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Book Review: The End of Jobs

I have written about how I had been contemplating taking an entrepreneurial route. One of the resources I used to justify this wish was Taylor Pearson’s book. I wanted to publish a book review of The End of Jobs by Taylor Pearson. Whilst reading the book, it accurately condensed and connected some of the trends I had vaguely noticed over the last few years. As the title suggests, the premise of the book is that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift where globalisation, technological change and the internet are shifting the landscape of the western workforce. The 20th century employee is being replaced by another person: the 21st century entrepreneur.

The End of Jobs - Taylor Pearson
Throughout the 20th century, an individual was presented with the following career path: You finish High School, maybe go to university/college, join a big company afterwards and work your way up from there. Taylor goes through a lot of detail arguing that this is no longer valid for us in the 21st century. Below are some of the book’s sections I enjoyed the most.

The End of Jobs: Cynefin

What the hell is Cynefin?! This is actually one of my favourite takeaways from the book. The Cynefin framework was developed by Dave Snowden. The framework essentially divides “work” into four separate fields.
The simple field is “the one where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious; anyone can apply a best practise to solve a simple problem”.
The complicated field is where cause and effect requires analysis and investigation. In this one “investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge” is often required (e.g. a tax accountant or a cook).
The complex field is where cause and effect need to be investigated and probed. This is perhaps a field where one is treading into new territory albeit in a controlled environment (e.g. research where things can be tried and tested in a scientific manner).
Lastly, the chaotic field is where something completely novel is experienced. I’m thinking of a crisis manager or problem solver. Taylor mentions the example of venture capitalist and former CEO Ben Horowitz having to take his company public in the wake of the tech bubble burst in 2001 (amidst company layoffs and plunging sales). Not the easiest task in the world to ask investors for money when stock markets are collapsing and your company’s prospects seem to be diminishing rapidly.

I find the Cynefin framework interesting as it helps to break down and place various types of work into these four categories. It also helps to identify which jobs current technology will be able to replace.

A look back through history

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What type of jobs were available in Egypt in ancient times?

Taylor also looks at historical development of how society moved forward. What did one need to be the dominant player an era? What was the scarce resource that could leave you with the upper hand at the negotiation table?
In the Middle Ages/Early Renaissance the dominant players were the landowners. Aristocrats and nobility who had land could were in control. The main output in that era was agriculture from which most of the other major industries derived value.
Shortly before the industrial revolution, the capital owners were the dominant players (think bankers and other people with liquid capital). Taylor illustrates the Rothschild banking family as the prime example that exerted control over society. Trade became more important and the industrial revolution required large amounts of capital.
Finally we culminate in the era where corporations dominate the landscape. In this era, measurements and scientific reasoning became important. Knowledge was key and widespread qualifications for individuals arose. Credentials to testify that individuals understood certain subject matter and could follow set processes and navigate complicated jobs.
Today, Taylor argues that technology and software has become so good that many of the simple jobs can now be automated, eliminating a significant hurdle for setting up certain kinds of businesses. That means that certain kinds of simple jobs that were once prevalent have disappeared and have been replaced by software. Similarly, many of the complicated roles are now being outsourced and automated. Machines and technology have taken on the simpler aspects of these jobs. For the other aspects, hordes of skilled workers in low-income countries have been contracted to fill these jobs for a fraction of the cost.

Does this mean the end of all OUR jobs?

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Will the corporate office be a thing of the past?

Naturally, you could now say, well we’re screwed. Labour costs less in other countries so who will want to employ us. This is exactly the point that The End of Jobs highlights. And instead of despairing, Taylor notes that technology, whilst also having caused an exodus of jobs is also a positive for entrepreneurs. The technological automation delivered by software has helped many small companies proliferate and target niche markets that were previously uninteresting for larger corporations. This is where Taylor’s book really hits its message home.
As more and more jobs are automated via technology and outsourced to lower cost countries, more people discover the opening that can be filled by entrepreneurship. Starting and running a small business  fits into the Chaotic and Complicated moulds that the Cynefin framework highlights. It will take a while for technology to be able to tackle those areas.

Overall, The End of Jobs is a well researched book which highlights some of the key developments of the last decades in the labour markets and technology. I would recommend anyone to have a read for themselves and at $5, it’s a steal!

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