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Future-Proof Yourself: How to Thrive in the Automation Economy

The industrial revolution added horsepower to machinery.

The intelligence revolution will add brain-power.

A field that was once plowed by a few horses can now be worked by a machine with the power of 100 horses. Soon, that same machine might also have the power of 100 minds.

Don’t freak out just yet. Technological innovation tends to end some jobs while creating new ones. However, what happens if you have spent a decade gaining experience in the types of skills that machines excel at? How should the farmer who owns the clever tractor keep himself relevant for as long as possible?

There is only one way – by maximizing your uniquely human competencies.

What makes a competency “human”? As a general rule of thumb: Machines excel at efficiency. Humans excel at creativity.

Here’s how you maximize your long-term value in an automated marketplace…

 

7 Skills That Make You Indispensable

  1. Meta-Learning

Isn’t it strange that we don’t learn how to learn?

The skill of meta-learning, or accelerated learning, will make you highly adaptable as an employee. Start by learning about spaced repetition—a way to minimize the time it takes to memorize information. Benny Lewis used spaced repetition to learn the vocabulary of multiple new languages. Derik Sivers used it to rocket his programming proficiency.

For a deeper dive, check out the learning systems devised by Tim Ferriss and Josh Kaufman to acquire any new skill in record time.

 

  1. Networking

For as long as people are running the show, your most valuable asset will be the people you know.

It’s getting easier to find people using social media and search engines, but that will never replace the value of developing a professional relationship with strategically chosen people. Your reputation is much more important than your LinkedIn profile, even today.

For expert advice on networking, check out Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and a natural-born connector who does a terrific job of communicating how he does it.

 

  1. Problem-Hunting

It’s not enough to be told what to do.

Put on your entrepreneur hat from time to time, no matter what you do for a living, and look for problems in your immediate environment. There are always problems waiting to be solved. The person who finds those problems before they lead to a catastrophe and nips them in the bud will be an immediate linchpin in the organization.  There is no better way to become indispensable to a company.

 

  1. Interpersonal Skills

Robots are still creepy to talk to.

Jobs that require complex interpersonal interactions (i.e. nursing), where empathy and emotional intelligence is key to the success of the job, are relatively safe from the automation takeover.

If your job has you behind a screen all day, consider it a potential vulnerability. Anyway, you can get your face in front of other faces will maximize your long-term relevance. Maybe teach a workshop or interact with prospects via video chats instead of merely email (which can be easily automated). Much of your competition will allow automation to make them lazy and deal with people less. Their mistake is your opportunity.

 

  1. Systems Thinking

The first jobs going are those which consist of rote tasks. Efficiency is not the machine’s domain.

Break out by training yourself to think in terms of systems. Can your rote tasks be streamlined, giving you more time for more creative problem-solving? Become adept at making systems more efficient or effective and you’ll be even more valuable with every passing month.

 

  1. Deep Work

Maximize the “new value” output of your work.

Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work, outlines the necessary conditions for someone to slip into a state of undistracted “deep work” in which he or she will be maximally productive.

Deep work is not about becoming more efficient. It’s about increasing your output of what Cal calls “new value” for your organization. Deep work is where breakthroughs happen. Machines may be highly efficient, but they cannot think up new things.

 

  1. Niche Expertise

Anyone is a general knowledge expert with the black mirror in their pocket. That’s not where you will shine.

Identify a valuable domain of skill and become as much of an expert as you possibly can in it. Apply meta-learning principles and long-term dedication to drill so far into your chosen skill-set that no one else around you can catch you up.

While we all need some proficiency in a broad number of things (i.e. the basics of using a spreadsheet), in order to protect your value over time you must also become THE expert (within your company or department… or the world!) at one valuable and creative skill-set.

Be a Jack of all trades, and a master of ONE.

 

Maximizing Your Human Value

In a world filled with artificial intelligence, organic intelligence will not become obsolete. It may even become a premium. The problem is many jobs train us to be “cogs in a machine.” If you’re worried you might be in one, begin your own personal re-training regimen. Identify what will be swallowed up next by Skynet, and don’t bother pouring hours into getting good at it. It’ll be off your plate soon anyway. Instead, focus your energy on developing deep skills and expertise, creative thinking and problem-solving—anything that requires the flexible, floppy mind of a unique and organic being.