Valuable Skills in the Automation Economy

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I have shared about the need to unlearn and reinvent continually because of market forces all around you and the pace of change. Once you see something that was once hard become convenient, commoditized and automated, you have to unlearn and relearn.

I think that the Harvard Business Review has it right with the kind of jobs that will thrive in the midst of automation:

“the only way to create value in a more differentiated and rapidly changing product world will be to redefine work at a fundamental level to focus on distinctly human capabilities like curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence.”

Being human stands out. Think about how you react to a simple email that is mass vs. personal. You can tell the difference, regardless of how crafted the mass email was designed. Spamming gets blocked. Personal and authentic creates engagement.

Thus, as HBR references, the creators, composers and coaches will make use of automation, routine tasks and efficiencies to create value.

Creators make highly customized products and services based on tastes and interests of people. They have to anticipate and connect the dots. Depth and personalized products are what they are dialing into.

Composers design experiences from the resources that are available. Themes, tours, and parties, for example, will be designed and guided for participants. It’s an imaginative type of area which can transform otherwise mundane offerings into visceral experiences.

Coaches help people achieve more with knowledge, insight and encouragement within chosen domains. They bring clarity, focus and a path for getting dreams and results.

It’s a practical and focused framework for thinking about where you might move towards. These are valuable professions making use of what is already available, abundant and efficient around you in systems, resources and products.

We already know how to make things in mass, sell it to millions and create sameness. That’s not much of a game. It’s a bygone era of value when we learned to be industrial and industrious. And the price keeps dropping towards the bottom.

Think about your industry or background and ask, “How do I create more value by connecting deeply with meaning for my clients and others?”

It’s a bit of repackaging to start moving in this direction, but more importantly, it’s getting in tune with the times where efficiency is becoming a given.

Routine Sets You Free

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“Routine sets you free.” ~ Verne Harnish

Your routines set you up for performance, creativity and peace of mind. We have this long road ahead to accomplish projects that matter day in and day out. And if we simply go with the randomness and urgencies of the day, we don’t win the long game. We are at the mercy of many things that simply do not contribute to our bigger goals.

That is why routine is a powerful way to overcome the traps of those temptations that would pull on our energy and attention.

If you depend on will power to help you do what you want to do, then I think you have already lost. I can tell you that will power becomes the red zone for me. I don’t have enough of it to tap into to get the things done I want or resist what I don’t want. And, there’s only a limited supply in a day. It dwindles as the day progresses.

Your productivity and creativity are scarce resources that run out and in knowledge work, we have to be excellent managers of these limited resources if we want achievement. I think from conversations with clients, being overwhelmed and constantly spun around the relentless demands of work gets them off course. Routine helps to set up habits that move what is important further along.

Habits are powerful to keep momentum going. My own habits include reading, writing, hiking, prayer, taking vitamins, saying a kind word and sleeping enough. I also do simple things like morning showers, push-ups and sit-ups. It’s remarkable how these simple routines point me towards execution each and every day.

You can even use an app like Streaks to set up and keep a habit going. If you wanted to run a race, simply set it up and don’t miss a day. The same goes for building a family culture or writing a book. Our brains are wired for habits and this can create the routines you need to move the ball.

Don’t rely on will power, emotion or hype. They are short-lived. The long game requires something more forceful and consistent. Routines set you free.

Creativity Not Productivity

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We had this age of efficiency and continuous improvement for a long time. When the Japanese were destroying us in the auto industry with better quality cars we buckled down and hyper focused on quality. It worked. ISO standards, Deming Cycles and Six Sigma drove quality to new standards, and we produced a generation of managers that ensured statistical quality for the masses.

There’s money to be made in efficiency for sure. I enjoyed conversations recently with an executive friend at UPS who shared the relentless focus UPS has on logistics and using unmanned vehicles and drones in their R&D. They are in the efficiency business, and both workforce productivity and the market demand for immediacy are driving their initiatives. We, as consumers, get to partake in what will be a surreal future of fulfillment based on our whimsical desires. The speed, precision and customization are being worked on while we consume from our mobile on-demand lives anytime, anywhere.

