Technology [has] transformed our lives. It always does and always will. The problem is that until it happens there is no way of knowing how it will change them.
It often takes thirty years before the full implications of a new bit of technology reaches us.
What AI will certainly do is change the way we work and live, with more and more parts of our lives organised for us by algorithms of one sort or another, from our refrigerators ordering our food on their own to our wristwatches monitoring our health and renewing our prescriptions.
I worry about those algorithms. Algorithms may turn out to be the unnoticed controllers of our lives.
AI will need IAs
Forecasters predict that human skills will be confined to the Three Cs – the Creatives, the Carers and the Custodians. The Creatives will have the most fun and the most money, if they are successful; the Carers will be the most numerous because they include not only those who look after those in need, but also those who attend to our wants – in shops, schools, prisons, hospitals and any organisation you can think of. Then there are those who try to hold things together whom I call the Custodians. They include the executive part of the government, especially the civil service, but managers in every organisation will still be needed to plan and decide who or what does what and when. Even those driverless cars will still need to be instructed where to go.
There will still be a lot of jobs, even more than before, maybe, but they will be different. My guess is that you can’t have AI without a lot of IAs (individual assistants).
Short business life
In my day most work was delivered by institutions, hospitals, schools, coal mines, steelworks, businesses of all sorts, small and big, the civil service, the armed services. I joined one of those businesses, an international oil company, Shell. They expected me to work with them until I was sixty-two, and on my arrival drew up a chart of the sort of career I was likely to have, with a range of increasingly senior jobs in a variety of countries. It looked exciting.
Many years later I realised that not only did some of those Shell companies on the plan no longer exist, neither did the countries, at least not under the name they bore at that time. So quickly does the world change. Indeed, the average life of a business these days is only sixteen years. So how could they even think of offering you a job for life?
What it means is that there is no longer such a thing as a secure job. There is no longer anyone looking after your future career as there was in Shell, planning your next move, the training you might need, even your medical requirements. You are on your own. Even if you are employed you will have to apply for any new positions that become available. Furthermore, once you are over fifty you will find those jobs increasingly hard to get.
Portfolio and shamrock
That is why I started to suggest that what I called a portfolio life would be the best alternative for people in that age bracket. By a portfolio life I meant a collection of small jobs, some paid, some unpaid but useful. Increasingly, however, a portfolio life began to be the life of choice for younger people, such as you. Sometimes it was because they did not fancy the controlled atmosphere of the large organisation and decided to try their luck outside. Mostly they valued the independence of the portfolio existence, risky though it was financially.
Long ago, in one of my books, I suggested that organisations would increasingly resemble a shamrock with its three leaves making up the whole. One leaf would be the core employees, the second the sub-contractors and the third the individual experts or occasional workers whom it would be costly and unnecessary to employ full-time. More and more work, I suggested, would go to the second and third leaves because they would be cheaper, would not have to be on the organisation’s books or in their pension schemes. Increasingly that is what has happened.
Of one thing I am certain: life for you, all being well, will be so long that one day you too will have to go solo, or portfolio, if you are going to continue to work, as I hope you will.
More people than ever are working for money, as they always have, but in very different ways. No doubt those ways will change even more during your life, with automation doing a lot of the drudgery, but I feel sure that our human need to be productive will endure.
Work will still be central to all our lives.
A shamrock is a young sprig, used as a symbol of Ireland. The name shamrock comes from the Irish word seamair óg and means "young clover".
All text in this post is from the First Letter in the book 21 Letters on Life and Its Challenges written by Charles Handy. Copyright © Charles Handy 2019. Published by Hutchinson, a part of Penguin Random House.
Charles Handy has written this book for his four grandchildren. In the Introduction to the book, he writes:
"You are living in a very different world to the one I knew, but I suspect that the issues you come up against will not be that dissimilar. It is hard to learn from other people’s experiences, but my reflections may make you at least pause and think before you act, or, sometimes, think again after you have acted. These letters, you might say, contain all the stuff that I wished I had known when I was your age, before I went out into the world and had to make my own future, my own contract with life.”
Charles Handy CBE (born 1932) is an independent Irish writer, broadcaster, teacher and philosopher specialising in organisational behaviour and management. He has been an oil executive, an economist, a professor at the London Business School, the Warden of St. George’s House in Windsor Castle and the chairman of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. He has been rated among the Thinkers 50, a private list of the most influential living management thinkers.