Authority Interview interview Of Work”, we had the pleasure Jake Horne of the Student Compass I Interview with Authority Magazine:
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Originally from Boston, and schooled in the independent school world, graduated from Harvard and completing Masters Programs at the University of Hartford (MEd) and Trinity College (MA), I founded several ventures in the renewable energy field spanning from the late 1970’s through mid-1980s, focusing on renewable energy public policy, small scale hydroelectric, and windmill energy design and production. I shifted into the world of secondary education in the mid-eighties, after realizing the power of teaching and the unmet needs students have (esp. secondary school students), who have oodles of questions about ideas, life and purpose and minimal opportunity to pursue inquiry with older experienced and thoughtful mentors. This evolved into my life-long passion of working with high school and college students; initially as a secondary school college advisor, Admissions Director, and United States History teacher and as a student advisor.
In 1994, I stepped out of the formal academic world and for a decade mentored students seeking a meaningful Gap Year experience. Driven by a thirst to understand the diversity of life, and need for independence before heading off to college, these students wanted to break out of their cocoons and step into the World; become more independent. The power of the Gap Year was evident in the broadening perspective, becoming more independent and confident as a pre-set to being prepared before a meaningful college experience.
In the early 2000’s, I re-entered the secondary school world again as a college and career mentor, as an Academic Director and as a classroom United States History, English creative writing, and Political Science teacher. These years were critical in my development of a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of how the human mind’s cognitive processes work in academic and in life learning settings. Further, my followup conversations with college students over those years added dimension and insight as to the inherent weaknesses of the century-old curriculum embedded in the American educational model.
I founded The Student Compass in 2006 as a mentoring and resource organization designed to support students in future planning, developing self-awareness, self-agency, forward thinking habits in planning, and in forming strategies to act on those plans. With so much change and turmoil bubbling up through the social institutions in the new Millenium, the rules changed for what being a valued person in this new World is, both in the work force and in social relations. There was an evolving sense that the rat-race of 20th century corporate culture was increasingly becoming out of sync with the Gen Z’s changing view of what a successful life constitutes. This generation is looking to thrive in their world endeavors, in careers and social life, with a more balanced and meaningful life.
The Student Compass and I are committed to supporting young adults in becoming better prepared to take on the new complexities and challenges so rapidly and dramatically transforming this new world.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
There is no binary answer to this question. Where once a college degree was proof of hireability, such is now a fallacy. The degree is no longer a quid pro quo of ability nor an accurate predictor of employee qualifications. Certainly a student (future worker) can with a vision, ambition, grit and a lot of luck create a successful venture. However, most will fail or fall short of creating an exalted corporate organization. Obviously, the public picks up on the highly visible and social media touted “successful” entrepreneurs as a models of fulfilled vision and opportunity. But these successful entrepreneurs are relatively few in number and are hampered by the hyper-focus on capital generation and profit revenues with little regard as to the impacts of their ventures on society or employees.
Funded by venture capital and shareholder investment, their obligation has been to garner the highest return on the investment (and inflated expectation driven by market hype levitated on the flush of perceived easy money) with little regard to the short and long-term ramifications of their venture on social systems and institutions. There is little training in the historical entrepreneur background of the past 40 + years, in ethical and civic/community obligation and cultural collaboration. [Mark Zuckerberg is a classic example of this sort of personality]. And as we have seen repeatedly, massive distortions, disruptions and imploding ventures create instability, distrust and significant loss of personal and institutional fortune. The wonder of the liberal arts college experience is that there is embedded into the college course of study and student life some ethical and civic discourse and debate which the budding future entrepreneur and future worker will be exposed to and informed by. This is an expensive way of acquiring critical insight and global perspective. The cost of college is absurdly inflated and imposes significant barriers to some of the best and brightest individuals. These students presently have limited access to this critical gateway, not only as a path to better employment opportunities, but also as effective and responsible, forward thinking leaders in business and civic life. Nonetheless, it is one of the very few extensive mechanisms for broad swaths of society to develop a sense of ethical standards and social obligations inherent in a functional democratic system.
Until there is a massive re-ordering of the educational model and its funding, my advice for young adults is: understand what your passions are; what your skills are and need to be; realize that you must be your own self-agent in driving your future work and life trajectory; and make sure you take advantage of the full range of resources available. Such resources as; On-line courses, community colleges, vibrant but less notable (and less expensive) colleges and always be aware that the target is always moving. The future of work and careers will increasingly be founded on certifications and credentials, and continual upskilling relevant to employment expectations. A portfolio of a broad range of skills embedded with a deeper level of expertise in one or two currently essential abilities.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
However, because it takes years, possibly even a generation for realization that systemic change is an absolute necessity for society’s viability; the transition to creating a workforce matching business and leadership needs will evolve over an extended period before it becomes embedded into society’s consciousness.
