Ever feel technology is leaving you behind? The good news is that you’re not alone – it’s a problem for everyone.
The bad news is the constant and rapid advances in technology mean that, rather than leaving education behind at 18 or 21, you are likely to have to keep going back to school again and again throughout your lifetime to keep up.
The same kind of technology developments which have seen online giant Amazon shake up the High Street and cab hailing app Uber make life a lot harder for traditional taxi firms, will also revolutionise the way we study and work, say those in the industry.
“It’s not enough anymore to say I’ve figured it out, I’m gonna stay there; you can figure it out, and you have to figure it out for tomorrow again,” says Sebastian Thrun, the founder of educational firm Udacity.
Mr Thrun has been dubbed the “father of self-driving cars” due to his past role at Google, establishing their autonomous car programme.
He believes rapid advances in technology coupled with increasing longevity will force people to change careers several times in their lifetimes. As such, he says the current pattern followed by most people of school, university degree and then a job simply won’t work.
“We live in a dynamic world, so you have to really understand how to be on top of all these modern technologies all the time, whether you’re a CEO or whether you’re an employee at the very bottom of the food chain.
“A world where you used to have one education during your lifetime, one job during your lifetime, that is already passed,” he says.
Of course as co-founder of Udacity, Mr Thrun has a vested interest.
The firm was born out of a 2011 Stanford University experiment in which Mr Thrun, a research professor at the university, and his co-founder Peter Norvig offered their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online to anyone, for free. A staggering number of people signed up: 160,000 students in more than 190 countries, making Mr Thrun aware of the massive demand for learning.
Six years on, the company now has four million students around the world, learning tech skills such as data science, machine learning and android.
One of its main offerings is a so called “Nanodegree”, an online qualification with a monthly fee that takes six months to a year, which teaches basic programming skills for entry level positions at tech firms.
“It’s really aimed at life-long learners, people who during their lifetime feel they are under-employed. They want to have a new opportunity in life. They come to us, they get a Nanodegree, and many, many, many tech companies accept it just like a degree,” says Mr Thrun.
But it’s not just individuals who need to keep learning and adapting, but companies too, argues Mr Thrun.
He says many firms are “run by dinosaurs”, who ignore technology and insist on running the company in the same way it’s always been done.
“Today if you don’t worry about things like big data or you don’t worry about artificial intelligence, cyber security, mobile, you will be left behind. There’s no question.
“No matter what business you’re in, you will be left behind, even if you bake pizzas the guy next-door who has a nice mobile app to make pizza distributed faster will win against you,” he says.
Mr Thrun argues traditional firms should look at their Silicon Valley start-ups to learn how to behave.
“They’re almost the opposite of typical management advice. They are like don’t talk, don’t have big meetings, don’t coordinate, don’t have democracy, and let people at the base be empowered to run their own thing, because they tend to know very well what’s needed,” he says.
Empowering everyone in the firm to make decisions and moving away from a single all-powerful boss is an organisational structure some firms outside of Silicon Valley are beginning to embrace.
It even has a name – Agile. The term, which originally comes from software development is all about continual improvement and learning and improving communication between different departments. As the word suggests, the main aim is to enable firms to adapt rapidly to market changes and to new ways of doing things.
Meg Whitman, chief executive of technology giant Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), says it’s essentially about doing things more quickly.
“[It’s about] how do you do things with less bureaucracy, with less decision makers who can say no… how do we get more people who can say yes, and then how do we respond to customer needs much faster?,” she says.
Swedish software consultancy Crisp is one firm which has embraced an agile approach, right down to the rather extreme interpretation of having no one in charge at all.
“If you look at a hierarchical organisation, in a fast-moving world, then if decisions have to be propagated up the chain of command and then propagated down again, that’s going to cause a delay,” explains Henrik Kniberg, an organisational coach at the firm.
To help companies it works with to understand the agile approach, Crisp carries out regular, simple workshops.
In one such lesson, a group is divided into teams which are asked to make paper snowflakes which they then sell to the group leader. They’re given no instructions on how to make the snowflakes, and no information on what determines the price: instead they’re supposed to work it out themselves.
The lesson, says agile coach Hans Brattberg, is that you can’t plan success.
“We’re trying to help them learn a process of how to improve their product with experimenting instead of planning,” he says.
It may seem childish, but it gets the point across clearly and simply. And that’s something which is important to encourage more firms to embrace this kind of approach, says CEO coach and author Steve Tappin.
“Using traditional management techniques to force it [Agile] on the business won’t work, instead CEOs need to let go, empower their people and allow the truly agile business to emerge,” he says.
This feature is based on interviews by CEO coach and author Steve Tappin, and by series producer Neil Koenig, for the BBC’s CEO Guru series.