Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition- Steve Jobs
In this world, there are salaried people and then there are the superheroes that common employees aspire to be — entrepreneurs. There are countless articles proselytizing entrepreneurship as if that’s the only way of living a larger than life existence. At the same time, there is a virtually complete deglamorization of the average salaried person. Some of the words associated with both blue and white collared workers are ‘boring’, ‘risk averse’, ‘… will never even come close to making a million dollars’ etc.
On the other hand, there is a deep truism in becoming your own master. In an Artificial Intelligence (AI) saturated world, what will the jobs look like ? It could be that the job market of the future will be composed of gig economy entrepreneurs ie Disc Jockeys (DJ’s), superstar video bloggers (on platforms such as YouTube), writers, poets, artists, supervisors of completely autonomous entities whose only job will be to make the journey called life a delightful experience. Many experts think that a corporation can be completely run by AI algorithms. In fact, art can be automated and created by AI. Therefore, the only thing AI cannot eat is human idiosyncrasy because it is hard to codify Idiosyncrasies. It is hard to predict when a hip-hop artist suddenly flips a switch and decides to dedicate his musical career to alternative rock.
This essay delves deeper into the reasons why everybody on this planet cannot be an entrepreneur. It also tries to look at the future and attempts to define the most cogent argument for entrepreneurship ie automation of all human jobs. This shift could take place over a decade or the next thirty or fifty years. It is hard to predict when but it’s easier to predict why all the jobs can get automated either partially or fully. Finally, it examines the DNA of an entrepreneur and provides a roadmap to becoming an entrepreneur in an AI saturated world.
Allow me to introduce my identity by claiming I am a human being delimited by all man made divisions. Second, I was biologically born in India so I can proudly say I am an Indian. My roots are in India and will continue to be in India- a place which, amongst other things, has given the world Buddhism, Yoga and Chess. I live in the United States today. Therefore, my new roots are in the USA and this country is my home — leader of the free world, a place I am extremely proud of and a powerful idea that has stolen my heart for decades. The USA, to my mind, is a fertile place for entrepreneurs because it is built on the spirit of entrepreneurship. Therefore, it’s soil contains elements of non-conformity and the richness needed to give birth to legendary businessmen.
#TL/DR: for the purposes of this essay, I am a Gujarati which is a community representing a long lineage of businessmen hailing from western India. My grandfather owned a flour mill which manufactured sour dough and other ingredients needed to consume the Indian staple diet of ‘Roti Sabzi’ (Naan with curried veggies). My father was an independent financial advisor. In short, my family tree as far as I can count is a family of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship runs in my blood. Ironically, I am just a humble worker bee today. Therefore, I have the right and privilege to sympathize with my fellow salaried brothers and sisters around the world. I admire them as much as I do the farmer, the factory man and the businessman.
This is a deeply personal story because my potential to earn money and become wealthy has been confined in the court of public opinion as ‘quite limited and mediocre by many standards’. I have to come to terms with how most people perceive my future. All else being said, the only person I can change is myself. Without further ado, let me begin this essay by helping you understand why everyone in this world is not an entrepreneur through my life experience.
Why I Am Not An Entrepreneur
Everybody should work for their own dreams and a hope for a brighter future. Millions of people toil in 9 to 5 jobs, work with hostile colleagues and even bosses that simply think of their direct reports as just a means to an end. These ‘employees’ of today are like the unsung heroes that keep the wheels turning either because their jobs are the difference between survival and starvation for their family or their jobs are the only thing keeping them away from total insanity. A Gallup Study Of The American Workplace revealed that only one third of employees are engaged while some hate their jobs. The overwhelming majority (55%) are simply disinterested.
While I did not have a very rough life, taking up entrepreneurship would have exposed me to the risk of not leading a good life. Unless you represent a long tail of geniuses that have the resources necessary — the top 1% in the world in what you are doing, it is very hard to become a world class painter, musician or Olympic athlete. Let’s just say, for many who do not follow the road less taken and decide to sit behind a desk, the decision boils down to: what happens if my business fails? Some people can become an entrepreneur because their finances are taken care of, others because their spouse or family helps them with expenses while they run their enterprise ie they have a plan B.
A number of stars need to align. It was never easy being an entrepreneur but being your own boss has been glamorized around the world. Now, it is time for entrepreneurship to become not a luxury but a necessity because of the structural changes in the world economy. The stigmatized worker bee needs a side hustle.
