support for knowledge sharing and innovation to establish an  organization culture where fresh ideas beyond the R & D department are encouraged
  2. Encourage reuse of company’s resources and IP by leveraging internal tools for knowledge sharing and problem solving.
  3. Look for opportunities to directly work with patients, payers for new personalized medicines
  4. Bring in best practices from other industries around collaboration and innovation; such as crowd sourcing of ideas from outside the organization – P & G has been doing this successfully through its Connect + Develop program.
  5. Open innovation - Collaboration with academics, start ups, biotech and regulatory authorities to advance fundamental research, reduce development time and share risks for bringing in new therapeutics in the market. 

As most medicines will be paid based on the results they deliver, in the not so distant future, companies would need to have more understanding of the medicine outcomes for individual patients as well as feeding this knowhow in product development process faster and quicker – which can be done more efficiently and effectively through a strong backbone of knowledge sharing and exchange. 

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Is the Happiness Machine Here Today?

“You want to see the real Happiness Machine? The one they patented a couple thousand years ago. It still runs; not good all the time, no!  But it runs. It's been here all along."

~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

I have been re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine recently.  A character – Leo Auffman – invents a “Happiness Machine”.  When humans interact with it, the Happiness Machine will know, and cater to all their wants, needs, desires, and pleasures – automatically.  At one point, Auffman declares “Sometimes you got to build for others. I been figuring what to put in.  Motion pictures?  Radios?  Stereoscopic viewers?  All those in one place so any man can run his hand over it and smile and say, 'Yes, sir, that's Happiness.'”  It ends with Auffman’s house burning to the ground. 

The metaphor of the Happiness Machine got me thinking about the role of technology – specifically SMAC technologies – on the Future of Work.  And the fact that – at the end of all attempts to invent a true “Happiness Machine” (like your iPhone, Netflix, X-box or Oculus for instance, dropping you down the Rabbit Hole of Web connectivity?) – the story remains resolutely about the interplay of humans and machines.  The machine without the human – still – cannot manifest “happiness” on its own terms.  And it also got me wondering: Is it possible that we really are on the cusp of a REAL happiness machine?  Or, in fact, do we have it already (again, your iPhone, etc?), and we just didn’t know it was there?  Can we use the cool new technologies we have to truly bring us happiness?  Or, in metaphorical (if not real way), will the always-on, always-connected, scrambled-egg lives we’re leading end up “burning down the house”?  Or, just end up burning us out?

Pivot.  It also brings to mind Microsoft’s old ad campaign from 1994: “Where do you want to go today?”  (yes, that’s really old in technology years – like dog years, it’s now so old if it were a person, it could walk with a cane).  But given the times: consider how far we’ve come.  In 1994, the zeitgeist was all about Al Gore and abstract discussions about the “information super highway”, which begat the first real interactions  about the Internet and the web, which begat “”, which begat “web 2.0”, which begat SMAC, which begat the current world of Code Halos, and prepelling us ever-further to digital Artificial Intelligence, including machine learning and deep learning – and beyond (to the “really real” Happiness Machine, perhaps?)  Maybe the operative question isn’t “Where do you want to go today?”, but rather: What do you want to DO today?  Who do you want to BE today?  How can you MAKE a difference today?  Or ignite your SOUL today?  Or make change? To have a voice?  To make you “happy”.  Or, better yet – and not meaning to go all Northern California on you -- to “find your center”.

I hear you now: “Yeah, but I gotta get back to my REAL job, and pay my mortgage – I don’t have time to indulge my happiness”.  Hmmm.  Maybe this is where the future of work will take us; it is something we considered previously here regarding the Future of the Job.

Pivot. Back to the technologies with us today, in the here-and-now.  Consider how far we’ve come, so fast.  The 22-year-old-me in 1994 would have thought the technologies of my iPhone incredible, magical, and mysterious.  I’d want to understand: how could it possibly know these things about me?  How could the Akinator possibly know the secretive references to some arcane character only I know about?  How does it “know” me?  Yes, there’s a deceptively complex web of technologies that underpin it, but how does it “know”?  So, it really is quite possible that we’ve had a “Happiness Machine” staring us in the face for a number of years now, but we’re now interacting with it/them so regularly, it’s taken for granted.  Passé.  But is it *really* making us happy?   I know that I am happy when I’ve connected with long-lost friends from school.  And I need to remind myself, that without the technologies of Code Halo-stalwarts like Facebook, the connections probably never would have occurred. 

Pivot. I am also a huge trivia buff, and I love “Jeopardy”.   Tell the 22 year old me that a robot would beat the best-of-the-best human (now also seemingly a long time ago), I’d have said you were nuts – although the handwriting was already on the wall in the nineties when Deep Blue took apart Kasparov.  But to my mind, Watson beating Ken Jennings misses the point: the whole purpose of Jeopardy is people competing against people, brains versus brains, not some apples-and-oranges context of one person against all-knowing “omniscience” (but as I saw somewhere recently, it probably spells the end of the “know-it-all”).  It’s like hyper-precision robots beating the World Champion San Francisco Giants at baseball.  That misses the point – a baseball game isn’t about the winning.  It’s about evenly matched humans, who use their grit, teamwork, tenacity and physical strength against each other. 

As a trivia buff, I am someone who – liberal arts background and all – loves knowledge.  When my mind wanders/wonders about answers to questions, all I have to do is Google or Wiki, and boom: mental itch is scratched.  While it may spell the end of the know-it-all – using Wikipedia is my own force-multiplier for knowledge consumption, knowledge analysis, and knowledge sharing.  And – dare I say it – while some days technologies make me crazy, they also makes me very happy.   And very, very glad and grateful to live in a time where it’s possible.

Pivot.  In the words of Ray Bradbury: “It was the most incredible apparatus ever built. But not even the inventor knew the amazing things it could do...”