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The Future of Work with John Sanei

​"We are preparing for everything and for nothing. We have no idea where things are going. But it is certain that we have unleashed something powerful." John Sanei, leading futures strategist and advisor, said about Artificial Intelligence.

Speaking at a recent GIBS forum on the future of work, Sanei, who is dedicated to changing the narrative around an uncertain future, said it is essential for organisations and individuals to be agile and adaptable in the context of rapidly changing technology.

While current mindsets allow for limited adaptability and fragile optimism, we need to develop agile optimism, which is not linked to any anticipated outcome.

"The future requires a different state of awareness. It is essential that we are able to unlearn and recalibrate the way we think."

Two types of futures

While there are many different possible futures we are moving towards, Sanei explained that the near future consists of developments expected to occur in the immediate or short term, while the Deep Future will occur in a little under a decade and which is fraught with uncertainty.

"The world is in a crisis phase of human history. We are in deep transition, and in six to ten years a new world will be birthed. At present, we are addicted to certainty and stability and base our decisions on this, where we should be driven by excitement and curiosity."

Sanei explained that transformation passes through three important stages as change occurs: Sadness at having to let go; embarking on a strange new world and lastly, acceptance of the adventure.

"We are in an era of upheaval and a replacement of the old civil order, marked by a crisis of meaning and of trust. It is a house of cards that could collapse at any time."

The World Economic Forum has identified three sectors as poised for future growth: the green economy, education and agriculture.

The human traits needed in these sectors and in the new world of work, identified by the WEF, include:

  • Analytical thinking;
  • Creativity;
  • Leadership skills; and  
  • The ability to work collaboratively in agile teams.

The fastest-growing jobs in 2023 according to the WEF, are:

  • AI and Machine learning specialists;
  • Sustainability specialists;
  • Business intelligence analysts;
  • Information security analysts; and
  • FinTech Engineers.

Preparing for the Future  

Extensive research into futurism, business strategy, human behaviour and psychology has led Sanei to conclude that many boards are lacking in the skills of tomorrow.

While the long-term future is very difficult to predict, "the importance of developing emotional intelligence to navigate uncertainty, and breaking free from pre-conditioned mental models to foster resilience will become very, very important," he explained.

In the agricultural era of human history, physicality was prioritised as a skill set, and compliance was obligatory.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it new sources of power in the form of the steam engine, bringing new rules such as an emphasis on structured education and conformity, a devotion to specialisation and outcomes, IQ and the development of analytical thinking.

"The rules changed, and we are still following many of them today." The world has now reached the quantum era, which values uniqueness, creativity and innovation. In this world, "your uniqueness becomes your currency," Sanei said. "The rules are changing and there is massive panic."

This is the era of the creative generalist, with awareness, emotional intelligence and an adaptability quotient. In order to adapt to this new world, we need to train ourselves to think in a dynamic, creative way. "EQ makes use of all parts of the brain and integrates information as quickly as possible. We have to unlearn, relearn and adapt."

New technologies have created havoc in industries around the world:

The introduction of services such as Spotify and YouTube Music mean that the marginal cost of music is zero, while the same applies to photographs and images with social media channels such as Instagram, Sanei explained.

Soon, the transportation, power generation and computing power industries will meet the same fate.

"The cost of all services will go to zero. We simply can't compete with AI on IQ. AI is scaling human intelligence, bringing in a massively new talented labour force at almost zero cost."

Preparing for the future under this scenario, Sanei said, requires hope. "Hope that we can meet the future and hope that we can get AI to move in the direction we need it to."

The future also requires five distinct forms of courage:

  • Intellectual courage - The bravery to think new thoughts and embrace novel ideas.
  • Emotional courage – to fully experience new emotions.
  • Spiritual courage – to discover purpose by following curiosity.
  • Moral courage – to act with integrity even when unobserved.
  • Physical courage – to push our bodies beyond their comfort zones.

Sanei said neuroscience is an invaluable tool to change awareness and focus.

Meditation is a useful tool to clear the mind and make it more adaptable, enhancing the ability to unlearn and relearn by connecting new neurons and building new synapses.  

"Spending time in a state of stillness allows you to recalibrate," Sanei said. "We live in a constant state of Beta brainwaves, which means that we are awake, alert, analytical and on edge. Everyone is on edge, all the time, this is not normal. We are only focused on outcomes and certainty."

He recommended using meditation to move into an Alpha brain wave state, where it is possible to be physically and mentally relaxed, but awake. This sense of calm increases creativity and adaptability and enhances the ability to absorb new information.

"Your understanding of and preparation for the future depends on your awareness.

We all must become comfortable with being uncomfortable - seek out discomfort and evolve to become someone you haven't been before."

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