The Robots Are Coming!

“In today’s global economy here is what is scarce… Quality labor with unique skills… Here is what is not secure these days: Unskilled labor, as more countries join the global economy…” –Tyler Cowen

“… Capitalism and competition are opposites…under perfect competition all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.” –Peter Thiel

To hear a deeper discussion on the following topics, listen to:

The Mission Daily Episode 44: Putting the War with Machines on Hold

A few months ago, I was in an airport after a conference. I had time to kill before the flight, so I went to grab a drink. At the cafe, I ran into someone I had just met at the event, and we stopped to talk. He was getting ready to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and was nervous about entering a rough job market.

We chatted for a while, and he had plenty of business and job-related questions. He had debt from college and was nervous because he hated his current internship. He wanted to find a job he liked– one that made him happy.

He seemed to be a resilient guy, so I asked him if he had thick skin. He laughed and said he did. I brought up the fact that around 368,000 other American students were currently majoring in business and getting ready to graduate. He was in a field with intense competition. We talked about the business program he was attending, and I was shocked to learn about the curriculum. Calling it outdated was an understatement. He was getting ready to graduate with no portfolio of work, no consulting gigs, no proof of skills, no understanding of basic business softwares, and a network of about 20 connections on LinkedIn. On top of all of this, he was in debt.

I offered ideas such as attending a developer bootcamp, mastering a software program like Tableau, or doing consulting work in order to create a portfolio of work or “proof of skills.” We strategized for a bit and then parted our ways for our flights. I haven’t heard from him since, and I hope he’s doing well.

I couldn’t help but feel frustrated while thinking about his plight. He trusted that the four years of college he purchased would teach him skills, or lead him somewhere worthwhile. Now more than ever, the heuristic “trust but verify” applies to any traditional education program. On average, American students are devoting 5.6 years of their lives to obtaining four-year degrees, only to leave college to find that they immediately need retraining. There are few degrees which lead directly to high-paying jobs. Degrees are not insurance policies. The student debt bubble stands at $1.3 trillion, and many people are having a difficult time finding rewarding, stable, and challenging work. They are mired in intense competition and an old version of the world that no longer works. Our mission never arrives from competing intensely, or living in the past. Unskilled labor has become a commodity, and if we’re going to live mission-driven lives, we must learn valuable skills in order to be worthy of landing work, opportunities, and lucrative compensation. Part three of this book is about how to build those high demand skills and unlock economic opportunity. Meaning is much easier to find when we have more than enough and can give freely to others without fear of loss.

Where is Our World Heading?

We’re still in the early days of the technology and Internet boom, and the shifts they are heralding will be revolutionary. The Internet will continue in it’s irrevocable change and decentralization of the world.

The first quote at the beginning of this article comes from Economist Tyler Cowen, who wrote a book called Average is Over. To sum up the entire book in a sentence: The old days, when “average” could get you an “above average” job, are over. These days, if you are seeking economic stability by following old paths to it, you’ll find yourself in an intense competition for a small reward. Unskilled, or minimally skilled, labor has never been cheaper and more abundant. Machines, robotics, software, and technology will continue to consume white collar jobs. We are entering an area of intense competition for “middle class jobs.” These jobs have been, for the last fifty years, accessible only with a bachelor’s or master’s degree and a good reference. The good news is that many middle class jobs are now accessible via new accelerated paths.

We’ve already examined in previous discussions that employers are beginning to ask, “How can you help solve my problems right now?” They are looking for general cognitive ability, plus grit, skills, and imagination. Companies like Google, Khan Academy, and even Facebook aren’t worried about where you went to college or your GPA anymore. They want people who are building the ability to be a chief emotional officer, and ones who posses valuable skills that they’re always building.

The second quote at the beginning of this article comes from entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel. In his groundbreaking book Zero to One, he introduces many important messages– namely, the importance of creating technology which take us from 0 to 1. We’ve already analyzed that by taking a broad definition of technology, where we can view it as something that lets us do more with less. It takes us from where we were, into a new place where we can accomplish more with fewer resources.

Everything outside of technology in a globalized world takes us from 1 to n. This means many businesses take suboptimal technologies and just spread them all over the world. This doesn’t appear to be a bad thing at first, but after further examination, it isn’t sustainable. If everyone on earth wants to enjoy the same living standard as the average American using current technology, we would destroy the planet. If, on the other hand, we create new technologies, we’ll find new ways to increase the standard of living for everyone (and preserve the environment in the process).

So, if average is over, and simply spreading old technologies around the world is deadly, how are we supposed to find our mission? One route we’ll explore is by joining and aligning ourselves with the companies that are creating “0 to 1” types of technological innovation. But we can’t join these revolutionary companies without bringing serious skills to the table.

Our mission depends on building valuable skills that help us avoid competition and build new technologies. Ultimately, the survival of humanity will depend on the creation of massive amounts of new technologies that allow our species to do more with less.