The new reality is that individual’s seeking employment must first realize that the old model of life-long careers in a few corporate organizations will be the rarity and that the Gig model of multiple renditions over their future “careers”, of project-based work is the new reality. This requires each individual to practice high levels of self-agency, a fluidity and adaptability in trend awareness and skill building, a long-term forward planning (20-40+ years) aptitude with feedback loops to make adjustments in their future plan, and preparation for opaque change.
All of this must occur within an unstable world faced with the complex confluence of effects of Climate change, exponential technological change and resulting disruption, sovereign and internal factionalization and uncertain future threats. It is the employees’ responsibility to be prepared for change and thus be employable. Businesses in their own best interest, should provide support and guidance to potential and existing employees as to the businesses’ skill set expectations and a means of acquiring that skillset if they want to have an optimal worker cohort for present and future projects. However, it is the employee who is competing with others, who needs to exercise their own personal development which anticipates corporate expectations.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
Robotics, algorithms and automation driven by and modified by artificial intelligent systems, will be the standard of operations in business and in various aspects of civic life into the multi-generational future. The prepared person will need to acquire a solid body of knowledge about robotics and autonomous systems, an understanding of the mechanisms of AI systems and how to interact with those systems effectively. This is a base-line necessity. Experience with STEM operational systems blended with a liberal arts frame of mind founded on practiced cross-siloed courses of study, enhanced with ingrained critical thinking and habits of reflection and self-correction within an ethically based social code, will provide the broadest and deepest skill set which supports the interests of business and the society’s needs within a participatory democracy.
People ready for future work will need to be comfortable co-working with these digital systems, integrating with what automation can do best - that is, standardized, repetitive and predictable processes combined with what humans can do best - that is, being creative and imaginative, thinking laterally and critically, innovatively, with reflective and iterative self-correction. Though AI can optimize processes for efficiency, it doesn’t have the ability to incorporate predictable process with variable and subtle human need. What society needs to remain coherent, viable and functionally tenable is very different than what machines can accomplish. And so, until there is a moment of Singularity, in some foggy future, human direction and supervision of digital and robotic systems will be essential, and the best trained humans will be the managers, individuals who can co-work with robotic and AI systems.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
Businesses have realized that a hybrid model of work, on-site and at-home, is a viable model to greater or lesser degrees depending on the type of business operation. One prominent revelation of the pandemic restrictions has been the accelerated realization in corporate leadership is that contemporary technology can support this modified work operational structure. The pandemic has proved the viability of at home-work. While it is true that face to face, informal human interactions generate a synergy of creativity and innovation, not all work necessarily entails constant face to face interaction. A blend of both, based on the particular characteristics of an enterprise, can provide increased cost efficiencies, greater adaptability and geographic diversity of project teams, while offering employees greater flexibility in their work lives. The result is increased productivity, happier employees and accelerated innovation of complementary digital systems, which in turn support greater efficiencies, more dynamic creativity and continued employee happiness based on more balanced work/ life styles. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
There is a foundational need to shift social attitudes from the zero-sum, “winner take all” thinking, to one based on acceptance that all humans are all in this global boat together. Shared and fair sacrifice founded on an ethical decision making framework, offering greater equity and actual distributed opportunity will need to be inculcated into the cultural mind-set to assure a future, stable democratic form of capitalism.
However, because it takes years, possibly even a generation for realization that systemic change is an absolute necessity for society’s viability; the transition to creating a skilled workforce and a supportive corporate ethic that are in sync will take time to create.
One particular area of essential change must come from a total re-design of the American educational system, and curriculum. The existing American educational model is a vestigial exercise of regurgitation of facts and concepts (re-enforced by the lock of the standardized testing industry (SAT/ ACT ) has on assessing ability, that no longer actually prepares students (future employees) to successfully step out into a rapidly morphing world of work and life. This century + old educational system (once the bulwark of early and mid-20th Century social structure and training) no longer is applicable to our new world expectations. For the past 50 years it has evolved into a miscarriage of obligation and responsibility borne by academic, business and civil institutional inertia. It has left millions of students annually, unprepared to take on the massive changes unfolding in the United States and the World. These are the very people the Student Compass works with, albeit on a small scale.