I think the business of productivity and efficiency fit well for enterprises that can move the needle in our lives from a mass perspective. They are productivity behemoths and get rewarded for consolidating around this value proposition.

However, there are many more slots to fill for customers that go beyond productivity. As humans, we still want to consume creativity. That boutique hotel experience or the out of the box retreat attracts us in a way that relieves our tired minds from consumerism, efficiency and boring.

If you are in the productivity business, keep pushing the bounds of faster, cheaper and efficient. That’s the value the market expects.

For all other endeavors, your creativity, not necessarily your productivity, will have a larger impact on selling and being relevant. The ideas you are able to generate and implement will be the differentiator in such a ridiculously competitive world.

I had a friend recently say, “Stay in the mess.” He was talking about the complexities of IT problems he is involved with that AI has not touched yet. We were talking about how that will likely change with deep learning technology that is continuously pushing the envelope.

Today’s mess is not necessarily going to remain hard or obscure.

And the challenge becomes looking for new messes using the efficiencies, tools and platforms that productivity has solved for our creative benefit.

I am not sure what the future beholds in business. But I do see, from the front lines, how those who are creative stand out. Getting in the mess where strategy, forward thinking and the ability to connect the dots tends to gain trust, respect and relationship gets rewarded.

Simply trying to make efficient things more efficient has marginal value.

If you are not productive at this point, you may be fighting an uphill battle. Give it up and do what you can. There’s already consolidated and large leverage players that accomplish productivity far better than you. Partner with them.

It’s a far better strategy to invest in creativity. Find a new angle. Straddle multiple industries and blend those ideas into a new approach. Take some time to get above the fray and see the forest from the trees. You’ll add a lot more value in today’s world being a creative resource that can make ideas happen quickly. Oh, and you don’t have to be frenetic. You just have to commit to being insightful, strategic and creative.

One Problem Two Solutions

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If you are a business owner or manager, you have the ongoing challenge of solving daily problems with your team. Inevitably, people will bring problems to you. And how you handle those requests becomes a signal to the people on your team of what to expect. What you communicate will be one of two items:

  1. I will solve your problems
  2. You can solve your own problems

The former is a hero mentality. You become the choke point to the endless issues surrounding your business.

The latter is empowerment and coaching. You are communicating to your team members that they are fully capable of solving their own problems. This second option scales nicely. But it does take consistency in how you communicate your expectations. So, consider this strategy when people bring problems:

  1. Listen to the person carefully with full attention.
  2. Ask them for 2 solutions that they can think of.
  3. Empower them to go and execute their solutions.
  4. Repeat.

Over time, people will realize that they have to do more thinking before they approach you instead of leaving you to own the problem and burden of doing the thinking for them. You are, in effect, creating a smarter team that does their due diligence and only the hardest problems will be surfaced.

One problem, two solutions. Put it on your office door or in your email signature.

Make a deal with your team members. Tell them up front how you handle problems by requesting that any issues brought in front of you will have the same request repeatedly.

In this way, you get the best ideas and encourage the hard work of creativity and thinking in others rather than simply build around your own charisma.

What do you think of using this strategy in your management practice?

Solve Problems By Detaching

We are all trying to get something more and get problems solved every day. And a counterintuitive approach to problem solving is often to get away from your problems. I like to get away to remote and serene places to get my mind off of things.

It opens things up rather than converges. I get tunnel vision when I am trying harder to solve something that can get frustrating and elusive.

You gain more perspective and insights by letting things sit for a while. Your mind is extremely powerful and your subconscious can work to make sense of issues you face as well as bring forward associations and solutions to your harder problems.

Try and make it a daily practice to get away from your work and let your mind ruminate and relax. Here are some ways that you can inject a little detachment to your work day:

  • Walk for 30 minutes. You can be quiet, look around and simply enjoy distractions.
  • Take a bike ride. Run errands or head to a lunch destination by biking from place to place.
  • Get outdoors. Find nature trails or uphill hikes that get your heart pumping and use a lot of coordination. Nature tends to restore and keeps you focused on what is in front of you.
  • Swim laps. It’s meditative and relaxing to swim along a lane and just work your body. Not much equipment needed and you can easily go for a while until you are tired out.
  • Drive to an overlook. Beautiful places and expanses are extremely refreshing. You feel small in the vastness. Drive to a lookout and take in big views. Pray, meditate or sit without thoughts or worries.

