I read a compelling bit of business journalism yesterday. The piece featured an interview with Mark Cuban, the wealthy entrepreneur and sports team owner with a knack for making money off future trends. Here’s what he said about the future of the working world, and how things might change.
Cuban — We’re going to see more changes in technology over the next five years than we have in the past 30. We’ve seen processing speeds really accelerate and that’s allowed tech guys to start to really talk machine learning and artificial intelligence. Because of that, we’ve evolved from automating manual steps to connecting things together. We’re going to be getting to the point where we’re automating the process of automation.
So, jobs like writing software and programming that seem like great jobs, at the lower end, they’ll be gone. We’re going to come back full circle where the valuable crafts are going to be teaching, liberal arts, philosophy, math and science. Because once all the machines are doing all the work of calculating, someone’s got to interpret. You have to be a thinker. You have to learn how to learn.
What a fascinating observation. But now, what has that got to do with running and riding and swimming? Let’s connect some dots and see where this leads us.
Consider the first paragraph. Cuban is talking about a world in which people are replaced by automation. I just wrote this piece yesterday on Linkedin Pulse about how a woman who works at the Metra commuter station selling train tickets just got replaced by an app that does the same thing. Technology has a tendency to wipe out jobs in one place while adding jobs, perhaps not as many, in another.
But at what point does that process reach a zero sum basis on the horizon?
Some people speculate there may come a day when no one has actual jobs, of any type. To some people, that notion is abhorrent and smacks of big government. But what if the free market drives us there? What then?
The economy may indeed gravitate toward replacement of all but the most granular bits of human labor. We’re already moving toward a scenario in which self-driving vehicles will replace human drivers. There go jobs in trucking and shipping. The Uber dynamic is automating warehousing and logistics as well. Jobs by the thousands are likely to disappear. This level of change will not be “adapt or die.” It will be “find something else to do or forget about it.”
Cuban warned that technology is also revamping concepts of energy and efficiency. “The coal jobs are not coming back,” he intones. If he’s right, it sounds like the 25% of American who voted for regressive economic and social policies are frankly pushing in the wrong direction. The push may last a while, but market forces will blast right through those walls of denial. Buggy whip salesman just don’t have much use these days.
It’s a harsh reality in some ways, but a brilliant opportunity awaits. The things we credit of supposed value will change before our eyes. Work itself will be commoditized. There may come a time when most people simply live off the merchandising of products created by technology.
Don’t laugh. We’re already halfway there.
These days on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, people create personal brands focused around what they can show off, not on what they can do. The more someone can funnel these impressions out to other people in ways that entertain or compel them to buy, the more Followers they attract. It’s a Share To Be Shared World.
Which means that runners or swimmers or triathletes or cyclists that have an interesting story to tell are becoming key merchandisers for companies looking to present their products in the best light. It’s not about the direct sell anymore. It’s about advocacy. And like it or not, you’re an advocate for the products you buy. There is no escaping that fact. Which is why so many people have outright chosen to embrace it as part of their lives.
Everyone’s a celebrity now
There have long been models for this dynamic in top level sports merchandising. Celebrity sports testimonials have a long history in marketing. People still like celebrities, but the notion of what defines a celebrity or a sports star have been changing rapidly.
Now there is stardom for the mom who can balance training with raising babies and holding down a job or starting her own little company. People line up online to follow such exploits. When that gal hits 50,000 followers, other merchandisers want to share her network. It rolls on out from there. Personal advocacy is the way of the future.
All over Instagram and other social media, there are one-trick pony triathletes marketing themselves, posting their goals, training times and overall commitment to the sport. These people are models for what may become the future of marketing through personal brands.
It’s not quite the same dynamic as slapping logos on the kits of pro cyclists, but it may be close to that. There is a lot of expensive junk that goes along with the sports of swimming, cycling, running and multisports. Ironman branding now covers everything from watches to tattoos people put on their bodies. Some people hate Ironman for that. But it works.
So future athletes may have some role to play in merchandising. That could be a bit disturbing in some ways. We all cringe when an insurance salesperson slides over to make a sales pitch at a party, or some multi-level marketing zealot calls with an offer to “join my business.” And God Forbid some religious cult shows up at our front door.
People don’t like the creepy stuff that goes with some types of personal marketing. But the smart ones make it fun. Those who follow these mini-celebrities choose to do so willingly. There may come a giant “opt-in” moment in the future when people liberated from the traditional work world, through force of automation and technology, are called upon to translate the meaning of brands and get themselves involved in doing that as part of the process.
And mind you, this is not some liberal pap I’ve invented to justify a hopeful ideology. This is what tech and businesses are warning us about the future. The work world is contracting, both literally and figuratively. You can hate it all you want, but it’s still likely to happen.
Which raises the question: How many brand logos can a fit body hold? Well, it’s more about what you represent than what you can show off.
As for me, I’ll look forward to that second paragraph by Mark Cuban. That’s the part about creative people and critical thinkers becoming more valuable in the future. For a couple decades I’ve sat in rooms with people using Post-It notes in an attempt to wade through the creative process.That brand of ‘creativity’ is really nothing more than using bits of paper to do mental spreadsheets. It usually results in committee-think and results such as TRONC, the Tribune company’s lame attempt at repositioning themselves as an online content organization.
It will be up to each of us and those in the future to figure out what our roles will be when the world of work gets turned inside out. Certainly, the anachronistic attempt to yank America back fifty years is not going to get very far in this business climate of global competitiveness and worse yet, global warming.
So get out there with your selfie phone and swim, run and ride for all you’re worth. It may how you go to work each day in a few more years. You may be the athlete of the future.