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Category: Silicon Valley

When Technology Destroys Professions, But Creates Jobs

When the automobile appeared around 1900, it was foreseeable that some people will lose their jobs. Carriage drivers, stable owners, carriage makers, or horse breeders weren’t required in those numbers anymore, or even not at all. Those professions almost disappeared. Instead, new jobs were created. Chauffeurs, mechanics, or construction workers building all those roads that cars required. Some of those jobs and professions were obvious, some nor so. Like shopping centers at the edges of towns were unforeseeable. Or the growth of the tourism and hospitality industry.

Those lost jobs and professions were replaced by new ones. While some jobs got lost, jobs to be done stayed and even grew. That’s an important difference, which we often miss when discussing new technologies. While jobs get lost in those professions, new are created. Often even more than were lost.

We must not confuse jobs with jobs. Jobs in the form of job positions for a profession change, as well as the skills required to do them. The amount of work remains and often grows. Jobs that are now done by machines allow us to discover new types of work, which we couldn’t predict, because we simply didn’t have time to think of them. Who, for instance, could have predicted 50 years ago that in 2017 we will have almost 300,000 fitness trainers in the US alone? This profession was non-existent in 1950. App developers didn’t exist 10 years ago, when the iPhone hit the market first. The app industry has since then earned 50 billion dollars alone.

And with those apps a whole new branch of industries surfaced, which would be impossible without the smartphone. Uber, Tinder, or social media came up or got their boost only through mobile devices.

When we consider that humans born today will become 120 years and that the expiration date of any education or training that they get in school, high-school or college will be no longer than 10 years, it’ll become even more important to teach them how to learn new skills for the rest of their lives. To focus on jobs with cements old knowledge and old skills. Focusing instead on jobs to be done will bring new knowledge and new skills.

Universal Basic Income according to Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail and partner at Y Combinator, should be renamed “citizen’s dividend.” All of mankind should benefit from the fruits of technological progress. A robot tax as proposed by Bill Gates could be a solution. And Tim O’Reilly, publisher and trend researcher, considers the universal basic income as a bad solution. Instead, we should fix the underlying problem and not put a patch on a bad system.

When politicians, labor unions, or society are worried about jobs, they are missing the to look at the job at hand. Instead of keeping jobs they should rather focus on people learning new skills to be able to to new types of work.

The status quo isn’t worth being defended. Instead, the better strategy is to fight for something better, something that we haven’t seen yet and need to invent. To fight for jobs is the wrong battle, it’s better to fight for a job to be done. That’s a more robust strategy, which prepares us for the future.

This article has also been published in German.

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