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The key to your future: Finding the new job inside your old one

It’s early, but the best book I’ve read thus far this year is The Algorithmic Leader: How to Be Smart When Machines are Smarter Than You, by futurist Mike Walsh. It’s all about disruption, and anticipation, and figuring out where we fit in this changing and chaotic world.

I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about the lessons I learned from this amazing book, but here’s the first:

“While machines will get dramatically better at extracting insights from data, spotting patterns, and even making decisions on our behalf,” Walsh writes, “only humans will have the unique ability to imagine innovative ways to use machine intelligence to create experiences, transform organizations, and reinvent the world.”

In other words: This is our can-do moment, humans. Are we ready to make the most of it?

We’ve been obsessed with the idea that machines are coming to take our jobs — and they will, assuming our jobs are mindless, repetitive, number-crunching monotony. What most people have refused to accept is the idea that machines will create as many jobs as they destroy — more, in fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Future of Jobs report.

How do we — a legacy-based profession that’s grounded in the idea that we must spend most of our time looking behind us — take advantage of a sudden influx of new jobs that demand we look further ahead?

The answer is all about evolution.

“Rather than wondering if your job will disappear,” Walsh writes, “ask yourself, ‘What is the new job inside my old one?'”

What does that look like? For starters, Walsh writes, it requires that leaders “look beyond the scope of the original activity or process to figure out where value can really be created.”

As an example, let’s turn to corporate finance.

“The role of the people working in the finance department can now be elevated from auditing and reconciling transactions to being strategic, mitigating risk, and changing behavior,” Walsh writes. “Once a pattern has been identified, it is possible for someone to have a conversation with an employe and change their behavior, rather than trying to catch problems one transaction at a time.”

That’s easier said than done.

In its recent “DNA of the CFO” report, EY claims the top challenge that finance and accounting professionals face these days is the fact that increasing operational responsibilities are preventing them from taking on a more strategic focus. They recognize the need to become more strategic partners in their organizations, but they can’t quite get there due to a number of factors, like a lack of the necessary skills in the finance team, the time they spend on compliance and controls, and other increasing operational responsibilities.

In other words, isolating the new job inside of your old one might not be the problem after all. The problem might be finding the capacity to do that new job.

There are two answers to that problem, in my opinion:

  1. Figuring out what’s important to you.
  2. Mastering the skills you’ll need to do it.

There are your answers: priorities and professional development. And the great thing about these solutions is that we have complete control over both. Sure, we can hope our organizations will train us for greater things ahead … but what if they don’t?

In the end, our future lies in our hands. Take control. Figure out what you need to do, then learn how to do it. It’s that easy.

… and that difficult.

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