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3 Fallacies About the Future of Work

Often, asking our parents for advice about work can be outdated because what was true for them when they were in school is no longer true for their children. I was delighted recently when friends of mine were discussing their daughter’s career options. She’s artistic and creative, but is concerned that she won’t be able to make any money. Her parents were encouraging her to pursue her artistic and creative talents, explaining that she has many paths for her future, not just one. They are also showing her the wide variety of places artists make money, showing her possibility rather than shuttling her talents onto a shelf, to be used in her “spare time.”

I point this out because, as a society, we shelve artistic and creative pursuits, and say things like, "Well, that's a nice hobby, but you'll never make any money doing it." I hear it all the time when I’m talking with clients. But that doesn't make it true.

We have a tendency to think that either we can make money or we can be “artsy.” But besides that obvious thinking error — most things in life are not that black and white — I want to use this space to talk about job fallacies.

Fallacy #1: The more I know, the better I am at solving a problem.

Knowledge is “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” Knowledge can be powerful, but knowledge itself doesn’t solve problems.

In fact, in 2017 researchers with Harvard Business Review studied what set successful CEOs apart. One of the key distinguishing characteristics was decision-making ability – the ability to make a decision quickly and with conviction, not the ability to make a good decision. Furthermore, they found that educational pedigree had no correlation to success. “[High-performing CEOs ] … make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.

In contrast, the leaders with high IQ who took longer to make decisions, even if they were good ones, frustrated employees, leading to attrition or created a culture of caution, creating bottlenecks throughout a company and thwarting progress.

Plus, let’s just say “global climate change.” We know what’s causing the problem, and have since 1972, but despite all this knowledge and data we’ve collected, we still haven’t figured out a way around politics to solve the problem. Instead, we (that’s the collective “we”) have figured out how to use drones to drop bombs and how to get anything your heart desires via Amazon Prime in two hours.

Fallacy #2: My superior technical skills are more important than my interpersonal skills.

Research shows that what people will need to be successful in the future is creativity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to navigate ambiguity. According to the SHRM 2019 State of the Workplace report, job applicants lack these skills:

  1. Problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity (37 percent)

  2. Ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity (32 percent)

  3. Communication (31 percent)

  4. Trade skills (carpentry, plumbing, welding, machining, etc.) (31 percent)

  5. Data analysis / data science (20 percent)

  6. Science / engineering / medical (18 percent)

Technical skills are important, but are you the only person with those technical skills? Think about it this way: If more than one person has the skill to do something, who would you rather work with—the person who plays well with others or the one who doesn’t?

Nope. Research shows that assholes reduce productivity dramatically. It is far better to fire the asshole and hire an average worker than it is to keep the asshole around. Replacing a toxic worker with an average worker can be twice as profitable. (Adam Grant Work Life podcast, “The Office Without A**holes,” April 1, 2019).

Further, assuming an asshole has unique skills and talents (besides his/her a-holiness) is likely to be a fallacy as well.

Bottom line: It’s time to put on your big-girl/big-boy pants and recognize the work culture you’re in. If the assholes are winning, it may be time to get out or, if you’re in a position to do something about it, get rid of them.

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