Global corporate learning is improving but it is not yet meeting the needs of learners around the world. A description of the current state of global learning and some of its causes can be found in the first article here. This article is part of a series meant to equip the learning leaders of global organizations on the best practices for creating engaging and impactful learning experiences for every team member, no matter the region or culture. CLICK HERE to see a list of the topics covered in this series and access the articles.
TYPEWRITERS AND THE MODEL T
I grew up in a small town in northwest Indiana in the 1970s. The town had a central business district filled with shops, doctor and dentist offices, and a grocery store. Additionally, there were two typewriter repair shops. Apparently, typewriters broke with enough frequency that two shops were needed to handle the volume of business.
The history of manual typewriters can be traced back to the 1600s. Electric typewriters were first mass-produced in 1900. Nearly all businesses and many homes had one version or another. Typewriter repair shop owners had to feel secure that their businesses faced no threat and were likely going to be passed along to their children when the time came.
Everything changed in 1977. Three new personal computers entered the market. Apple released the Apple II, Radio Shack began selling the TRS-80, and the PET 2001 from Commodore made its appearance. In a window of only a few years, the typewriter became a dinosaur. Companies making them went out of business or closed their typewriter division. Along with the people who assembled the typewriter, dozens of other suppliers laid off their employees. People who made the metal, plastic, ink, and ribbon found that their careers were suddenly at an end. Repair shops, like those in our small town, survived a little longer, catering to late adopters who still wanted a typewriter, but in the end, they closed up shop too.
This same cycle has been repeated with every new innovation. Henry Ford is credited with making the automobile available on a mass scale but he was also responsible for ending dozens of occupations for thousands of people. Imagine being a buggy manufacturer in the late 1890s. Ford’s first effort, the quadricycle, looked like a fragile four-wheeled fancy bicycle and was well beyond the means of most people. His next effort, the Model T, was not. It was mass-produced with the goals of being affordable, simple, and durable. Introduced in 1908, the Model T quickly became a global standard and replaced horses as personal transportation.
What is often overlooked is that workers in metal, wood, and leather, along with dozens of other occupations were drastically reduced almost overnight after thousands of years of history. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were cut across the globe.
SCHUMPETER AND CREATIVE DESTRUCTION
Joseph Schumpeter was an economist alive at the same time Henry Ford was changing the world of transportation. Having served as the Finance Minister of Austria shortly after World War I, he became a professor and eventually moved to the United States, taking a position at Harvard University. He is best known for popularizing the term “creative destruction.”
The idea was that the economy is driven by technical innovation which continually innovates. This innovation creates new products, services, and processes. That is the creative part. Destruction is part and parcel of the process because innovation will inevitably leave behind previous innovations, replacing them with new and more efficient paradigms and products.
We see this in almost every kind of business. Over the last century, music has been delivered by phonograph, eight-track tape, cassette tape, compact discs, MP3 players, and finally streaming music services. Each one, for the most part, eliminated the previous music delivery industry for something new and better. But people involved in old technology lost their jobs.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND CREATIVE DESTRUCTION
There is no doubt that artificial intelligence is and will continue to be one of the most extensive examples of creative destruction in human history. Consider these data points from a recent McKinsey report.
- AI could add $2.6 to $4.4 trillion to the global economy
- AI will have a significant impact across all industries
- AI has the potential to automate 60-70% of employees’ time today
- AI may automate more than half of all work activities by 2060
- AI could lead to up to a 3.3% productivity annual increase in the global economy
One more point for consideration. AI is just getting started. What is possible now, per the theory of creative destruction, will not be the final iteration of all the things artificial intelligence will be able to do in the coming years and decades.
Behind the numbers are real people, holding real jobs. The creativity of AI innovation will increase what everyone considers to be good economic growth and productivity. The destruction will come in jobs that are no longer required and all the lives that will be impacted.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE WHO LOST THEIR JOBS?
At first glance, it seems that there should be a direct correlation between the introduction of new technologies and the unemployment rate. The pace of technological innovation has not only quickened in the last three decades, its impact has broadened. As innovation increases, so should unemployment.
Susan Lund, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute co-authored a fascinating study entitled, “Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages.” Learn more here.
In an interview summarizing her research, Lund states that “since 1960, in the United States, for instance, both productivity and employment have grown in individual years 79 percent of the time. And in only 12 percent of the years did we see productivity growth with employment declines.” Learn more here.
In other words, technology and innovation drive up worker productivity. The results should be that it would also drive down employment. That is not the case.
What happened to those whose jobs were eliminated by innovation? They got other jobs. They learned new skills or applied their existing skills in other industries.
AI, L&D, SOME CHOICES, AND AN OPPORTUNITY
Artificial intelligence, as an innovation, is likely to be at a scale not previously seen. It does not appear to be a marginal improvement on an earlier version of something, like typewriters to PCs, horses to cars, or records to streaming music. It will more likely be a paradigmatic shift of how we work. If the McKinsley prediction is accurate, there will be multiple occupations in which more than 50% of a person’s tasks could be automated.
Many in the learning and development space will likely find this to be true. Not only is it possible to write scripts and develop the verbiage for training via AI, it is also possible to develop images, photos, and voiceovers. Even early on in the technology, what is possible is stunning. We are on the cusp of truly individualized learning experiences tailored to a single person in just the moment they need to know something.
So how do we think about the role of AI in learning and development?
Some will choose to ignore the innovation. Hollywood is currently in the middle of a writers’ strike. One of the central issues is the use of artificial intelligence in entertainment writing. In a recent addition of The Hollywood Reporter, one animation writer summed up this approach: “At least everybody that I’ve talked to, we don’t want AI to be a tool. We just don’t want it to be a part of our creative processes because the second you start using it as a tool is the second you can start using it in a real way to replace workers.”
There is some truth in this statement but there is also a denial of reality that will not serve well those who choose this direction. My great-grandfather farmed with horses. He only drove a truck one time. Unfortunately, he drove it straight into the side of his barn. When his children asked what happened, he said, “I kept yelling ‘Whoa’ and the damn thing wouldn’t stop.”
The second option is to make a deliberate decision to embrace innovation and reskill so that we can use the best tools available to us. It will mean facing fear and looking for what is possible. It will take effort to learn how to integrate AI tools, in all their forms, into the tools we are already using. And it will mean holding tight to the core principles of adult learning, learning theory, and learning science. While the tools change, the people doing the learning will not. AI will not alter our essential human nature.
There is an opportunity. Technological innovation that leads to creative destruction also greatly increases the need for workers to reskill and upskill. Learning leaders will undoubtedly be squarely in the middle of defining these needs and designing the content to meet them. We will each need to decide what we think of artificial intelligence and how we are going to make use of it as we seek to live up to our calling of helping people build the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their work lives.
Keep an eye out for the release of part 2 of this topic series, where we will delve deeper into how AI will specifically influence learning practitioners. Part 2 will be released before the end of the year.
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