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The role of a teacher is a challenging one. The teacher has to think on her feet. She must understand the different levels of knowledge, emotional readiness and required processing of information to make her students successful. Some people are better at this than others.  The good teacher knows the answers to questions that could be found in a couple of Google searches. But those well-worn answers are not the ones that transform a good learning experience into a great one.

A gifted teacher will offer answers to the questions that the student hadn’t thought to ask. She will empathize, anticipate and delight—going out of her way to be creative and do work she’s proud of—just because she can.

It’s possible in every job to learn your lines, stick to the script and offer the required solution. Nobody will question your competence if you show up on time, put in the hours and don’t make mistakes. But the work that’s most appreciated and valued now isn’t simply the compliant or the competent—it’s the creative work you do, not because it’s required, but because you can.

 

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Shane Parrish, author of the highly recommended Farnam Street blog, had a great post  about defensive decision making – the type of decision making that focuses on what “looks right” vs. what “is right.”

Defensive decision making is the “IBM” option. Since “no one got fired for buying an IBM,” it is intended to protect the decision maker. Organizations can often create a massive decision-consequence asymmetry in that they become so risk-averse that most decisions come with small upside if they go well and large downside if something goes wrong (e.g. get fired).

The natural reaction is to just make the “default” decision. Nobody has to worry about their reputation and negative outcomes can be easily defended. That’s why so many companies ask their stakeholders to think outside of the box but rarely implement any of those ideas.

And, that’s why culture is more important than hiring the right people. In general, smart people prefer to choose solutions that are right. But it requires the nudge of a culture that incentivizes attempting decisions that are right instead of rewarding those that look right.

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Our brain directs us to convenience. It wants the quick delivery, the immediate reward, the instant fix. There is proof that focusing on the good creates more good. Positive thinking largely improves your mood and makes life significantly more enjoyable. But we also need challenges and adversity.

If we are kept in a constant state of comfort and convenience, our brain will compensate by creating a problem to overcome. Suddenly, we are worried about flying, crossing the street, an irregular heartbeat, foreigners and a falling sky. Anxiety. Sometimes panic. The cultural obsession with chasing happiness, shielding oneself from anything triggering, and the idea that life is primarily “good” and any challenge we face is a mistake of fate actually weakens us mentally. Shielding the mind from any adversity makes us more vulnerable to anxiety, panic and chaos.

Adversity makes you creative. It activates a part of you that is often latent. It makes things interesting. Part of the human narrative is wanting something to overcome. It’s the essence of the human experiment. Choosing to exit your comfort zone and endure pain for that which you believe is worth enduring for.

Humans need tension, resistance, adversity, and pain to break and transform. Embracing the grit of it all was what you were made for. Embrace discomfort.

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Society defines success by income, status symbols and measurable results. Not Ralph Waldo Emerson:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

A good reminder that success and your worth should never be defined by society and others. It must be defined by each one us individually.

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The two top right windows on the right (with shades drawn) are my office. 

My office is in the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter.  In 1700 there were 10.000 Jews living in Amsterdam, the biggest Jewish community of Western-Europe. Many arrived from wealthy Spain and Portugal in Amsterdam and brought important trade contracts, thereby boosting the Amsterdam economy of the Golden Age. The Second World War ended the Jewish history of Amsterdam, as only 28.000 Amsterdam Jews out of 120.000 survived the Second World War.

The building used to be a synagogue. The entrance still displays the Star of David.

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The office building, used to be the home of the Family Roeper. Benjamin Roeper moved in 1927 together with his wife Eva de Lange and their two children. Benjamin and his son worked in the synagogue. His daughter married Moses de Jongh, March 18, 1942. All of them lived together in the synagogue.

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Their daughter was born March 23, 1943. The whole family was deported to a transitional camp May 25, 1943. A week later, they were transported to the Sobibor concentration camp and all of them were killed around June 4, 1943.

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Every time I set foot in this historic place, I’m reminded of the Roepers and their tragedy. I sit in a room right above their living quarters 75 years ago. They had a life, a future, hope. And all of this was taken away by murderers.

They should never be forgotten and that’s why I applied for Stumbling Stones. Every day, we should be reminded that their lives made a difference.

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Next door to my office, used to be the Jewish Girls Orphanage. Up to 80 girls were housed  here. And they were deported in 1943. Now, it’s an apartment building.

There’s so much pain in this whole street, the whole quarter. Time doesn’t heal everything, It just teaches us to live with the pain.

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What I read:

There’s no Fire Alarm for Artificial General Intelligence. We need to discuss this as a society. I will write about the alarming piece this week.

I loved the idea of WeWork in the beginning but I feel it’s moving society in a wrong direction. The digital hippies want to integrate life and work — but not in a good way.

I went to Slush17 this week and I was mostly impressed by Ovamba, a short-term capital VC in Africa. Made me think how much we don’t know about Africa and we should know.

