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Why Automation Is An Opportunity, Not A Threat, For Creatives

Why automation will aid, not destroy, creative roles in the workplace.

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Why automation will aid, not destroy, creative roles in the workplace.

Opinions

Why Automation Is An Opportunity, Not A Threat, For Creatives

Why automation will aid, not destroy, creative roles in the workplace.

Share this article

For the last century, “automation” has been a word that’s caused both economists and workers around the world to cringe. With the automation of jobs comes the loss of trades and in some instances entire communities blighted by layoffs as manufacturing centres have undergone massive reductions in workforce, thanks in part to the growing capabilities of machines.

Industrial automation is nothing new, but the automation of knowledge work is the next major frontier in technology for businesses.

It’s an exciting time for technologists, but with up to 5 million jobs at risk by 2020 according to data shared at the recent World Economic Forum, workers need to find a way to adapt their skills and careers to an economy that’s rapidly changing.

The good news for knowledge workers is that adapting skills has never been easier. Sites like Udemy make it possible for anyone to take classes from top universities to boost their education. There are also lots of sites like Lynda.com where you can learn any type of software imaginable.

Ultimately, the path that you choose to avoid automation should be one that moves you towards analytical and creative work that adds value to organisation through cognitive problem solving. These are the skills that are unlikely to be automated in the near future.

A consumerised world means high transaction volume

More than ever, end users are being put in charge of buying decisions for both their personal and business lives. So consider this: according to some estimates, Amazon.com ships over 1 billion orders per year from its warehouses around the US.

With such a high transaction volume, an Amazon employee could lend huge value to the company by finding even the smallest of opportunities for optimisation. If you found a way to reduce the cost of each shipment by one cent, you would save the company 10 million dollars per year.

Likewise, if a marketer found a way to increase purchases by 1%, that would result in an additional 10 million orders every year.

The consumerisation of the economy leaves a lot of room for human creativity to find these opportunities. Computers are certainly a big part of finding patterns in data and surfacing trends. But human creativity is still required to ask “so what?” and put that data into action in impactful ways.

Still, people in the workforce with experience in such analysis and experimentation are somewhat uncommon. It’s why there are so many tech companies clustered around such a small list of geographic areas in the US.

I believe that expanding the workforce of people with training in data analysis, digital marketing, and other skills associated with high volume e-commerce will both unlock huge opportunities for economic growth, and help workers resist the tides of automation that may currently threaten their jobs.

Automation aides knowledge work, it doesn't replace it

For knowledge workers, staying on top of the technology that will ultimately replace or transform their jobs is key to surviving in the new economy. And fortunately, more often than not automation aides in work more so than completely eliminates it.

We can look at spreadsheets as an example. Before the computerised spreadsheet debuted, corporate accounting offices had teams of people who tediously did the maths all day - either by hand or with simple calculators. When the spreadsheet came along, these people weren’t fired en-masse.

Rather, spreadsheets became a tool they used that made their jobs more enjoyable, and much more valuable to their companies. For the first time, complex projections, if/and functions, and other now-business-essential operations could be completed simply.

It was a change that turned human calculators into analysts, who rather than simply doing maths, sorted through the numbers to unlock new value and fuel growth.

The differentiator for those who survived the transition and those that didn’t was their ability to adapt and learn to use new technology to increase their value.

Automation is a tide, not a wave

The good news for everyone is that automation moves slowly. Long before it will replace your job, it will replace some of the tasks you enjoy the least. If you use direct deposit or have prescriptions refilled electronically, then you can see that it already has.

For most of us, we have plenty of time to prepare and polish our skills for a future when automation makes employee rosters slimmer. By building up your analytical and creative skills, and embracing new technology, you can thrive even in an automated future.

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Why Automation Is An Opportunity, Not A Threat, For Creatives

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