The knowledge economy
We live in a world where knowledge holds more value than money, yet the majority of us rarely make the time to grow our knowledge and learn new skills. We’re stuck in today, focusing on getting our work done, sure that the formal education undertaken in our twenties will carry us the 50 plus years through retirement.
The hard truth is that regardless of how well we’ve positioned ourselves, the skills and knowledge we have today won’t open the same doors again in 5 years’ time. In fact, many of those doors, positions, professions, workplaces and clients simply won’t exist. The opportunities of tomorrow will be on offer only to those with skills and knowledge that are both relevant and timely.
So, what does keeping pace with the technology industry look like?
Predicting specific technological advancements and trends years down the line is speculative guess work, but we can use historical trends to predict and visualise our trajectory.
Moore’s law, states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit board has doubled roughly every 2 years since the observation was first made in 1965. Synonymous with an increase in computing “power”, this has held true for 5 decades.
But it turns out that many other technologies have tracked along this same exponential curve. Storage and memory capacity, pixel density, networking bandwidth (particularly optical fibre) and countless other hardware technologies have all followed suit. As have improvements to programming languages, compilers, operating systems, and all of the supporting software and tooling that we’ve come to take for granted.
So Moore’s law is a surprisingly good benchmark for innovation in the technology space as a whole.
Plotting a path forward
So where does your skill set position you today?
- Above the line: You’re on the bleeding edge, inventing new technologies, launching space shuttles and building quantum computers. The risks are huge, you’re gobbling up R&D grants and there’s a lot of failure, but success pays off big time.
- On the line: You’re working on the edge of commercial viability. There’s not much documentation, the masses don’t understand what it is that you do but you can find some customers progressive enough to buy in. It’s lonely but it’s possible.
- Below the line: You’re using mainstream tech to deliver consistent, predictable results. The tooling is good, there are lots of customers and the risk is much lower, but so is the reward. The further you drift from the curve the greater the risk of losing relevance and being over taken. But how far is too far?
A band of opportunity
Let’s assume we want to position ourselves somewhere under the curve where there are ample opportunities and the risk is well within manageable parameters. Competition dwindles as we approach the curve, but we have to work harder and take more risk. Drop away from the curve and we risk losing relevance, being overtaken by the humans and machines who are hot on our tail.
From the 7-year-old children learning programming and robotics in their second year of primary school, to the AI driven virtual assistants whose voices are already indistinguishable from our current colleagues. Some well backed studies predict that automation will replace or significantly impact 60 percent of today’s occupations by 2030. Many of us will be feel the effects of this much sooner.
The band of opportunity is narrower than it might seem. Complacency in the short term may not appear to have a material impact but ignoring the need for learning in the longer term will erode our opportunities just as fast as a lack of exercise, poor diet and a habit for smoking would erode our health.
Stay static for just a few years and we will be overtaken.
The best investment we can make
Investing time and energy in learning and development returns enormous, compounding interest over time. As we grow, we do better work, faster. We apply for new jobs, uncover new passions, take on new perspectives and have more fun while we explore the future rather than resigning to repeating the past.
There is such an abundance of low cost, on demand learning material available to us today that the cost and geographical barriers of yesteryear are gone, as is the excuse of time. It’s easy to feel blocked by our busy schedules, but free up 45 minutes a day to read, listen, work through online courses or just experiment and we’ll have dedicated the equivalent of 37 working days to our own development within just one year.
The opportunity cost is low and we have control of all the variables. All we need to do is prioritise.