You can keep grinding it out, but today’s work requires much more adept thinking with creative solutions. Distance, detachment and introspection taps into a part of yourself that can come up with wonderful solutions.

Be sure to jot your ideas down on your iPhone or pad of paper. It’s always handy to see what comes out of your mind and heart when you change context and location.

How can you change up your daily routine to get away more?

Thinking Harder vs. Working Harder

Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying,

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Is that what most people do? Most people start sawing away at their problems. I think it feels safe because you don’t feel as accountable. If something didn’t work out, you can fool yourself and simply say you tried really hard. It’s a loser’s mentality.

Winning requires analyzing what is wrong with a situation or yourself. That’s hard work to think things through and come up with a strategy that makes sense. You have to be vested in the idea and direction when you stop and think harder.

When you don’t know what to do you have that crossroads to buckle down and work harder or step back and think harder. What if you worked at the strategic level on the problems you are solving. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Call a trusted advisor for coffee. Get in dialogue and open the problems up to see if you can gain additional insights and perspective.
  2. Create a decision tree. Whether by yourself or in dialogue with a business coach or advisor, think about outcomes and probabilities. Map out your options and what the probabilities look like with all the outcomes. Use your experience in reality to come up with an educated outlook.
  3. Get away for a walk. Your subconscious is an amazing resource to bring clarity of thought. Walk for an hour and let go of your problems. When you get back, you could likely have new approaches.
  4. Read for an hour. Let  your mind get dialed into a business book or even fiction. There are lots of nuggets of wisdom and insights that come from story and case studies that can feed your creativity to sharpen your saw.

Thinking harder has to be a reaction that becomes a habit. You won’t live and work so wastefully because you are taking on that leadership quality of deliberation and strategic thinking that is required to come up with elegant and holistic solutions.

Do you tend to work harder or think harder?

Be Ready for Opportunity

Opportunity tends to be all around you. Have you ever thought that the people you randomly meet you likely have 5 opportunities together? But you have to:

  1. Care enough to listen carefully
  2. Understand what the other person is all about
  3. Match what you do with what they need
  4. Look for the convergence points

It’s too bad most people miss opportunities all the time. Often times I see the classic reasons why:

  1. They are always putting out fires
  2. They don’t use their downtime strategically to get ready. They waste it on meaningless activities
  3. They are not looking for opportunities
  4. They underestimate other people

You can’t control what comes in and out of your life. You can certainly increase the probabilities of who you will meet and what you will come across. If you move to Hollywood you greatly increase your odds of running into someone that is producing a movie. Move to Nashville and you will bump into someone in the music scene.

Artists understand they have to show up. And they work to be ready for that lucky break.

It’s no different in other sectors of life. We can fall asleep at the wheel by noticing or just going through the motions getting necessary or unnecessary work done. But the opportunities will come by us often without much fanfare or announcement.

What we can do is control our preparation and be strategic by being ready. Ready means you have your life together so that you can act when the time is right. Having your world together also keeps your mind at peace and you can see things beyond crises and distractions. You are elevated in your thinkings.

I always emphasize readiness by keep the decks clear. It’s a strategy that keeps my mind free from things that don’t matter and when opportunity does come, I can see it and move swiftly and precisely to engage.

How can you be more ready than you are?

Expand Your Choices With This Mindset

I sold everything off and hit the road exploring the United States with my wife and 3 kids. We have seen many of the national parks, landed on a glacier in Alaska and have lived in cities all across the country getting to know locals and exploring the diversity of mountains, wilderness and cities.

Life is a giant countdown to that certainty of death. Every day, we are dying towards our due date. And somehow, it’s easy and enticing to stay in our comfort zones and routines which make our adventure and personal growth muscles atrophy.

