The Future of Better Work

Picture these scenes;

• A 45 year old man in a call center, at 9:17pm on a Wednesday evening, sitting at his phone waiting for his computer to serve up an answered phone call from somebody who will talk to him about the cruise line trip he’s trying to sell.

• A 27 year old mother of two small kids, standing at a check-out counter early on a Sunday morning, scanning tomatoes and cereal boxes and washing up liquid, and then saying “$75.37” without a please or a thank you or a smile.

• A 38 year old police officer standing next to a trench being dug in the road, in sub-zero temperatures, waving the left hand lane of the traffic to go through.

• A 33 year old man sitting in a conference room in front of his client trying to keep calm as the client goes through a long list of complaints about the service his company is getting from the man’s company.

• A 53 year old surgeon who’s day dreaming about the sailing regatta he’s signed up for on the coming week-end as he scrapes the floating gristle from the L4 vertebrae of the anesthetized man lying on the operating table in front of him.

• A 30 year old woman standing in front of 30 bored and rebellious 13 year olds trying to teach them the difference between the past and the present tense.

• A 73 year old salesman trying to sell a research project to an arrogant 29 year old MBA student who’s checking his phone every 2 minutes.

• A 55 year old miner deep in a mine realizing he left his sandwiches on the kitchen counter as he left home, in the dark, at 5:55am that morning.

• A 23 year old man sitting at his desk at 2:37am pulling his hair out as he struggles to find the bug in his compiler code as he realizes he’s already on his last chance and his boss will be in at 7:30am and won’t be interested in any excuses.

• A 53 year old woman who’s just started working again after raising two kids who’s wondering who the sadist was who invented Excel.

• A 35 year old woman sitting at her desk at 3:37am making sure sub-clause 33:456:8859 doesn’t conflict with sub-clause 33:456:8852 of the contract.

• A 19 year old woman punching in the fast food order for a meal that will make, so her bosses say, somebody happy.

This is the work we want to protect from robots and automation and AI and intelligent machines? This is the work that we value so much that we think it is immutable? Unchangeable? Platonically perfect? This is the work that we think should continue to be the bed rock of our bourgeois society? Since time immemorial until time without end.

Excuse me?

I think this is the work that needs to be destroyed. Or to use a more business thought-leader type of word “obliterated”.

This is work that is dirty, dangerous, and dull. Very dull.

This is work that should be consigned to the knacker’s yard.

This is work that nobody in their right mind should consider, let alone do.

This is the work that if your kid or your wife or your parent was doing it would make you cringe and/or cry.

This is work that should be sent straight to the trash can of history.

This is work that we shouldn’t have a “pre-nostalgia” for, in the way that some people have a nostalgia for the coal miner or the steel worker. People, it goes without saying, who never did that work.

The task ahead of us is not to protect these terrible jobs but to create better ones.

Is that beyond us? If it is, then heaven help us.

But I don’t think it is. I think we can create lots of better work. That’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years, non? My job - and probably yours - is way better than my Dad’s job or your Dad’s job. The real task is to scale our cool jobs from the tens, to the thousands, to the millions, to the tens of millions. Is that doable? Sure. Why not?

In our new report 21 Jobs of the Future we begin the process of proposing what these better jobs could be. The report is far from the last word on the topic - simply the first word. I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of our ideas. We’d be shocked if you didn’t.

Machines are going to do most of the work listed above in short order. Lots of folks in the media and at conferences and meetings we attend seem to be terrified of that. We’re not. We say bring it on. The work ahead - if we’re as smart as we claim to be - is going to be more enjoyable, more satisfying, more lucrative, more worthwhile than any work we’ve done before. The future of work is better work. You should figure out exactly what that work is. What’s stopping you?