Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Government Should be as Strategic as Coke and Pepsi

I have a love-hate relationship with technology - it can bring some big wins for humanity but there is another side to that coin. In Global Trends 2030, Game Changer #5 stated that, “Nevertheless, such technologies could still have a similar effect as outsourcing: they could move more low- and semi-skilled workers in developed economies redundant, exacerbating domestic inequalities.” An article came in 2013 from the University of Oxford entitled “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” in which 702 detailed job descriptions from the US were analyzed. It was found that 47% of jobs are at a high risk of being automated. For example, a profession at risk of being mechanized are paralegals who are required to read tomes of legal document and whose job can now be done by computers faster and cheaper. This is one example but the report is stating the 47% of jobs are at risk. This is a staggering number especially when one considers that the jobs that are at risk are not those of brain surgeons and engineers. Of course, one could pretty convincingly argue that we shouldn't base our decision to use or not use a technology based solely on whether or not jobs were lost. One could argue that it would just be necessary to move these individuals into new industries.

But creating more “highly skilled” workers has some interesting challenges that are not all popular to actually state out loud. 1) Not all people are like those who live in Lake Wobegon – they are not all above average. 2) Barriers to entry and completion of higher education programs do exist even for above average students, though this is a conversation for another time. Furthermore, education is a way to bring about long-range change as it takes time to train/retrain people. This is especially true when you consider that a person who is not trained in a new way of teaching/thinking can't teach others how to do something so there is an inherent lag time in relying on education to solve this issue.

I can't help but think that governments (at all levels) could benefit by doing some strategic planning. Recognizing that governments have much more institutional inertia than smaller entities - particularly those with less infrastructure - and that governments serve many people with vastly different needs, it seems that the process would differ in some ways than it would for a company who has a more targeted focus and goals. It is also easier said than done to actually bring about systemic change but there are some things that we can clearly see coming - automation, increased global warming, increased inequality, etc.

Global Trends 2030 does not seem to think that we are headed for a dooms day scenario. I need to stay positive so that I can envision a way forward. We need to be thinking as a society about where we want our world to go and how we want our governments to work and, as carefully as Coke and Pepsi strategize their way forward toward global beverage market domination, we need to create a strategy to forge ahead making improvements for the common good.

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