There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Dan Parsons.
Dan Parsons is the co-founder and COO/CPO of Thoughtful, whose mission is to help enable all organizations to free their workforce. Thoughtful creates and manages automated bots that supercharge the operations of their customers across all major business functions including revenue cycle, finance, legal, HR, IT, and beyond. As Chief Operating Officer and Product Officer, Dan’s responsibilities include strategic corporate development, product vision, and talent acquisition and retention. Dan brings over 13 years of experience as an operator and product leader (two-time former Founder). His entire career has been staked in leading startups such as ORA Interactive, DRYV, and BetterUp building incredible products to fuel growth and ROI. Dan graduated from the University of Cincinnati with degrees in Finance and Information Systems. Dan lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons and outside of work, he enjoys family time, live music, reading, web3, and learning new schools of thought.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Iwas born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I attended the University of Cincinnati and started my entrepreneurial journey through a touring rock band! After graduating, I moved to Chicago to start my first company, a product studio focusing on mobile and web platforms. While in Chicago, I built and sold two businesses before moving to San Francisco in 2018. We founded Thoughtful in 2020, and I’ve since moved back to Chicago with the business.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
Fifteen years is a long time when thinking about technology development. Fifteen years ago, the iPhone was released (no AppStore yet). Employers should expect many emergent technologies to drive outsized transformation in purchasing and delivering goods and services. These technologies include artificial intelligence, automation (hardware and software), autonomous driving, VR and blockchain-related projects. I would encourage employers to introduce these concepts into their business strategies, particularly the more mature technologies like automation. Updating your company’s operating model will be required to stay competitive and relevant.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
I believe universities will no longer be the gatekeepers to a successful career. As the internet continues to democratize affordable/free access to learning and technology powers more of the world’s economic progress, the less dependent young people will be on getting a degree. I would advise young adults to lean into the internet and focus more on finding industries and fields whose outlook gives them energy. Look to acquire and use technology skills vs. formal education as an entry point to these fields. One thing is for sure, technology-related skills will be table stakes, and the people with the most advanced skills will be at an advantage when entering the workforce.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
Every new revolution replaces cohorts of jobs while creating and enabling entirely new industries. While automation will make businesses more efficient, requiring fewer people, we’ll see an explosion of exciting new job opportunities in areas like climate control, virtual reality, robotics, space exploration, modern finance and beyond. Emerging companies will create entirely new markets around upskilling and reskilling workers to take advantage of the new frontier of work.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
If we read the tea leaves, there will be two flavors of jobs in high demand. One is the engineers required to build, maintain and innovate on these systems. The second is the jobs humans are uniquely qualified to do, including creative problem solving, strategic thinking, art, music, entertainment, etc. Essentially we’ll be up-leveling the quality of all jobs. The modern trade will be occupations such as software engineering and automation design.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
I see remote work being an acceptable option for companies. However, I believe much value gets lost in a fully remote culture. Companies and teams should use the best model for their business and culture. At Thoughtful, we’re setting up working norms at the team level, which includes in-person requirements and remote options based on the team’s objectives and the nature of their work.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
Generally, we must consider how we educate our kids and what happens after high school. STEM classes should be more heavily weighted at all levels of our education stack. We should also change the conversation from “what jobs will be lost” to “what new possibilities will the next generation have to be more fulfilled and engaged at work.” Automation will take care of the work nobody likes to do, and the best companies will reinvest those resources in more strategic and innovative jobs. These roles enable employees to solve problems and be creative, two things that have proven to help people find purpose and satisfaction from their work.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
The changes will show up on the competitive battlefield. Companies will quickly realize if they’re not early to adopt and invest in these technologies. If they’re late to the party, it will be harder for them to compete in the long run. Employees who do not embrace change will have the most challenging time. There will be a significant upskilling movement, and employees should get on board and find opportunities to upskill.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Given our new reality, social safety nets should get more attention from federal and local governments. I empathize with the people tasked with figuring out how to best deal with rapid changes in employment due to COVID, which was a black swan event. Now that we’ve experienced one of these episodes, companies are responsible for setting up their businesses to be more durable. Lastly, everyone should decide the amount of risk they want to take when choosing an employer, knowing there may be another COVID-like event in the future.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of work. While we move into this next phase of human productivity, there will be growing pains. Still, I believe the average job will be more engaging, challenging and fulfilling than at any point in modern history. My source of optimism is the work we’re doing at Thoughtful. We’re helping companies build more productive operations, freeing up capital to invest in more strategic parts of their business.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
The best way to reduce the length of this gap is to be honest about the automation and AI revolution that’s coming. The writing is on the wall, it’s inevitable. We should start retooling teams that need to fill skill gaps and ensure our education pathways are optimizing for this new future.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?”
- Automation. Software automation and hardware automation will take on repetitive workloads. Companies no longer need to burden employees with mundane software-related tasks or repetitive factory floor duties. Examples include software bots by Thoughtful and hardware automation by Tesla.
- Asynchronous. In traditional office settings, there are a lot of in-person meetings and discussions done between the hours of 9–5. In a world where more people are remote and on different schedules, we’ll see the continued investment in software products that support async work and communication. Notion and Airtable are existing tools that come to mind.
- Gig work. The internet has created robust marketplaces to concentrate expertise around design, software development, legal, research, data analysis and more. Companies will continue to leverage these platforms on an as-needed basis to augment their full-time workforce.
- IT security. More and more of the world’s work is facilitated by software. As more companies are born internet natives, the need to continue to invest in information security will be more critical than ever.
- Virtual reality. Creating simulated product experiences and working environments will provide companies with a new toolkit to create and deliver goods and services. Industries such as healthcare, industrial design, gaming, entertainment and real estate will continue to invest in VR to innovate in their fields.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
“Inspiration does not beget action. Action begets inspiration.” — Chinese proverb.
Movement and action is where it all starts. All great things have come to light by someone taking the first step, then learning, then taking the next step. Action compounds, thought does not.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk. He’s arguably the greatest capitalist and inventor of our generation.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.
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July 19, 2023