Those who work really hard throughout their career but don’t take time out of their schedule to constantly learn will be the new “at-risk” group. They risk remaining stuck on the bottom rung of global competition, and they risk losing their jobs to automation, just as blue-collar workers did between 2000 and 2010 when robots replaced 85 percent of manufacturing jobs.Simmons, M. (2017). 5-Hour Rule: If you’re not spending 5 hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.
As I mentioned in my Plans! post from a few days ago, I’m trying to make more space in my day for reading. It’s partly because I enjoy reading more than almost anything else and partly because of my growing conviction that reading is one of the most important things I could be doing with my time. Reading is also a pre-requisite for being able to write well and I’d like to improve my writing quality and output during 2019. This post is really just a writing exercise where I expand on one of the points that I made in the post I just mentioned, providing some background and rationale for why I want to read more (this may become a short series of posts where I unpack my thinking around my plans).
In the early stages of your career, you want to focus on building what Cal Newport calls career capital, which is a shorthand for the kind of credibility that you can only get through hard graft. It’s the characteristic that makes people trust you because you’ve demonstrated a track record of consistently good work. It’s not just about showing up on time; it’s about how you show up. While career capital can be turned into financial reward, it’s really unlikely (unless you come from old money) that you can have money without first putting in the work. So it seems to me that you should make choices, especially early on in your career, that increase your chances of learning something new rather than looking for a bigger paycheque. Promotions are fine things to aim for but they won’t always lead to better opportunities in the long-term if they’re not associated with a high level of career capital (and yes, it’s possible to promote without having done the work).
Kevin Kelley said that you should “move into spaces that increase your options” but you can’t do this without first having a solid foundation of broad and deep knowledge of the world, or at least in your domain of interest. There are few opportunities available for those who are left behind and in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s become increasingly clear that many professionals are at risk of being left behind. Automation and machine learning are likely to make many tasks that we consider routine, redundant. Imagine if 25% of your daily work was automated away; what would you do with those extra 2 hours? Will you simply work fewer hours (at lower pay)? Or will you be ready to fill that time with meaningful tasks that machines can’t automate?
I started this post by saying that knowledge is more important than money because a high salary is a poor indicator of your ability to adapt to automation, whereas knowledge is the one thing that can help you to move quickly. The only way to plan for an uncertain future is to keep learning and one of the best ways to learn is to read.