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By Monica E. Oss

September 17, 2011

I love Tom Friedman. He challenges my thinking with his global perspective (and if you haven’t read The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World Is Flat, or Hot, Flat, and Crowded, I highly recommend any of them). His most recent book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, coauthored by Michael Mandelbaum (the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies) is no exception. The theme? If you’re only doing what is in your job description, you will likely be replaced by a machine.

How to keep your job? Be the value-added contributor to your team. This is described by Gregory Ferenstein, in his article Thomas Friedman To United States: Innovate Or Else – “with increased access to more automation, more software, more machines and more people, and more talent of an above average quality” there is a need for a more inventive worker. Routine tasks are being, and will continue to be, automated, and the value add in our information economy is the employee at any position and at any level that can innovate and invent new solutions.

The same week that Mr. Friedman’s new book was released, we had another piece of news in the health and human service field – IBM and Wellpoint announced a new agreement to harness the Jeopardy genius machine, Watson, – IBM Watson’s Next Job: WellPoint Health Insurance. According to the analyst, Watson will be engaged in ‘doing comparative effectiveness on the fly’ (see IBM’s Watson supercomputer to diagnose patients).

The synchronicity is downright eerie. Tom Friedman’s assertion that the “routine” will be automated, and now one of the largest health plans is hiring a machine to do just that. It reminds me of an earlier piece that we published, If You Can Be Replaced by a Smartphone, You Will Be all members. The concept had a mixed response — from excitement at the possibilities that technology brings to the field, to denial about its long-term influence on the way we deliver services.

Who is the employee of the future? Mr. Ferenstein’s article quoted future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, as saying that in the past “we would have said we want men who are physically fit, educated, and disciplined. Now, what we say is that we want someone who wants to belong to a values-based group, who can communicate, who is inquisitive, and who has an instinct to collaborate.” Is that your team?


Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

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