What I listened to:

Ezra Klein interviewed Rebecca Traister on #MeToo, Anita Hill and many others topics. In general, his podcast is a weekly highlight.

Slow Burn, a new Slate Podcast about Watergate. I gave the first episode a try and have to say that I can’t wait for the rest of the work. I thought I knew quite a bit about Watergate and I was wrong.

Yes, Howard Stern is the best interviewer out there but his interview with Jon Stewart was really special. Raw, real and very introspective. Don’t miss.

Bjork’s Utopia came out this week and it is her best work in more than 10 years.

What I wrote this week:

The Hemingway Law of AI.

The Future of Work in the Age of AI.

Guess what I’m focused on at the moment?

 

 

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A new report predicts that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation. The study, compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, says that advances in AI and robotics will have a drastic effect on everyday working lives, comparable to the shift away from agricultural societies during the Industrial Revolution. In the US alone, between 39 and 73 million jobs stand to be automated — making up around a third of the total workforce.

But, the report also states that as in the past, technology will not be a purely destructive force. New jobs will be created; existing roles will be redefined; and workers will have the opportunity to switch careers. The challenge particular to this generation, say the authors, is managing the transition. Income inequality is likely to grow, possibly leading to political instability; and the individuals who need to retrain for new careers won’t be the young, but middle-aged professionals.

As with previous studies on this topic, there’s much to be said for taking a skeptical view. Economic forecasting is not an exact science, and McKinsey’s researchers are keen to stress that their predictions are just that. The figure of 800 million jobs lost worldwide, for example, is only the most extreme of possible scenarios, and the report also suggests a middle estimate of 400 million jobs.

Nevertheless, this study is one of the most comprehensive in recent years, modeling changes in more than 800 occupations, and taking in some 46 countries, accounting for 90 percent of world GDP. Six nations are also analyzed in detail — the US, China, Germany, Japan, India, and Mexico — with these countries representing a range of economic situations and differently organized workforces.

A few highlights:

  • Automation will impact mostly Western countries. As an example, only 9% in India compared to 26% in Japan.
  • Up to 375 million people may need to switch occupational categories with the highest share in advanced economies.
  • If displaced workers are not reemployed quickly, countries will face rising unemployment and depressed wages. Unless retraining efforts are being implemented quickly, wage polarization in advanced countries could continue.
  • Business and policymakers will need to act to keep people working as automation is adopted.
  • Magnitude of potential job dislocation from automation through 2030 is not unprecedented. However, with a lack of innovation in policy and debt-laden countries major political responses are rather unlikely.
  • Technology displaces some work but creates new jobs, sometimes in unforeseen ways.
  • The global trend of aging population will create new and additional labor demand for health care.
  • “Marketization” of unpaid work could create new jobs.

The report closes:

“For society as a whole, machines can take on work that is routine, dangerous, or dirty, and may allow us all to use our intrinsically human talents more fully and enjoy more leisure. Yet even as we bene t, our societies will need to prepare for complex transitions ahead, as machines replace workers in many areas. Our research suggests that it may be time to refocus the current anxious debate about automation toward issues of demand growth, and how to manage the inevitable transitions created by automation. The task at hand is to prepare for a more automated future by emphasizing the skills that will be needed and ensuring dynamic job creation. The technology is advancing rapidly; the policy choices should not tarry.”

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“How did you go bankrupt” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The Hemingway Law of AI applies to many situations. It’s when the creaking of your back porch doesn’t matter much, until the day you put a foot through the floor. It’s when the cracks and rust on the stairs don’t seem to matter, until the stairs break. It’s the concern that you can see signs that the risk of a financial crisis or a stick market run, but little action is taken until the crisis is upon us. It’s the concern that the costs and risks of climate change may look quite reasonable, until something large and perhaps irreversible happens all at once.

AI has gradually nibbled away at human work and skills over the last few years:

  • Trade stocks, book flights, give directions and predict the weather
  • Play Go, Jeopard, Chess and Poker
  • Fly a plane, detect a fire, maintain the temperature of your house
  • Trade stocks, place online ads and recommend the next book to read

The AI Revolution is happening gradually, currently focused on things humans don’t like to do anyway. The jobs machines are replacing are often mind-numbing and repetitive. Not many people want to sort tomatoes all day long or press the same button for hours. Machines are better at these tasks, they don’t tire and improve over time. But many people will miss the community, the income and pride that comes along with going to work every day. The foundation of the Middle Class were repetitive jobs and AI nibbles constantly on that foundation.

For the majority of us, the AI revolution feels small now. Until it suddenly changes everything.

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That was wonderful.

