If 50% of all humans at work are being replaced by robots, who will have the money to buy the products/services I am selling today?
“In the UK, the civil service designs the entire federal budget and submits it to parliament for feedback and approval before it is executed. And yet it’s hard to imagine a technocratic system ever plunging itself headlong into a political vacuum such as the “Brexit”. By some accounts, stormy weather get many complacent “Remain” voters at home, allowing the “Leave” camp to narrowly prevail. Does a smart country consign itself to strategic oblivion based on a simple majority vote on a rainy day? After the Brexit results emerged, a civil service committee was hastily cobbled together to examine the implications of the decision. In a proper technocracy, the civil service studies the scenarios and consequences of issues before the parliament or people decide which course to take – not after. Then, parliament could consult actively with the citizenry before taking a vote requiring a two-thirds super-majority.”
[‘Technocracy in America’ – Parag Khanna, p. 62]
This article isn’t about decisions and opinions, it isn’t about if Brexit is the right or wrong thing to do. This article is about the importance of scenario planning. Please take off your blinders and open your mind. It is too important a topic to be lost in the theatre of politics and beliefs.
As Parag writes the UK government never did any scenario planning for a world of Brexit. What effects would Brexit have on the UK and on the world? What would be the short and long term consequences of such a move? Hell, the UK government didn’t even plan for the possibility of losing this referendum.
This shows a couple of things:
- The referendum was created to win an election and to keep peace within the Conservative Party.
- Assumptions about people’s behaviors were made without testing them.
- Nothing was learned from the Greek bailout referendum in 2015.
Similar mistakes are being made again:
- The UK government has rushed into the negotiations instead of taking the time to being fully prepared and to have a clear vision about the Britain post-Brexit. That is driven by the electoral time table.
- Assumptions about people’s behaviours are being made without testing them.
- Nothing seems to have been learned from the aftermath of the Greek bailout referendum in 2015.
Unfortunately, the same attitude prevails in many businesses. I have met many business owners and leaders who are so driven by short-term results and are so busy that they forget about scenario planning. They have not planned for what might happen to their business if the UK would have to fall back onto WTO rules? Or what it would mean for their business if the US would impose strict import tariffs? They have not planned for what might happen to their business if 50% of all roles are fulfilled by robots instead of humans?
“We cross this bridge when we get to it”, “It will all be fine”, “I can’t do anything about it, so why worry about it”, “Nobody can predict the future, it is a waste of time” are the four arguments I hear most often.
By the time they are reaching that bridge, they most likely will be in such a panic that they can’t benefit and are just fire-fighting (but people seem to love this more than anything in business, otherwise why do it so often?) or they are in such poor shape, having lost all self-reliance, that they will not be able to cross this bridge at all.
Obviously, scenario planning isn’t about knowing the future, it is about looking at different possibilities that could occur, mainly in changes to the external environment, and understanding what this could mean for your company and how your company not only would react, but could benefit. The military is very good at this, so are healthcare companies – and that is one of the key reasons why so many inventions spawn from those two. Take the internet for example, or GPS, and many of the items that are being debated for Kurzweil’s Singularity such as mind control through brain implants.
We are good at having opinions about things, we are great at debating, but when it comes to looking and acting on the consequences, we put our heads into the sand and repeat the above excuses like a mantra. But that isn’t enough. We are experiencing a seismic shift that will impact everything; our political, our educational, our legal, our healthcare and economic systems. We continue to use the same old approach and prop up the existing systems because that benefits a few people. But it isn’t enough, the existing systems are not fit for purpose for this change. The old ways don’t work anymore. So what are the new ones?
I can’t answer these questions for your company in this article, but try the following:
- I demand more (insert word – like automation) from other departments and companies. What would happen if I would insist on the same for my department/company? Be the change you want to see.
- If 50% of all humans at work are being replaced by robots, what skills do I and my workforce need to possess? How do I attract people with those skills?
- If 50% of all humans at work are being replaced by robots, who will have the money to buy the products/services I am selling today?
- If my company would disappear tomorrow, would it be missed? If the answer is “no”, how are you changing, improving your company that it will be missed?
Answering the questions and properly thinking about what changes to the external environment will mean to your business, without enacting any changes, will already have a positive effect: It changes your outlook, your state of mind and your awareness. Most importantly, it gives you a greater appreciation and admiration of the power and force of the external environment. It doesn’t matter how great a manager you believe you are: if you are not aware of the external environment, if you don’t anticipate the changes, you will struggle to fulfill your potential.