Change is always hard, until it becomes inevitable.
Then something magical happens. Everyone starts embracing it, often wondering why it took so long for change to happen in the first.
Take automobiles as an example.
Cars were invented and made widely available in the late 19th and early 20th century. With more than 100 years of hindsight, the utility and benefits of the motor car is indisputable.
But this was not always the case.
Do you know that in 1896, Washington DC banned these “horseless carriages” (as cars were commonly known then) on the grounds that they threatened the livelihoods of horses. The following was reported in the Washington Post:
The commissioners of the District of Columbia are determined that the horse whose occupation has so largely been taken away by reason of the use of bicycles shall not further be displaced by horseless carriage.
Talk about putting the horse before the carriage!
There is a palpable sense of automation anxiety arising out of a combination of fear of being displaced by technology, innate resistance to change, lingering suspicions over management agenda as well as lack of support for upskilling or reskilling.
And such anxieties are only exacerbated in the current economic malaise. According to an NBER report, recent recessions tended to be followed by jobless recoveries as the level of automation in enterprises rises.
And as Upton Sinclair so eloquently put it, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Could we be seeing history repeat itself with the advent of automation and artificial intelligence? Only time will tell.