The last few months have been filled with clarifying moments. And they culminated in the last 2 days with the Inauguration and Women’s March. Here we are. The road ahead is clear:

  • The most powerful weapon you have isn’t anger or violence. Your most powerful weapons are kindness, generosity and respectful dialogue. A generous word, a hug, a small gesture of humanity, a small donation or a banner held high in peaceful protest has never meant as much as it does today.
  • We still need to take more stock and understand how we got into this mess globally. Here is just one problem: we have, in addition to 7.5 million officially unemployed (a number that is closer to 15 million when all the hidden unemployment is accounted for), 23.5 million Americans aged 25-to-54 who reside outside the confines of the labor force. And at a time when job openings are at record highs.The problem is that unqualified applicants for these openings also are at a record high. The number of jobs available that are not being filled because the skill set is absent is at an unprecedented level. The question is what is in the policy playbook to redress this situation? What we need is a policy playbook that makes education, apprenticeship and training a major priority. Oh, and the robots are coming, climate change is happening, the world is unstable. Need I say more? We need to think these challenges through more.
  • We need to develop a vision for the future. The EU was founded on the ruins of WWII, ensuring such a conflict would never happen again. It had a moral center, a purpose, a vision. Today, people have forgotten about the vision, about its purpose. That’s the fault of technocrats, focusing on economics and regulations. The US had a vast moral purpose once: it was able to convince the world to follow its lead, to adopt first constitutionalism, then liberal democracy, then capitalism. America has been losing moral purpose for decades. An Iraq war here, secrets jail here and there, needless spying everywhere. That’s how you end up with a transactional Presidency. What we saw in the marches was an emotional connection that will help carry people through the future and give them hope. What we need now is an intellectual, policy-driven, philosophical, humane and imaginative vision for the future. It has to be much bigger than a party platform, much, much bigger than just resisting and fighting an administration. Because the EU and US have lost their moral purpose, they lost the most valuable thing of all: trust, faith and self-worth. And their soul, these constructs feel empty and hollow inside. We have to fill them with life and purpose.
  • You need to be the change you want to see: Some will run for office, some will be activists, some will create art, some will analyze and offer insights, some will help the ones left behind. It doesn’t matter what you are going to do but this is a good time to take a close look at your life: If you’ve always wanted to change the world by implementing an amazing idea, this is a good time to start. If you have a project you’ve been putting off for a long time, now is a good time to get to work. Changing the world seems impossible, there are so many processes and forces fighting against you. Changing the world doesn’t mean reversing Brexit or impeaching Trump. These are hollow discussions on social media, a waste of your time. Just doing one thing a week can bring enormous change: Joining a credit union. Learning a new skill. Stay away from social media for a day and read a book instead. Buy from responsible brands. Understand that spending hours on Facebook makes you part of the problem, not of a solution. Saying something nice to someone you’ve been meaning to say so. Start a diary. Start painting. Take care of your body and sleep.

I know, it sounds so silly and pedestrian. But change is not revolutionary, it’s evolutionary. Resolutions are useless because they rely on revolutionizing your behavior. Change comes in small steps, one at a time.

And, most importantly, take care of yourself and each other. I’m as Globalist as they come but the real change happens in your local community, at your house, in your family, with your friends, on the streets you walk and drive on every day. It’s not fancy, it doesn’t create headlines but it the most impact you’ll ever have.

Imagine your world and moral purpose. Because true change only starts in your imagination.

 

 

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I was introduced to the idea of theme for the year by Maria Sipka. It’s incredible simple: You start setting a theme minutes before midnight NYE (just a word) that would let serendipity and synchronicity take its course. As I tend to do, I didn’t follow instructions to a T because “work” as the word of the year has been too obvious to me for the last few months:

  • Millions of jobs will disappear in the next few years due to automation and technology. Will we find ways to replace those jobs with new opportunities? Hwat happens if those jobs disappear forever, never to be replaced?
  • Some countries and communities like Finland, Utrecht (Netherlands) and Oakland, California will experiment with Universal Basic Income in the months and years to come. Manitoba in Canada implemented this concept successfully but it was buried when political winds changed.
  • Projections of future job losses are all over the place, ranging from 10 – 40% in the next 10 years. How will our society change when a vast minority faces a jobless future?

On a more personal level, just like almost everybody in my life, I’m struggling with the blurring lines of work and life. More than that, I still tend to define myself mostly through work and its outcome, not enough through myself and who I really am. How do I combine meaning of life and work, where are the lines of separation? How can i rediscover the small pleasures of work that were once embryonic forms when I was a child? How can I forget about typical job categories and rather categorize based on pleasures: I might want to go back to “I am motivated by serving” or “Its’ understanding that gets me going…” How can know myself better, remember where the true sources of excitement and interest lie for me to get to the goal of a more satisfying work and life.

365 days to answer these initial questions and many more. My mission is to cross paths and meet with 50 thinkers and doers who are focusing on new ways to work and live. I want to learn as much as I can and, hopefully, contribute on any level. Definitely write about it, maybe start a podcast, the opportunities are endless.

If you know anybody I should talk, meet with or explore their projects, please share any ideas.

Let’s get to “work”.