Thursday, December 13

The urban myth that reflects a scary reality

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“65% of future jobs have not been invented” is a myth but the underlying drivers are massively important

Many of us have heard the statistic “65% of school children will end up doing jobs that don’t yet exist”. It’s been quoted by politicians, in newspapers and on conference stages. The picture it creates is that the world is changing so quickly that what we train for will bear no resemblance to what we end up doing.

The problem is that statistic is a complete myth – or at least it appears to be. As with many urban myths, once they are repeated enough they appear credible, then they are used to back influential people’s agendas and they become “fact”. The original source was traced back to Cathy Davidson, Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. When questioned by the BBC, she explained she sourced it from another author who in turn sourced it from an Australian Innovation Council. The BBC could not ultimately source the statistic and the trail disappeared into thin air! They subsequently tried to do their own study and, whilst it was not fully scientific, they nevertheless concluded that the statistic was almost certainly not true and the actual figure a fraction of what was originally claimed.

Another meaningless statistic designed to mislead the reader?

Not quite. If you think about it, the way we shape our companies by specialisation and function means that it is very unlikely the number of new jobs is going to massively expand. Companies are less in the habit of creating new jobs, BUT they are in the habit of adding new duties and workloads into existing ones.

If the statistic had read “65% of school children will end up doing jobs that their education has not effectively prepared them for” then that may be closer to the truth.

What this conceals however is something that is going to become increasingly difficult to control.

  • Traditional education systems are changing but not very rapidly
  • The functional and organisational structures of our companies have changed but again not very quickly or very radically
  • The number of new inventions, innovations and business ideas has grown massively.
  • The access to, manipulation of and interpretation of increasing quantities of data about an increasing number of things.

We therefore have a disconnect. People are increasingly expected to deal with faster-changing situations, new information and ideas within structures and an education framework that has changed relatively little since the 19th century.

This disconnect will not diminish any time soon and therefore the pressures on businesses will increase markedly rather than ease for the foreseeable future.

There is a need to address this increased complexity in everything we do whilst stimulating our ability to deliver, innovate and compete.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, the biggest business opportunity for companies is not to look the next big shiny thing in an increasingly complex world that differentiates them another percentage point or two from their competition, it is to create simplicity and transparency in what they already do.

Think about it. You can’t prepare for tomorrow unless today is harnessed and working effectively and predictably. This is not service excellence under another name its part of a recognition and ethos that needs to permeate throughout the organisation.


About Author

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.

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