Business owners wear many hats. When they are just getting started, they are not only management but also labor. Their responsibilities are not just marketing, finance and customer service. They also include emptying the trash and cleaning the toilets. And, of course, they do everything in between. There is a huge spectrum between strategy and toilets that has to be covered.
If you are fortunate enough to be hired by a small business owner, with your freshly inked degree in hand, it is likely that your job will involve activities closer to the toilet end of the spectrum than the strategy end.
I’ve lived at both ends during my career and at just about every stop along the way. I am now at the stage of observer and coach (a nice place to be). Yet, I am also still a student.
So, here’s a semi-educated observation: the premise from which all job descriptions start is that we – human beings, that is – are, at our core, lazy. Adam Smith initially set out this premise in the 18th Century. “It is in the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can,” he wrote in “The Wealth of Nations.”
This presumption is at the center of how we are put to work and how we are managed (not led, managed). Every task from the simple to the complex is measured and monitored.
How many did you pick?
How many calls did you make?
What is the total output of the factory?
Question such as these are at the center of every system of management in the industrialized world. They are the leading indicators of how we create economic value.
No, friends. Work is not supposed to be fun. That’s why we call it work.
Now, along comes AI – artificial intelligence, that is. AI promises to take the drudgery away from our work-a-day world. It already writes press releases, prepares simple tax returns, and analyzes wear and tear on machines.
Of course, there once were human beings who performed those tasks. However, those tasks are truly close to the toilet end of the work spectrum. Performing repetitive tasks that don’t challenge us can only be described as drudgery.
“Your values give you purpose for getting up in the morning. If you let that show up in your leadership style, you’ll be much happier and have greater success.”
Excerpt From: John Calia. “The Reluctant CEO.” iBooks.
Many experts have pointed out that every revolution of industry destroys jobs and creates new ones to take their place. No one regrets the loss of jobs done by the guys who used to light gas lamps on main street or shoe horses for a living. Why would we worry about the bookkeepers and repairmen who are displaced by this one?
Indeed, there will likely still be jobs for the bookkeepers and repairmen. But only if they can up their game. The creation of spreadsheets from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel has created opportunities for accounting professionals over the last 30 years. However, bookkeepers that became analysts had to inject more of their own intellect into the process. That moves the job a bit further from the toilet end of the spectrum.
Sensors placed in modern machines from jet engines to diesel generators enable data analysts to predict when components are about to fail. Repair technicians (no longer repairmen) must understand how to interpret the data to do their jobs. That moves the job a bit further from the toilet end of the spectrum too.
There is an obvious conclusion. To do those jobs, one must have a better education, including not only math skills but also problem solving skills. Whether we as individuals and as a society are up to the task remains to be seen.
In this new world, fewer people will achieve greater success. The brain surgeon who can figure out how to use AI to develop new procedures, the lawyer who can use AI to improve the thoroughness of legal research, and the captain of industry who can utilize AI to improve the efficiency of factories will all create greater economic value and be compensated accordingly.
But, there are other measures more appropriate to the class of workers who identify themselves as neither lazy nor seeking the greatest compensation.
There are doctors who work in free clinics that serve the poor rather than build a lucrative practice, lawyers who labor for justice rather than increasing their billing rates, and entrepreneurs who have a social purpose in addition to a financial one.
Not only do those people often make less money than others of equal talent and ambition but also they don’t worry so much about drudgery. If you have to clean the toilets in the free clinic before you go home at night, it’s more a badge of courage than a lousy job. Entrepreneurs who start businesses in their garage don’t complain; they boast. We value people willing to make those sacrifices.
Work that aligns with one’s values offers satisfaction often missing in our jobs. As one of the characters in my book puts it, “your values give you purpose for getting up in the morning…”
So, my advice to anyone who thinks that AI may take his or her job is to find a job that feeds your soul. Then, you won’t have to worry about whether it’s work or fun.