We’ve never been good at predicting the nitty gritty of the job market (who could have thought of the term community manager 20 years ago?). But we are pretty good at predicting mega-trends (for example, 20 years ago we knew we’d all be working with computers by 2015).
So what’s the mega-trend for 2030? Robots. They’ll be doing your job. But it’s not all bad news. For one thing, robots might be an improvement; we already know robots are better managers than people, and they will probably be better at plenty of other tasks as well.
A growing workforce of robots leaves people only the most interesting jobs. Those jobs will require people who are cross-disciplinary thinkers and do not need a clear path. For example, dismantlers will be in demand—for dismantling things like healthcare, universities, and the tax code.
Here are ways to start shifting your thinking so you can survive the workforce competition robots will bring.
1. Downplay networking skills.
The Internet democratizes information that used to be under lock and key. It used to be that if you wanted to get access to cutting-edge ideas in technology, you needed an invitation to an exclusive conference like TED, or to attend a university like MIT. Today, TED lectures and MIT courses are available free online. Your access to knowledge only used to be limited by the scope of your network.
In the coming years, Auren Hoffman predicts that who you know will be much less important than what you know. Because you have access to all information—you don’t need to know the gatekeepers. But when you have specialized, deep knowledge, people will seek you out.
2. Seek the deep knowledge that one has to dig to uncover.
But you do need to understand information in terms of fluid intelligence, which is the ability to manipulate information to solve problems and generate ideas.
If you use technology to replace cognitive skills—like, typing into google 6×120= instead of doing it in your head—then technology might actually make you dumber. But if you use technology to make yourself do challenging, difficult things, then you enhance your fluid intelligence.
This is why hard-core gamers do better in adult life than casual gamers. And it’s also why you are better off obsessing over beating a very complicated game than you are reading random articles on Wikipedia, even if they are related to history, sociology, anthropology, or other serious fields. In his book Curious, Ian Leslie argues that we need to cultivate “epistemic curiosity”—not a scattered quest for novelty, but a focused, disciplined commitment to mastering new terrain.
3. Focus on multidisciplinary thinking.
The most significant job growth over the next decade is in big data. We have a lot of data but someone needs to make sense of it. Actually a lot of people need to make sense of it. And there’s a huge shortage of these people. To understand the future of work, you need to understand well what a job like this requires: managing data from disparate sources and drawing new conclusions.
Fast Company explains that this type of thinking is extremely creative: “Your most creative insights are almost always the result of taking an idea that works in one domain and applying it to another.” And this type of thinking feeds on itself: creative thinking begets more creative thinking.
4. Make your brain more theoretical to keep up with the next generation.
However this is not the thinking you learn when you study subject-by-subject discretely. The best way to learn this sort of thinking is the jumpy, non-linear surfing online.
Another thing: the brain is changing. Scientific American reports that on IQ tests, it looks like we are getting smarter, but actually, our brains are simply getting more theoretical. From being online all day, Generation Z will be great theoretical thinkers. For example if you ask someone the relationship between dog and rabbit 100 years ago, they’d answer the dog chases the rabbit—which is straightforward, concrete thinking. If you ask someone today, they’d likely say both are mammals. The decrease in concrete thinking makes generation Z poised to fill the most challenging (and in-demand) jobs over the next fifteen years.
5. Challenge yourself to get more flexible as you grow older.
So how do you keep up mentally with generation Z? There’s a lot of advice out there to keep you sharp at work, like saying yes more, focusing on skills rather than jobs, and writing a resume that focuses on your unique way of thinking.
But when it comes to brain plasticity and new ways of synthesizing, one tactic stands above the rest: More screen time. Not passive screen time like a three-hour movie, but the engaged, strategic, deep thinking screen time that comes from hard-core gaming, obsessive research, and a willingness to read anything trending, with less judgement and more curiosity, and a belief that there’s a better way than the way you already know.
Whenever someone new comes to our house, my kids show them videos about older people reacting to the top YouTube videos. Like How to Basic and Llamas with Hats. What my kids like is seeing adults looking disoriented and lost. What I like is watching adults actively trying to figure out the language of the millionaire YouTube celebrities. If you want to know what staying relevant looks like, check out those videos. And hope you are like the adults in these videos: brave enough to let millions of people see you while you struggle to find your place in the world of Generation Z.