Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, there has been speculation that one day machines and technology would take over the world. The rise of the inorganic would always damn the human race to servitude, or worse, in these stories. This future, although undeniably bleak, has caused many to muse about what this new world would look like; spawning engaging films like The Matrix, Extinction, and The Terminator. Although the fantastical “tech takeovers” seen in these films are seemingly far off, the machines and their integration into society strengthens with each passing day. As jobs become increasingly more automated, many will feel the stress of being replaced, and only a select few will be able to continue making strides. To prove this fact, let’s take a look at the revolution currently taking place.

In their influential book, Race Against the Machine, MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee discuss how the rise of all things digital is altering our market. The author duo dub this changing environment as “the Great Restructuring.” The Great Restructuring uses the concept of digital division to describe the changes going on in this new world. In essence, digital division is when the gap between intelligent machines and human ability shrinks. If a machine can do it, companies might be more inclined to automate that task. If a task simply justifies the presence and know-how of a human being, enhanced communication and collaboration technology allows companies to outsource jobs – meaning they have a larger talent pool, and other markets, to choose from.

While the Great Restructuring seems exceptionally grim, like the worlds depicted in those sci-fi films, Brynjolfsson and McAfee try to emphasize that while a larger number of people will “lose” in the new economy, that there is hope! As previously mentioned, there are select groups of people who will not only be able to survive this digital divide – but even thrive in it. Let’s take a look at them below:

  1. The High-Skilled Workers: Those who are able to use and creatively manipulate intelligent machines at an expert level.
  2. The Superstars: Those who are at the peak of their sectors and compete with others for the best jobs across companies in a global market.
  3. The Owners: Those who are actively investing in new technologies that are driving the Great Restructuring.

These three champions of the new market share two core abilities, according to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The first is the ability to quickly master hard things. The second is the ability to produce at an elite level in both quality and speed. These two qualities both derive from practicing deep work. The immense focus and concentration deep work requires definitely helps to slingshot these champions to the forefront, but I also believe that there is another aspect that helps to define these individuals as winners.

In his blog, Farnam Street, Shane Parrish describes the intriguing concept and usage of mental models. Mental models are defined as a representation of how something works. By filtering out extraneous details, the brain uses these models to simplify the large and complex into understandable, easy-to-digest chunks. As most people utilize mental models that are relevant to their lifestyle or industry, there are many holes perforating their thinking. Parrish states that creating a latticework, or collection, of models provides a greater perspective.

I believe that mental models, along with Newport’s identified abilities, are what makes the three champions unique. Each one of the champions possesses fully-realized, specialized models for their sector – an engineer would know a vast amount about physics, a financial analyst about market trends, and so forth. What divides the champions from the rest of the crowd is that they are well educated about other fields and are collaborative.

“When a botanist looks at a forest they may focus on the ecosystem, an environmentalist sees the impact of climate change, a forestry engineer the state of the tree growth, a business person the value of the land. None are wrong, but neither are any of them able to describe the full scope of the forest. Sharing knowledge, or learning the basics of the other disciplines, would lead to a more well-rounded understanding that would allow for better initial decisions about managing the forest.” – Shane Parrish

To demonstrate the concept in the above quote, let’s break down the champions one by one to highlight their complex latticework of mental models. The High-Skilled Workers know how programs and other technologies interact with each other, a well-rounded understanding is crucial to their performance. The Superstars collaborate with the most innovative businesses and exchange information with other elite professionals, keeping notes and knowledge for their next transaction. The Owners know how the newest technological advances and industry trends work together so that they can frame their tech business for maximum payoff. In short, the champions’ ability to compartmentalize knowledge and make connections work hand-in-hand with the abilities Newport identifies to create a strong, almost superhuman, professionals.

The Wrap Up

So, what can we take away from this? As long as you are able to practice deep work, strive to be the best in your field, and have a curiosity to learn, you might not be replaced by a robot during the Great Restructuring. Leave a comment stating which champion you’d be and why – I’d love to see where you fall.

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