Will robots eat our jobs? Automation and the slow jobs recovery

Is automation contributing to our continuing slow jobs’ recovery, as its use increases in so many industries (manufacturing, retail, clerical, financial services, medicine)?  Seems the answer is yes and no, and still in transition, just as the use of robots is in transition.  Some robots replace our skills, some robots become our tools.

An excellent long article in the MIT Technology Review, explores theses issues, which I highly recommend.


Some excerpts:

“Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren’t keeping up.”  [Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, co-author of Race Against the Machine (2011)].

“A warehouse equipped with Kiva robots can handle up to four times as many orders as a similar unautomated warehouse, where workers might spend as much as 70 percent of their time walking about to retrieve goods.”

“Despite the labor-saving potential of the robots, Mick Mountz, Kiva’s founder and CEO, says he doubts the machines have put many people out of work or will do so in the future.”

“By making distribution operations cheaper and more efficient, the robotic technology has helped many of these retailers [e-commerce retailers, the majority of Kiva’s customers]  survive and even expand.”

“One of the friendlier, more flexible robots meant to work with humans is Rethink’s Baxter. The creation of Rodney Brooks, the company’s founder, Baxter needs minimal training to perform simple tasks like picking up objects and moving them to a box. It’s meant for use in relatively small manufacturing facilities where conventional industrial robots would cost too much and pose too much danger to workers. The idea, says Brooks, is to have the robots take care of dull, repetitive jobs that no one wants to do.”

“Asked about the claim that such advanced industrial robots could eliminate jobs, Brooks answers simply that he doesn’t see it that way. Robots, he says, can be to factory workers as electric drills are to construction workers: “It makes them more productive and efficient, but it doesn’t take jobs.”


Again, we are watching the slow unfolding of technology that disrupts our earlier assumptions about our work.  New, necessary skills will need to be adopted by workers.   As Alvin Toffler once wrote, “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.”


Kevin Spacey on the Netflix Model

Big Data is in play now, in a way we can all see.  Netflix is using its data to risk the production and distribution of its original programming, and it is winning its reward.

Turns out that Netflix did not do a broad advertising push on the release of its recent original series, Orange is the New Black. Turns out, it didn’t need to.  It analyzed its data on its audience, posted banner ads on its site, and let the series succeed.

Kevin Spacey presented the keynote at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival recently, highlighting the Netflix model that risked the production of two seasons of House of Cards without producing a pilot.  Netflix was the only production studio to take that risk with the material.

Check out this 5-minute except of Spacey’s presentation, including the prices paid for pilots each year, versus the Netflix model.  Thanks to Upworthy for posting.   Some clips ~

“We [the entertainment industry] have learned the lesson the music industry did not learn…”

“The audience has spoken…”

“Give people what they want, when they want it, in a form they want it in, at a reasonable price…”

Tactics for pitching for a “needs analysis” – establishing value, trust, results and re-assurance

When I was a young consultant, a prospect said to me (friendly, it was),  “Yeah, yeah, you do strategy, but do you DO anything?”  I immediately changed my tag line to “Joey Tamer designs and builds….” so I could promise the result and bury the strategy (but I got paid for it in the detailed agreement).  I became results-driven very early on.  Later I learned how to establish my value, my client’s trust, the promised results, and the re-assurance of my client.

In many cases with a new prospect, you need to get inside the company or department to understand the extent of your true scope of work.  For this you need to conduct a (paid) audit, assessment or needs analysis (pick whichever word fits your industry).  In pitching this idea, you need to avoid the skepticism I experienced, and countermand it in the pitch itself.

Now, some industries and prospects think a needs analysis is just the consultant finding more ways to charge for services, or to avoid actually delivering any concrete results.  Other companies understand its use perfectly.

