How to use your brain to help your career in the fourth industrial revolution

Are you worried that new technologies will see too many of us mere humans out of work in the near future? Is there a way we can adapt to these changes?

Read on to find out.

If you look back through history, you’ll see that changes in technology have always driven changes in the nature of our jobs and the tools we use. However, that can be a good thing. The industrial revolutions that have occurred over the last few centuries are proof of that.

The third industrial revolution started around 1980 and is still going. In this computer age, we’ve seen countless systems transformation from analogue to digital, the automation of many processes, and the rapid evolution of the personal computer and the smart phone. What a difference they’ve made to our daily lives!

The second industrial revolution took place from roughly 1870 until just before the outbreak of World War 1. Electricity allowed for mass production and assembly lines. Many pre-existing industries expanded and new ones arrived, including the development of the oil and steel industries.

The previous major change cycle took place from the 18th to 19th centuries in the form of the first industrial revolution (or simply ‘the industrial revolution’). Steam power, water power, railways, and the iron and textile industries drove changes at a scale that had never been seen before in such a short period. We moved from producing goods by hand to creating them using machine tools in large factories.

Even before all that, technology still drove change but at a much slower pace. For example, transitions through the stone, bronze and iron ages gave us new tools to work with and new skills to acquire. Whenever the nature of our industries changed, so too did our daily lives, social patterns, and living standards.

Cycles of change

The biggest challenge for implementing new ideas or ways of doing things has always been the wall of resistance from those who prefer to do things ‘the way we’ve always done them’. But, as we’ve seen from our short history lesson, the ‘always’ part isn’t actually true. The way we currently do things just replaced the way we did things before, which replaced the way we did things before that, et cetera.

During each of the industrial revolutions, as new jobs were created, old ones disappeared. However, when faced with unemployment and poverty, people adapted by learning new skills or applying their current skills in new ways. Some coped better than others, but there were always those who were able to capitalise on the changes around them and prosper.

Old dogs can learn new tricks

The people who adapt most easily to change are those who believe that they can!

Modern psychological research can tell us a lot here. We used to think that the human brain didn’t regenerate and that, as we aged, our ability to retain new information reduced. However, we now know much more about how the brain functions.

We receive information via our senses to multiple parts of the brain. So, when we try a new food, for instance, we can see how it looks, we can smell it, we can feel its texture in our mouths and we can sense how our body responds to digesting it. We can also retain how we were feeling when we ate the food, who we were with, whether we liked them, and so on.

All these bits of information get processed at the same time and our brain makes connections between them and the parts of the brain that are involved. The same thing happens when we learn new skills or explore new interests. These connections are called neural pathways and there is no limit to how many different pathways we can create. Our brains are malleable or ‘plastic’ and they can constantly rewire themselves to incorporate new information.

Dr Lisa Christiansen explains the concept of neuroplasticity well in her LinkedIn article, ‘How the Brain Creates New Neural Pathways’.

What this tells us is that age is no barrier to learning new skills. But before we try new career skills we may need to examine our beliefs.

You are what you think you are

Very often, our career choices are influenced by our self-confidence and our core beliefs about ourselves. If you’ve grown up thinking that learning new things is interesting and that you are capable of doing so, you’ll probably retain that positive attitude throughout your life.

On the other hand, if you believe that you’re ‘not that smart’ because you didn’t get high grades at school, then you might have chosen physical or low-skilled work instead of pursuing a profession, for example. Then, if you’ve stayed in similar roles since, it’s not hard to fall into the trap of believing that you are not capable of doing any other kind of work. Instead, it is much easier to stay in your comfort zone and stick to the work you know.

Other factors such as cultural expectations, parental and peer influence, and your socioeconomic status may all have helped shape your thoughts around your career options. However, these thoughts and beliefs are not set in concrete and you don’t have to hold onto them forever.

Very deep or complex neural pathways (whether they relate to skills or beliefs) can take time to change but it can be done. It just takes motivation and commitment to keep reinforcing the new pathway until it overrides the previous one. For proof of this, read Tom Duke’s article, ‘Changing neural pathways to make a swing change’ and watch the Smarter Every Day video on ‘The Backwards Brain Bicycle’.

The fourth industrial revolution

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, believes that we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution that builds on the current digital revolution and sees us merging the digital, physical, and biological worlds. He believes,

“The world has the potential to connect billions more people to digital networks, dramatically improve the efficiency of organizations and even manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the natural environment, potentially undoing the damage of previous industrial revolutions.”

While this means that robots will inevitably replace many jobs, it also opens up many amazing opportunities. There will also always be work in areas that are people-centred (such as customer relations or aged-care) or data-driven.

Simon Blackburn, Michaela Freeland, and Dorian Gartner from McKinsey & Company assure us that:

“Digital is not just about IT infrastructure, nor focused narrowly on online/mobile presence, but an integrated set of opportunities leveraging technologies ranging from automation, the Internet of Things, and advanced analytics, through to agile methodologies and customer-centric product and experience design.”

In their article ‘Digital Australia: Seizing opportunities from the fourth industrial revolution’, they outline the potential opportunities and threats this revolution could bring about in the following industries:

·      Healthcare
·      The public sector
·      Retail
·      The arts
·      Banking and insurance
·      Mining, and
·      Utilities.

They believe that, while the process of change in these (and other) areas will require vision and commitment from both the public and private sectors, it can be done. However, it will need all of us to be willing and ready to embrace the change.

Embrace our own changes

The amount of time needed to change how we work, such as learning new computer skills or different ways of working with people, will vary depending on the situation, your level of resistance to the change, and the time you devote to it.

The chances are that you already have many skills that can be adapted to new careers. Now you know that you still have an unlimited potential to learn new things, there is nothing to stop you embracing the coming revolution and finding your own new direction.

For great tips on managing a career change, read our article ‘5 ways to ensure your career change is successful’.

Call to action…

One woman who is at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution in Australia is Dr Catherine Ball.

Dr Catherine Ball is an author, founder, and ethics advocate working across global projects where robotics and new technology meet environmental protection. Her work is focused on the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (also known as drones) with remote communities, schools, industry, and citizen scientists.

In Dr Bell’s podcast interview on The Mentor List, she discusses how work in this developing area is advancing our knowledge and capabilities in numerous areas. Drones are ideal for use in dull, dirty, or dangerous situations including bushfire management, mine collapses, search and rescue operations, wildlife tracking, land usage, and even real-estate and development planning.

Dr Ball continues to support Australia as being the world leader in the non-military application of drone technology, also known as ‘drones for good’. To hear her fascinating insights into the new era upon us and to be inspired by its limitless potential, be sure you take the time to listen to her interview today.

Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List.

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