The tactical, individualized answer to avoiding the trap of average, and to building the skills necessary to become mission-driven, is through layering skills. Skill layering is the practice of learning one new skill that offers us the greatest opportunity and is also in high demand. From there, we strategically layer on another new skill that takes us to a place where there is even less competition. As we layer these skills, we’re moving to a place where we’re becoming a monopoly of one.

Along this path of skill layering, we’ll build skills that are vital to the industries and companies that are building the types of technology that can take us from 0 to 1. When we’re doing work that makes the lives of others better, we can’t help but find meaning along the way.

“…pointlessly dicking around is what most people have confused for work…” –Ryan Holiday

“Everybody wants you to be boring, so they don’t have to be interesting.” –Stefan Molyneux

This strategy and action section is a brief overview to get us acquainted with the language, terminology, and mindset of skill layering. The goal is to acquire these skills in such a way that each one brings us greater opportunity, and caps our downside (gives us options).

Our ultimate goal is to progressively become a monopoly of one. Eventually, we build a collection of skills that is so nuanced, broad, and specialized, that we don’t have to compete intensely. It’s a process of gaining self-knowledge and becoming a better person so we can add value to the lives of those we care about most.

The Core Skills (Competency Triggers):

As we’ve seen, the foundation of our skills begins with our personal health and the CEO practice.

The next addition to our set of core skills is the most crucial. These skills are sometimes called competency triggers. Competency triggers are our actions and interactions with others that act as “proof” of our skills, which can be conveyed in seconds. Competency triggers can be built through: reading (a lot), writing (a few hundred words each day), and speaking (reading and writing naturally fuel our speaking ability). When we combine this trifecta, we find that our cognitive capacities expand. As they expand, we find ourselves able to do more with less, and meaning becomes more readily available.

When we execute or showcase these competency triggers to other people with high levels of competency, we trigger a type of recognition which acts as an instant credential. Competency triggers are like resumes of everything we’ve ever done that prove our potential almost instantaneously.

The leader who is continually signaling competence and mastery doesn’t have to expend energy selling their ideas.

For instance, reading great material signals that we enjoy learning, can teach ourselves, and have a repertoire of interesting things to talk about. Businesses that are building new technologies want to associate with, hire, and offer opportunities to people who are always learning.

Writing is another practice to build and signal competency. A vast amount of communication is done via email and chat correspondence online. A single, well-crafted email that shows our competency can completely change our lives. Plus, it’s a way to clarify our thinking and helps build the next trigger which can signal competency: speaking.

Speaking includes being able to articulate ideas clearly and relate them contextually. This includes the ability to speak in front of groups, peers, or pitch a solution to a boss or customer. The ability to speak well is developed by lots of practice, but also by reading and writing. Speaking well also builds the ability to listen well.

Competency triggers are often better substitutes than any formal credential. If we work on perfecting these, they’ll be recognized by the right people at the right times. We can cut through the noise, save ourselves time, and grab opportunities we want… which leads directly to our mission.

Mastery of Technology

The ability to use the right technology to learn and create is crucial. In order to do this, we’ll examine ideas and actionable concepts to adopt and use technology to create, instead of consume. As a culture, we haven’t really applied any rules to how we use and adopt technology. It’s important to create individualized guidelines for ourselves so we’re not used by technology. We want to develop ways to use technology strategically, instead of mindlessly being controlled by it.

As more technology is introduced into our lives via sensors, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and the Internet of Things, it’s never been more important to develop criteria for technology adoption and daily use.

Marketable Skills

These are skills we develop which have a market value. These are things we learn which boost our earning power and increase our ability to transform our effort into valuable service. We know we’re learning marketable skills when people begin asking to pay us for them.

We want to learn skills with the highest demand in the marketplace which also correspond to our interests. When we follow this path, we are acting in a virtuous manner. Where there is increased demand for something, we find a shortage of those pursuing the skill set. By capitalizing on this skills shortage, we can find the best place to start learning and serving others. In later discussions, we’ll discover how we can learn marketable skills, and then quantify and advertise them online to create “opportunity generators.” By adding these skills to our online presence, we’ll get offers to be paid for our skills by places in need of our services. Or, we’ll get information about what skills we need to learn in order to be paid for our work.

Become Irreplaceable, and Evolve into a Monopoly of One

The mindset of skill layering helps us become monopolies of one. We might think of this concept as, “finding our higher self, gaining self-knowledge, or finding our true passion.” The idea is to capitalize on our uniqueness again and again and again, until we have built up an eclectic and specialized set of skills.

By becoming a monopoly of one, we give ourselves the ability to not only live an incredibly rewarding life, but we also build the proficiency to start our own business, launch a product, offer a service, or find an amazing career.

For a deeper dive into how you can become a monopoly of one, listen to:

The Mission Daily Episode 44: Putting the War with Machines on Hold

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The Robots Are Coming! was originally published in The Mission on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Author: Chad Grills

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