The essential emotional/social intelligence skills that take time and practice to develop are not taught in the American school system. These are the very human skills which technology can not perform; skills of human relationships, critical, reflective and collaborative thinking, and nuanced, non-binary decision-making.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
Employers will need to let go of their preconceived ideas that what worked in the past business environment can successfully continue into the future. All businesses will need to be far more agile and adaptive in modifying their operations, rapidly and fluidly creating new self-directed team-based systems which can readily be modified to change. As goals and internal and external expectations and disruption occurs, these fluid teams and operational designs can incorporate self-reflection and adaptation with agility and effective course correction. Hierarchical corporate/business models will have a difficult time adapting to this distributive model. Business leaders will need to adjust their thinking and operations modeling, shifting the definition of leadership from top down to distributive mentoring and guidance.
For employees, the adjustment will be to give up the preset understanding of the past corporate model (that of a niched employee given instruction and passively moving through the work day), and to become actively engaged in the success of the business as a co-partner. The employee will have to share the burden of making the enterprise successful and continue to develop the essential skills toward achieving that end. In a Gig economy, employees will need to look for project opportunities in a global market and brand themselves to match the particular skill sets a particular enterprise is seeking; either for a short-term project or longer-term employment. In all cases, employees will have to adapt to engaging in multiple careers throughout their life-times and coping with the relative instability of gig world.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Businesses will need to compensate the skilled, adaptive employee with whatever safety nets are necessary to maintain a viable and productive workforce. Employees will no longer be fodder and expendable. A greater sense of corporate responsibility will need to be embraced within the corporate culture if business is to successfully compete in a future of dramatic change. The benefit to business, engaging an employee cohort which becomes, in aggregate, a creative “mind” will engender greater stability to future planning and operations design and flexibility. Attracting and supporting this ever changing cohort of employees will be a critical element of business operations and culture. Traditional Human Resources design will need to change dramatically as rapid change and business skill sets expectations morph.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Though humans have not had to cope with the magnitude and complexity of this sort of social/work dislocation in its history, past transformative social shocks have occurred. The earlier industrial revolutions in the 1820’s, the 1890’s and the 1990’s; the near collapse of various civilizations due to rapid climate shifts or resource scarcity, or former pandemics such as the Black Plague and Small Pox, as well as two World Wars, have caused massive social and economic dislocations that nearly ruptured civilizations. That society didn’t collapse, is emblematic of the resilience of the human spirit and capacity to adapt and modify in the face of adversity.
However, the scale and range of the present day transformations and impending dislocations cut across every society on the face of the Earth. The confluence of the effects of climate change, the modifying effects of exponential innovation and the rapid uptake of fusing technologies, the globalization of social and economic networks and the globally factionalized response within sovereign nations to perceived threats to cultural norms and identity, and finally the anxiety endemic throughout societies about an opaque and rapidly morphing norms and future, all combined, is truly novel and without precedent. The scale of effort necessary to affect positive change is enormous. However because people, communities and governments are “solution averse” (the sacrifice of giving up what you are accustomed to have is just too much of a sacrifice), it is difficult to believe the necessary commitment, on the broadest scale, will ever be achieved.
And so I am far less optimistic than I would wish to be. However, adaptation and innovation under pressure is a powerful aspect of humanity and so who knows ultimately the outcome in such a world.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
There are 3 megatrends that will impact every aspect of humanity including of course the world of work, and business. 1. Inevitable impacts from Climate Change, 2. Increasing geopolitical tensions, and 3. Exponential transformation of technology as it fuses among its various applications and creates powerful, new forms of novel and unforeseen applications.
However there are 5 trends that I believe are presently unfolding and will continue to blossom in the future of work. Continued uptake of post-Covid hybrid forms of work.
1. Continued uptake of Artificial Intelligence systems and Robotics in business applications displacing humans in repetitive operations. Technological robotics and and algorithmic programming are very effective and precise performing repetitive operations. On a factory line whether it is microchip production or physical distribution of products within a production center, is cost-effective and inexpensive relative to the cost of human production. Productivity is highly scalable, without the physical liability of human flaws and work schedules. Machines are reliable, and operational 24 hours a day without the high cost of insurance, payroll and expensive imperfections in products made by humans.
