What makes you difficult to replace with a robot or a piece of software?

As we mothers run businesses, our children can often see us as having one-track minds. One of my colleagues said ‘we’ll all be replaced by robots soon’ – a new bit of automation in her sector was exasperating her.  Her daughter is about to go to university, and now looking for internships; it’s a negative message to have thrown around, isn’t it.

Not that Artificial Intelligence won’t address the process related bits of every industry – it already is. But a more constructive way to say this might have been : An employer or business won’t even try to replace you, if your work involves any of these:

  • You need to show empathy and demonstrate caring, in order for what you do to actually be effective;
  • You are perceiving complex or even chaotic situations, and deciding on a course of action based on what you’ve gathered on the hoof – manipulating what you’ve seen or heard into a part of some proposed solution;
  • You need to be able to come up with novel ideas, or new ways of addressing situations or unexpected problems in whatever you do,
  • You have to negotiate with someone, in order to arrive at the next step of what needs to be done, on a regular basis, and this is a significant success factor in your work
  • Your job is to persuade somebody to change their actions, or to gain a different perspective
  • You are there to inspire and guide someone to learn or do things in some specific way.

But of course we can all be wise with hindsight.  How often have I bitten my lip after something slipped out which went down like the proverbial lead balloon…

It is sometimes difficult to start serious conversations. ‘Sideways conversations’ are easier than plunging in – somehow we take in information better ‘by the way’ whilst doing something else. Also, as women, we find it hard to sit alongside someone, to talk to them – we are more likely to talk to the young people in our lives face to face. Yet, side by side works better, it seems.

What do I mean?  Sitting down as my friend Annie did, alongside her 17 year old, and asking him/her to comment on the content of some careers related e-learning being designed for young people. As he commented, Annie noted it down (and yes, these are really helpful for us to amend the courses). It makes sure that the obvious things have been covered, before an internship starts, without mentioning them directly : ‘please don’t lecture me’ doesn’t have to come up. Somewhat surprisingly, it made Annie feel that tackling work related subjects made them feel that they could learn from each other…. And the subliminal message of course is the transition coming up for all of us – soon, they will be leaving home.  But before that, there is a stage where they have to bolster up their CV.

Everything that a young person comes across which involves understanding, clarifying, suggesting, persuading, helping to get something done while others do other parts of the work to achieve the same thing, (teamwork) needs to go down in a jotter for modifying the CV from now on.  Somehow that has to be communicated, amongst other essentials. Annie said it was a lot better coming from a third party.

Perhaps, at the end of it, if you can suggest a permanently ‘beta’ state of mind, you will get a flicker of a smile. Annie did.

But the more I work with young people, I realise that they’re ahead of us. They know that they have to be flexible. It is us, with careers behind us, and lists of achievements in our own fields, who are more locked in – we need to learn to be more flexible in how we interact with the economy as it evolves.

Perhaps those statements about who will not be replaced by machines are something for us to study, as much as to share with our children.  Because the ‘beta state of mind’ or the willingness to ‘pivot’ is something everyone running a business needs to cultivate, in order to survive in our changing world.

The Life Skills Network makes e-learning units to help parents have fruitful career related conversations with their teens.  Send us an email. We’d love to hear from you, if you think we can help – Prowess readers will get a substantial (40-50%) discount on a bundle of four courses from which they can pick and choose their conversation topics.

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