“Change is slowing us down”, said Amanda from the third row of my 2000 person keynote. “It’s working! Why do we have to fix something that ain’t broke! Stop innovating.”
Her words echoed a sentiment that I hear in the hallways of corporate America as a new project is about to breech an age-old process. She obviously had something to say so I invited her on the stage to say it.
After explaining that her job got automated and she got fired her next response was, “All this innovation is losing great people good jobs.”
Amanda had a point, but was it valid?
I remember John saying that he kept a server room filled with outdated monitors and giant monoliths that filled racks in the Network Operations Center because, “Leadership will think we are doing difficult and complex work if they see lots of machines that they don’t understand.” And he was right until a savvy Director of IT was hired and blew his cover.
Candice complained for weeks that her 15 year old, “Windows 98 machine was being replaced by some new fangled Mac POS” (no… not point of sale).
Even I thought that adding a camera to a phone was odd. “We have cameras. Now we are going to put them on our phones? WHY?”
What Amanda missed was the same as what John, Candice, and even I missed. Innovation does not cause the loss of jobs; but rather increases possibilities.
Yes, the elevator operator was replaced by the elevator button and the photo printing guy was replaced by the photo printer. But other businesses spawned. Such as the elevator button repair guy, the printer company, the toner company, the printer repair company, and the countless entrepreneurs that help create those marketing materials that people will print on their color laser printer at home.
Innovation has done significant amounts of good, spawned many companies, and created wealthy entrepreneurs. Look at the 3D printer and its possibilities in medicine. Look at anything by Tesla or Elon Musk… no really… anything.
There have been some losses in its wake as well. Anyone using a cellphone or the internet is just as responsible for putting 411 and switchboard operators out of work. As we get faster, easier, cheaper, and better; people will have to be smarter, adopt faster, and be willing to change.
In the end, Amanda is right. If she does not keep up with changing times she will consistently be unemployed. But if her company does not keep up with changing times then so will all the other people that worked with her.