I work with clients all over the world and my own location is constantly changing. We find new houses to live in on AirBnB and I fly out, speak and meet with business coaching clients all over.

Sure, that can sound stressful for some people, but I love the ability to expand my choices. I can work with anyone, anywhere, anytime any way I want. I get to choose continually and it keeps the adventure of work and life fresh.

It does take a mindset towards freedom and leadership. Others can tell you what you need to be doing – go buy a home, build an office, hire employees, get into debt, have endless meetings, etc. But if you step back and think about what really matters, I think you might design a different life altogether. Your workflow and the people you connect with can have much more intentionality.

You have all the technology and opportunity to build whatever you want today for very little money. You can increase your own choices. There’s no reason to be stuck. Maybe it’s comfort or tradition, but if you expanded your choices by taking one step towards more freedom, the opportunities are endless.

I’m going for a hike later today after I do a bit of work in this wonderful coffee shop in the mountains. It’s a white sheet of paper and I plan on drawing on it to create something amazing for me, my clients and my family.

What could you get free from in your life?

Sell Things People Will Buy

We live in an unprecedented time of innovation. It’s easier than ever to bring ideas to the market. You have access to limitless manufacturing at Alibaba and a world of developers at Upwork. Get some capital from Kickstarter and you are on your way.

However, if you are too far ahead of where people are thinking or what people are buying, then you might find a lot of innovation with no sales.

People buy groceries, housing, shoes, cars, cable TV and many other common, mundane and boring items.

If you can take a look at a person’s credit card statement for a month, you would see what they buy. They might treat themselves to luxuries once in a while. But there’s typically not a lot of innovation in the monthly bill.

The same can be said for businesses. They buy utilities, computers, tools, advertising and common items to run and grow their businesses. Your innovative idea may be too far ahead of their thinking or the safety net thinking of their committee of influencers.

So, if you are trying to figure out as an entrepreneur what to sell and what to take to a crowded market, how about thinking about innovation in a different way. Here’s a strategy – take a look at what people buy and innovate on how it is packaged, delivered and experienced.

People bought music in vast quantities before Apple innovated how you could access digital libraries and pay for them conveniently.

Zappos sold a commodity – shoes. Then they were relentless on the way shoes were bought, experienced and even returned. They made the experience the innovation.

There’s so much room for efficiency in project management, taking trips, managing relationships, buying cars, and many other things we buy every day.

Can you take time to think less about innovating on products and more time on how they are packaged, delivered and experienced? You might cut out costs, waste and bottlenecks. You might attract more attention and mass because the market rewards your innovation thinking through what makes life more pleasant.

What do you think?

You Have To Be Able to Trust Yourself

When we had big industrial companies with layers of management and structure we could hide. We had bosses to tell us what we needed to do. Formal processes governed our movements. It was an environment of control, steadiness and consensus.

The hard part about the new economy we have been experiencing is the ambiguity. For the adventurous and creative it is a wonderful opportunity to try things and see if you can make an idea work.

However, if you are used to being told what to do and have your lines defined for where you can color within, then it is a scary, disorienting reality.

You may have had the luxury of diluting your responsibilities by trusting the group think. There’s solace with industrial setups and having managers, bosses and owners telling us what to do.

To really truly thrive today, you have to think like the executive. You have to make decisions and live with them. They are yours. Ultimately,  you have to be able to trust yourself.

Of course, this means you may be wrong. And the truth is, you will likely be wrong many times. That’s what I suspect scares most people. You’ve been trained in the illusion that you can’t be wrong. School taught you this. Industrial rigidity conditioned you to navigate your way towards this end instinctively.

But if you can trust yourself, then there’s a wide world of opportunity. You can start with an idea. Heck, you can have ideas.

Then you can test those ideas and make them happen with relatively little risk. The key is to pivot when you see the facts on the ground change. And that is when you have to trust yourself to make new decisions.

Maybe you haven’t given yourself permission to fail. Or you are always looking for others to validate your decisions.

If you want to thrive today, the best skill you can develop is to make decisions that you are committed to. Practice making decisions and trust yourself. You will be on your way to aligning to a flatter world with more opportunity this way. You can make your own way.