In commemoration of Global HR Forum 2014, to be held in Seoul between November 4-6, 2014, The Korea Economic Daily had e-mail interviews with several distinguished guests on various subjects. The followings are e-mail Interview with Thomas Frey, Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute...Ed.
Reporter: Ha, Hun Hyoung
1. The theme of Global HR Forum 2014 is ‘Human Resources for Trust and Integration. What would you suggest the ways to restore collapsed social cohesion and confidence and foster talents leading those actions?
As a futurist, I spend far less time focused on today’s problems and far more looking at the issues we’ll be facing in the years ahead, and there will indeed be many in the years ahead.
The biggest issue will be “technological unemployment” and the loss of over 2 billion jobs by 2030. This is not a doom and gloom prediction, but rather a wakeup call for the world.
Will we run out of work for the world? Of course not! Nothing is more preposterous than to somehow proclaim the human race no longer has any work left to do. But having paid jobs to coincide with the work that needs to be done, and developing the skills necessary for future work is another matter.
Our goal needs to be focused on the catalytic innovations that create entirely new industries, and these new industries will serve as the engines of future job creation, unlike anything before in history.
2. What else will you discuss during your keynote speech at the Forum?
We are entering into a world where driverless vehicles will eliminate millions of driving positions; robotic systems will work relentlessly day and night eliminating millions of manufacturing, welding, painting, and assembly positions; and things that seemed impossible to automate in the past will have computers and machines replacing people’s jobs.
With these types of automation and AI (artificial intelligence) replacing human involvement, the discussion has focused on solutions like shared jobs, micro employment, and guaranteed income.
While those may be options, there’s also great danger in preparing for “slacker lifestyles” where people feel less significant, less certain about their future, and less connected to the value they have to offer. As a society we risk becoming soft and lazy.
There is great value in the human struggle, and when we fail to be challenged, our best-laid plans tend to fall apart at the seams.
Today, the amount of time it takes to build ships and skyscrapers, create massive data storage centers for all our growing volumes of information, or produce global wireless networks for all our devices has dropped significantly. But along with each of these drops is a parallel increase in our capabilities and our expectations.
For these reasons, I’d like to reframe the discussion by proposing the following “Laws of Exponential Capabilities”:
LAW #1: With automation, every exponential decrease in effort creates an equal and opposite exponential increase in capabilities.
LAW #2: As today’s significant accomplishments become more common, mega-accomplishments will take their place.
LAW #3: As we raise the bar for our achievements, we also reset the norm for our expectations.
3. What is your opinion on Korea’s present situation for business start-ups? Could you point out the strength and weakness compared to those of the U.S. and the other countries?
Being an outsider, I can only give my observations, but it would appear that Korea has a less dynamic startup culture than that in the U.S., but there is significant room for improvement in both countries.
Startups do best when they are surrounded by other like-minded people, learning from each other, inspiring each other, and helping people get back up when they run into yet another brick wall that has to be dealt with.
4. What does should the government do to support young business start-ups?
A new model for urban development is emerging; giving rise to what the Brookings Institute is calling “innovation districts.” These districts are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators.
Innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development. At a time of sluggish growth, they provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors—across sectors and disciplines—co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market.
Governments should look seriously at launching new innovation districts, adding support, incentives, and mentorship where necessary.
5. What advice would you give to Korean young people considering going into business start-up?
As a first step, you will need to surround yourself with people who look like what you want to become. By this I mean they should create a very dynamic, resilient “friends network” with a “can do” attitude and enough resources to overcome any challenge.
Naturally though, that’s easier said than done.
6. Could you talk about a few successful/unsuccessful cases of business start-ups?
While there have been countless examples in the past, motivated people today are making changes everywhere. Here are a few examples:
· Grace Choi – This Harvard Business School graduate recently invented Mink, a sub-$300 3D printer that prints custom makeup pigments on demand, a product that will radically transform the high-end cosmetic industry.
· FatouDoumbia – When it comes to creating sustainable farming and food supplies, the people of Mali, West Africa still have a long ways to go. Fatou’s plan is to empower women, teach them the best farming techniques, and overcome the challenges of a male-oriented society.
· Ben Kaufman – This 27 year old founder of the NY-based invention company, Quirky, has raised over $90 million to turn social invention into a faster way to bring great ideas to market.
· David Allerby – 33 year old founder of HomeCare, a company that provides temporary in-home assistants for seniors and children with developmental disabilities.
· Sean Kelly – This 29 year old two-time freestyle snowboarding national champion now runs HUMAN Healthy Vending, a chain of franchised vending machines filled with healthy foods, like fresh fruit and sports supplements.
Each of these young people has figured out a well-defined niche to develop into a successful business.
7. Youth unemployment is a severe problem globally. What advice would you give to Korean leaders as an approach to solving this problem?
In March, when Facebook announced the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, they not only put a giant stamp of approval on the technology, but they also triggered an instant demand for virtual reality designers, developers, and engineers.
Virtual reality professionals were nowhere to be found on the list of hot skills needed for 2014, but they certainly will be for 2015.
In these types of industries, it’s no longer possible to project the talent needs of business and industry 5-6 years in advance, which is the time it takes most universities to develop a new degree program and graduate their first class. Instead, these new skill-shifts come wrapped in a very short lead-time, often as little as 3-4 months.
Rapid re-skilling programs designed to build individual competencies, one micro-capability at a time, coupled with hands-on apprenticeships and on-demand tutorial support, are all pieces of the learning environments that will be needed to elevate the caliber of workers to meet the vital workforce needs of tomorrow.