To pitch an assessment, however, takes a certain skill to overcome these suspicions.  Here are some tactics to include when proposing an assessment:

  1. Explain that the assessment will reveal the most (cost-) effective approach to solving the challenges you were invited to solve.
  2. It will define the challenge more clearly, suggest what kinds of employees or contractors would be best to hire on, to create a team to work on the challenges.
  3. Beyond that, it may indeed restrict your (expensive) role by early off-loading work to experts in the market niches required, so that the client may work with specialists that cost less than you do.
  4. This approach may cost less money to the client.
  5. Remember:  re-assure the client that you will be there every step of the way, and that you will oversee the project.
  6. Remember: re-assure the client that you are functioning as a trusted adviser to the quickest and best good of the company.
  7. Remember: remind the client that you will stay beside him or her as long as requested, but will also plan for your own obsolescence.  Promise you will stay on as an adviser (for a reduced but rational fee), as long as you both agree is appropriate.
  8. Remember:  you must both energize your client, and make him or her comfortable and not threatened. This is the success secret many consultants forget (or do not understand).

In all these tactics, you are establishing value, gaining your prospect’s trust, promising results, and offering reassurance.  Good luck.

Elements of successful pitch deck for your referral sources

You have been invited to present to a room filled with excellent referral sources, perhaps in one company, or in a networking group.  You don’t know them, but you want them to share their clients and contacts with you for new projects.

I often help my clients by drafting these presentations, or reviewing what they offer as a first draft.  Defining your value proposition and structuring the presentation to not seem like a sale pitch can require a subtle use of language.

Of course, you must not “pitch.”  Everyone hates to be “sold.”  You must define a larger problem that you and your referral sources can begin to solve.  You must educate your sources to understand your unique value and where it fits in the target markets and threats to success of their client companies.  And you must first engage your audience and make them “see” you as a compassionate expert, and to connect with you.

Here are the elements of a successful partnering/referral pitch deck:

  • Must engage the audience to like you and your willingness to help their client companies.
  • Must define your expertise.
  • Must define a larger problem than they (the audience or their clients) can solve themselves (economic shifts, technology changes, etc.)
  • Must define a larger problem in general — the failing of companies based on current conditions (all which can be solved by your expertise).
  • Must define the impact of the problem if left un-resolved  (failed companies, loss of employment, investment and ROI).
  • Must educate the audience about the problem and the larger issues mentioned above.
  • Must tell stories of threatened companies and the resolution to that threat by the expert (you).
  • Must remind them that you care, and why you care, and how you can help.
  • Must then offer services which they can research on your site and Linkedin, and also allow them to ask you direct questions.
  • Must provide contact information.
  • Must leave time to engage in an open conversation.

This approach, for all its structure, must be sincere.  If you are only pitching, it will show.  If you don’t care about your clients and your referral sources, that will show.  So dig deep and find that real part of you that wants to truly engage with your colleagues, and speak from there.

3D Printing of weapons and wonders and the disruption of both: two arms races

New technology has always been pushing the edges of both the malign and the benign.  And so again with 3D printing.

One of the first things produced by 3D printing?  A gun.  And it can shoot.

A more recent production from the new printer technology?  “Magic arms” — a brace for a 2-year old girl who would otherwise never be able to raise or use her own arms.

These two extremes, of course, simply reflect the range of human behavior and our reaction to opportunity.

The breakthrough achievement of the first “replicator” seen outside of sci-fi movies will move us to new thinking (again and again) on moral, ethical, legal and economic issues.

  • How will the inexpensive production of weapons or medical wonders change the means of production, the leverage of costs, and the laws on distribution?  Will regulations try to restrict any of these?  Legislative pronouncements have already begun about the gun.
  • How will access to either of the “arms” disrupt the inequalities of medical care, and political revolution, at home and around the world?  Will we level the playing field for access to medical inventions for other than those who can afford them?  Will foundations spring up to support the cost of the printers and printing materials to support the poor, or the revolutionaries?  Will weapons be manufactured in protected places around the world to support civil unrest and uprisings?
  • What does it mean that 3D printers can already replicate their own parts and pieces (with our help to feed in the blueprint and push the button, of course), immediately disrupting the means and distribution of the 3D printers themselves?

A new look at class distinctions and opportunities will emerge in light of just these two inventions, the gun and the other kind of arms.

And soon we will evolve to producing commodities and that will trigger price disruption, and then we may see a tightening (or loosening) of access to distribution of our most common things.

3D printers are just emerging and proving their concept in the marketplace. Blueprints for production are distributed over the Internet, as is all data.   In less than 15 years (as with other new technologies), the technology itself will become refined for practical and efficient common use, its price of production and materials will become commoditized, and everybody’s brother’s cousin will know how to use it.

We should start thinking about the larger issues now.