Ironically, plan B will have to become plan A for millions around the world. Let me explain why.
Today In The World Of Jobs
Jobs are transforming into software. There are varying estimates of the number of jobs that will be automated and the time it will take for waves of Artificial Intelligence to eat higher order management tasks. The writing is on the wall-it is highly likely that sensors aid and abet a digital twin of the physical world and algorithms will automate transactions of the physical world.
Robots took over the automobile assembly line decades ago. They took over warehouse management later. JD. com — a giant retailer in China has a fully automated warehouse without workers.
The brains behind the Ethereum cryptographic token want to create ‘Smart Contracts’ that can automate the jobs of investment bankers, underwriters, foreign exchange dealers. Traditional banking, itself, is at a peril of getting embedded in a tech ecosystem. Let me give you a glimpse. Let’s say you want to finance a car, you tell a digital assistant to search for the lowest interest rate and it does so. You tell the assistant that you like the interest rate and want to understand other terms. Once you get a full view of your ‘contract’, you sign it using multi factor authentication including biometrics.
Just like CRISPR, this is the first step in a very significant cycle where software writes code itself. An IDE, for those unfamiliar with the term, allows users to develop applications without knowing coding in depth using a simple Graphical User Interface (GUI)- think Microsoft Visual Basic. Only this time, the IDE is on the cloud and a user does not have to install much on his/her local computer.
The next step would be advanced Machine Learning algorithms that allow the software to write its own code. Think about the impact on the economy and jobs if it becomes easy for anyone to code and later the code writes itself. In the long term, It would mean loss of millions of coding jobs around the world.
Now, extrapolate this trend and think: ‘is there any job that cannot be automated?’ As this revolution unfolds, right brained jobs ie creative thinking become less susceptible to automation. However, AI is already creating paintings and could become capable of writing books. The world Of jobs will not look anything like it does today.
The implication for us is that we need to have a right brained side hustle that can become our full time career later. Think about gigs such as being a unique Disc Jockey capable of putting on a spectacle in the physical world that leaves audiences gasping. One other option is a video blogger that teaches technology as it unfolds to a common audience using unique storylines and simple language.
The Globalization Of Self Directed Education
The traditional way for the worker bee to become one was to attend college, obtain a higher education from the university system which signals employers that the candidate could be a good worker bee. Things haven’t changed much. The vast majority of jobs still rely on certification by traditional universities. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) started the first wave of self directed education. We are still in the transition phase here- traditional universities now provide free and paid online courses for the student to become a worker bee.
Digital learning has gone mainstream because technology is democratizing everything from gene editing to education. Therefore, anyone with reasonable aptitude can acquire the skills needed for ‘gig’ or contractual work through online learning, perform the gig and move on to the next one. The time between gigs could be spent monetizing hobbies.
The Transition Is Key
For most of the developed world, GDP growth will be along the technology frontier. For the developing world who are early adopters without the immediate need for disruptive technologies, it will create different schisms in the socioeconomic framework. Let me give you an example — many truck drivers in India are already protesting the advent of autonomous trucks putting them on a collision course to complete unemployment. Now think of parallels in the developed world — medallion owners in NYC. The protests in France recently and the rise of nationalism are all deeply rooted in economic factors that disenfranchise a large section of society that is left behind if they cannot keep up with the pace of technological job displacement. The bigger problem, in my humble Opinion, is when middle class or white collar jobs start getting automated. Society would be on the brink of civil strife and massive unrest. Therefore, managing a transition to an AI saturated world is of paramount importance.
For many common people like us, it would ironically mean going back to and excelling at things we loved as children ie becoming part of a gig economy by doing what we loved as children. It could be a variety of things that can only be done uniquely by you. For some, it could mean writing or video blogging.
Set your plan B by nurturing a side hustle that only you are capable of performing in a unique manner that gives you a competitive advantage. A single 9 to 5 job may not be enough for the stigmatized worker bee. In fact, such jobs may not exist in the future. The bad news is that all of us have to quickly put together a plan B in action. The good news is that if this plan is done right- we all go back to ‘following our passions’ . As the Whole Earth Catalog inspired Steve Jobs to repeat, the fundamental mega trends in the job economy around the world are prompting me to repeat — Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. More importantly — Stay Alert and Keep Learning.