8. Please share with us something you learned from employment and labor policies in other developing countries.
We live in a very fluid society. If conditions are not right, the world’s most talented and resourceful people will simply follow their dreams and do what it takes to be successful elsewhere.
Migrant populations around the world continue to grow. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2% of the world’s population, were international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.
Europe and Asia combined are the home for nearly two-thirds of all international migrants worldwide. Europe is the most popular destination hosting roughly 72 million international migrants in 2013, followed closely by 71 million in Asia.
The Internet is dramatically increasing our awareness of the events and actions of those in charge, as well what’s happening in other countries around the world.
As awareness grows, counties will soon find it necessary to compete for their citizens, something they’ve always taken for granted in the past.
9. In your opinion, what are some of the most promising jobs in the future?
In a recent article I described some of the hot new skills that will be needed in the future. While I’ve used some rather creative descriptions for these skills, they will all play an important role in future jobs.
· Transitionists – Those who can help make a transition.
· Expansionists – A talent for adapting along with a growing environment.
· Maximizers – An ability to maximize processes, situations, and opportunities.
· Optimizers – The skill and persistence to tweak variables until it produces better results.
· Inflectionists – Finding critical inflection points in a system will become a much-prized skill.
· Dismantlers – Every industry will eventually end, and this requires talented people who know how to scale things back in an orderly fashion.
· Feedback Loopers – Those who can devise the best possible feedback loops.
· Backlashers – Ever- new technology will have its detractors, and each backlash will require a response.
· Last Milers – Technologies commonly reach a point of diminishing returns as they attempt to extend their full capacity to the end user. People with the ability to mastermind these solutions will be in hot demand.
· Contexualists – In between the application and the big picture lays the operational context for every new technology.
· Ethicists – There will be an ever-growing demand for people who can ask the tough question and standards to apply moral decency to some increasingly complex situations.
· Philosophers – With companies in a constant battle over “my-brain-is-bigger-that-your-brain,” it becomes the overarching philosophy that wins the day.
· Theorists – Every new product, service, and industry begins with a theory.
· Legacists – Those who are passionate and skilled with leaving a legacy.
10. South Korea's economic growth has been slowing down and the economy seems to be stuck in the middle of the U.S. and China. What could be done to infuse vitality and vigor in the Korean economy?
Much of the world around us has been formed around key pieces of infrastructure, and Korea could become the world’s leading innovator in devising new infrastructure. Most see this as a testament to who we are as a society, and part of the cultural moorings we need to guide us into the future. But infrastructure needs to constantly be upgraded and improved, and someone needs to take the lead. Here are a few examples:
· Driverless cars will create a need for driverless highways.
· Tube Transportation Networks will create what some are calling the 5th form of transportation, creating ultra high-speed transportation networks around the world.
· Atmospheric Water Harvesters that continually draw water from our atmosphere.
· Micro Colleges that create a responsive education system for emerging new technologies.
· Flying Drone Delivery Networks.
· Mass Energy Storage systems that will efficiently store power from one day to the next.
· Global Language Archive – Think of this as the “Louvre of Languages” where culture and language collide in a way that all can experience.
· Whole Earth Genealogy Project – There is a big opportunity waiting for someone to automate the creation and interconnection of all our genealogies.
By 2050, we will see more changes to core infrastructure than in the combined total in all of human history. The fundamental shifts we will see to the way society functions will be nothing short of breathtaking. And these projects will create hundreds of millions of great jobs along the way.
11. South Korea has suffered a major loss as a result of the Sewol ferry disaster in last April. This called for South Korea to face challenges—making fundamental changes in its education, social and economy systems, so that the same kinds of incident will nothappenagain and eventually go forward into being a developed country. What should be changed and improved related to human resource educations?
I will first caution that not all accidents, disasters, and black swans are predictable. That said, I have spent considerable time trying to understand something I call Anomaly Zero.
Anomaly Zero is the theoretical earliest possible point where danger can be confirmed as a real threat. In virtually all cases, it remains theoretical because we are a long ways from both understanding it and figuring out ways to track it.
The primary point of this thinking is simply to move the earliest red flags of detection far closer to the point of origin so most disasters can be averted.
As an example, when a forest fire starts, it’s relatively easy to put out the flames when it only covers a few square meters. Once it grows to an entire hectare, it becomes far more difficult to contain.
In Oct 2013, Janusz Bryzek, an executive at Fairchild Semiconductor, organized an event called the Trillion Sensor Summit. The purpose of the event was to project out how long it would be before we reached 1 trillion sensors in the world. They concluded that we will reach that landmark by 2024 and 100 trillion sensors in the mid 2036.
Once we are able to incorporate millions, even trillions of sensors in the world around us, we will be able to track far more problems back to Anomaly Zero and prevent major disaster from ever happening.
12. Is there anyone you respect among Korean figures? If there is one key person, please explain why?
There are many Korean people that I have a huge amount of respect for. People like Lee Kun-Hee, ChungMong-Koo, and Shin Dong-Bin are some of the most impressive business people in the world.
But the person who I will have the most respect for is the one who will cause the reunification of North and South Korea. That is the person the entire world will hold in high esteem.
13. What would you most like to share with Korea’s young people?
People of tomorrow will need to be prepared for a higher calling. This higher calling will be to pre-empt crises before they occur, anticipate disasters before they happen, and solve some of mankind’s greatest problems, starting with the problem of our own ignorance.
Much like a walking through a dark forest with a flashlight that illuminates but a short distance ahead, each step forward gives us a new perspective, adding light to what was previously dark. The people of tomorrow will simply need a better flashlight.
With over 2 billion jobs disappearing by 2030, we will need systems capable of creating new business and industry faster than ever before.