The 4th Industrial Revolution: The brewing battle between the Hedgehog and the Fox
Last week, I was subtlety reminded of Isaiah Berlin’s paper, The Fox v. Hedgehog.
The British- Russian social theorist argued that there were two types of people: hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs are individuals who know a lot about one subject, and foxes are those slightly informed about several topics.
But today, amid the 4th Industrial Revolution Berlin’s framework needs an update. Because the days of professional stability through a deep understanding of one subject or a keen awareness of several issues will slowly become a professional norm of the past.
The World Economic Forum discovered that nearly a third of the skills demanded for jobs across all fields will change by 2020. All children in primary school will work in an occupation that doesn’t exist yet. Oxford researchers say that 45 percent of America’s occupations will be automated within the next 20 years.
Freshman and sophomores in college who are studying computer science today will find their knowledge unusable in the IT job market by the time they graduate. My generation will likely change professions (not jobs) almost 9 times in their adult life, nearly twice the rate of the previous generation.
The commoditization of mobile media, innovative medical breakthroughs, evolving monetary technology, data science advancements, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence is quickening the rate of change at an unconventional pace.
Those who are deciding to, professionally, become a Fox or Hedgehog are positioning themselves to be 2-dimensional laborers in a 3-dimensional workforce. What the world requires future generations is a merging of the two: individuals who are deep subject matter experts who possess the capability and will to continually acquire new skills that can allow them to pivot to new industries.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explains in his book Thank You For Being Late, “While my generation had the privilege of being only required to learn as an adolescent and an option to continue to learn as we age. In today’s world, it will be mandatory for my kids to become lifelong learners.”
There are sensible ways to aid our populace as the needs of the workforce evolves, but it will take a group effort.
First, businesses have a responsibility, to train and re-train their staff in order to become multi-dimensional professionals. Programs such as Goldman Sachs “Bump Start”, Microsoft “Glide Forward”, and Steve Wozniak’s “Woz U” are examples of companies providing education and skills training for the jobs of the future.
Smaller organizations with smaller budgets can promote peer-to-peer learning which would allow individuals to learn different skills from their colleagues. Businesses can also partner with other organizations for periodic cross-training sessions. This would expose individuals to new concepts while expanding their network.
Secondly, government must make re-training displaced professionals a higher priority. Currently, the United States spends less than 0.03% GDP on worker training (Denmark, known for their work development programs, spends 18 times as much, France 12 times as much, and Germany 7 times).
Further, strengthening partnerships with organizations that have an on the ground view on the employment shortcoming in certain communities is another step to prepare for future economic disruptions. Funds poured into programs like Trailhead, a free training service to teach Salesforce in rural areas, Vetforce, an employment program for US military service members, and the Appalachia Regional Commission, which seeks to create self-sustaining opportunities in Appalachia, and other job training programs have shown to be sound investments.
In addition to prudent allocations we need to understand and prepare for the potential consequences of innovation, positive and negative.
Carnegie Mellon University is playing a leading role in this effort. It is establishing a new Center for Technology and Society that examines how emerging technologies impact the ability of workers of all skill levels to create a sustainable living in the 21st Century. Other universities should follow.
Even with heightened awareness from the private and public sector, the burden to navigate through a more technical economy will fall upon the individual. There will be no knight in shining armor, on a horse, doling out jobs nor will there be a 21st Century Paul Revere warning us of the immediate dangers heading our way. All professionals must diversify their skill set. Financial engineers should garner communication skills, computer programmers must become better writers (and thinkers), and all of us should cultivate an automation-resistant skill.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in the nascent stage of altering the way we approach professional development. We have an opportunity to prepare the masses for shifts in the labor market. Thankfully many are cognizant of the coming changes.
On my way to Mexico City to research this topic, I met a criminal justice major that at 34 shifted careers from legal writing to chemical industrial distribution. Today, he manages Estee Lauder North American chemical testing facilities. I asked why he made the professional pivot. Without skipping a beat, he quipped, “The world’s changing bro. If you don’t change with it, you’re going to get outfoxed”