2. Continued expansion of Gig Work models connecting employee work with project based team collaboration, formed for agile response to changing business needs. Global business is looking for the best employees to carry out team based projects while keeping costs for employees skilled workers as low as possible. Covid off-site work has accelerated businesses uptake of gig work, because of the success of off-site collaboration and team building at a distance forced on them by mandated population isolation. Further, because talent isn’t necessarily available locally, on-site employment limits the range of possible valuable temporary skilled employees. The IoT enables talent search and project-based hiring on a global scale. Additionally, the costs for such services are considerably reduced. Gig workers do not receive the same sort of benefits that full-time employees enjoy, typically charge less than full-time employees, and once the project is completed, are no longer a responsibility of the business.
3. An expanding habituation of employee self-agency to upskill and reskilling as an essential practice, constantly and continuously, through life-long learning skill-adaptation to meet current and future business needs.The shifting skill requirements that employees, whether Gig or full-time (in-house or distance) has changed considerably and will continue to do so into the future. The sort of skills business are seeking as the most valuable are those of the “mind-worker”. The two aspects of the mind-workers skillset are a broad set of emotional/social skills combined with a deep, practiced skill set in one or two specific realms. These may be hard skills, such as the physical production of a commodity. However, that commodity is the outgrowth of the blending of new ideas with new creative and efficient processes of production, marketing or distribution. The role of the static skill set is in large part less marketable for an employee that bringing to a business a creative, across silos ability, which supports a businesses competitiveness. What will keep an employee a valuable asset is if the employee is improving their skillset through upskilling to accommodate the rapid changes business have to adapt to, to remain competitive and viable in a demanding global marketplace.
4. Constant multi-generational disruption in business, society and political structures, will be normalized. The “new normal” in this new world is constant change at high velocity. Because of the exponential, cross-technologies fusion, unknown or unforeseen impacts and technological drivers will occur as a matter of course into the distant future. There is no longer a “back to normal” as we have historically experienced. There will be no rapid uptake, social and economic rebalancing with a relatively short period of settling in as experienced in past industrial revolutions. The changes will come from every direction in the human endeavor and will come at a pace far exceeding that of the past. There is no visible end in sight with technological and geological evolution at a pace. And so the “new normal” is and will be over the generations of the future, increasing exponential change, which will stress business capability and societal adaptability.
5. Businesses will be much more adaptable in supporting employees need for a more balanced work/life. The days of the 8 hour work day, 5 days a week, (forty hours a week) will inevitably change into much more flexible schedules based on project completion time-lines and portfolio building. The Covid experience has burned into the employee/employer mindset that employees who thrive and are happy in their work are more productive and more creative. Work of necessity now must have purpose beyond receiving a paycheck. With the realities uncertain change and an opaque future, employees are more demanding in the quality of their work and its meaningfulness to their lives and their family and community. This will be particularly true for the skilled, “mind-worker” who will have a much more expansive set of employment choices within a global marketplace supported by technological applications that make geographical housing and distance employment much more viable. Additionally, such technology will increasingly make it possible for employees to live in much more financially affordable and socially appealing sub-hub cities, than the historic crowded and expensive major urban centers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
“Let the great World spin forever down the ringing grooves of change Tennyson”. Locksley Hall (1842)
Tennyson wrote about the constancy of change throughout human history. This particular quotation is an extract of a poem. It is a commentary on the Industrial Revolution of the early and mid-19th Century. The Metaphor “ringing grooves” refers to the expansion of the railroad system and its profound impact on every aspect of human society of the time. It is a recognition that nothing remains static, that change and evolution and morphing are the inevitabile result of human action and technological innovation building and growing synergistically. Tennyson saw change in his time as geometric transformations.
In the new digital world of the present and future, that formulation is no longer geometric but exponential and transformative laterally, vertically and diagonally across and through all human endeavor. I see the future for humans as well as all global systems, as an extrapolation of this sentiment; that of change as an interconnected, fusing and consilient process, accelerating at blindingly fast rates, and challenging for the first time in “modern” human history, the institutional mechanisms of human control. We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. E.O. Wilson - Harvard Professor of Biology, who articulated a vision of the interconnectedness of the geological and biological systems of the Earth; that all actions ramify as cause and effect; and that without a broad and deep understanding of those systems, decisions we make will have effects both in the near term and as we are experiencing today, into the future - that are unforeseen and frequently will be uncontrollable. These effects may be opaque into the multi-generational future and may well be irreversible. Trying to anticipate unintended consequences has always been difficult, but in the pressure-cooker of todays fast-paced world, taking the time to reflect and think deeply about potential benefits as well as negative impacts is much more important than at any time in human history. Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
The Student Compass is an on-going mentoring organization, which has a website, a presence on LinkedIn, and a blog. http://linktr.ee//jakehornetsc