Career and Life Disruption – Disruptive Technology
I took the advice from Glenn Zweig who I interviewed in the podcast episode, How to Switch Industries from Executive Search Consultants Perspective. I reflected back on my career and life and how I had dealt with disruption. What I found was my life was full of disruption.
I would like to discuss 4 kinds of disruption and how I handled each. The 4 are as follows:
- Disruptive technologies in Your Career
The more adaptable you are, the better likelihood you are to handle each of these types of disruptions. Given the last two years of living through a pandemic, disruptions are not going away. In fact, I believe disruption will become a way of life.
I am going to cover disruptive technologies in this post.
Disruptive Technologies in Your Career
I spent the first 22 years of my life at IBM. The first decade there I was developing or implementing two different disruptive technologies, word processors and Computer-Aided Design systems (CAD). I was able to see firsthand how technology disrupted the careers of office workers and mechanical engineers.
Word Processors Caused Disruption
My time working on the IBM Displaywriter project is where I saw the greatest disruption. The Displaywriter was developed to replace the IBM Selectric Typewriter.
The Selectric typewriter was one of the most successful technology products of the 20th century. Just about every modern office had one and I personally knew of secretaries who took great pride in having one.
The Displaywriter had a very similar architecture and processor to the original IBM PC. The Displaywriter had a keyboard that had the same “feel” as the Selectric keyboard. The feel of the keyboard was critical as users spent 8 hours a day on the device.
The Displaywriter was first released in 1980 about 1 year before the IBM PC.
Secretaries using the Displaywriter could produce documents many times faster and with greater accuracy. The Displaywriter introduced an interesting new feature called “spell check”.
In 1981, I was sent to visit a religious organization in Florida. Management replaced three Selectric typewriters with three Displaywriters and a shared printer using the same print technology used on the Selectric typewriter. Watch this video to see this technology in action.
After 6 months, the users had only reached the point where they were as productive using the Displaywriter as they had been with the typewriters.
Why? Their boss did not consult them in buying the new systems.
They fought tooth and nail!
Their prestige of having a Selectric typewriter was diminished as they were now working on a …. computer. They also feared that their jobs would eventually be eliminated.
They were right! Within 10 years secretaries that exclusively typed documents and were compensated for their speed on the keyboard were eliminated.
In the early 1980s proprietary email systems from DEC and IBM were gaining traction. Email became pervasive by the early 1990s. The need to have a dedicated employee to type disappeared.
The elimination of a whole job category happened over about 10 years.
Computer-Aided Design Caused Disruption
In 1983 I left the field of word processors to support hundreds of mechanical engineers. IBM had started several years earlier to move engineers from drafting boards to Computer-Aided Design systems. The CAD software was CADAM which was originally developed by Lockheed and targeted aerospace companies.
The reality was rather than using paper and pencil the engineers used a large display and a light pen to create engineering drawings. A lot of the tedious work of creating dimensions on the drawings and other documentation was automated. Drawings could now be easily distributed and shared among different engineering groups. This was a radical change but how mechanical engineers designed products were not. They still would generate drawing with front, side, and top views which are commonly known as orthographic projection.
The transition was fought by some of the engineers but they quickly discovered it was more efficient.
In the late 1980s, IBM started to make the transition to a solid modeling system called CATIA. Unlike the transition from a drafting board to CADAM, engineers needed to both learn a new system but also a radical change in how they designed. They had to think in three dimensions rather than two.
Some Just Gave Up
I will never forget talking to a senior engineer. He told me that he was retiring because he could not design this way. We naturally think in three dimensions but these engineers had been trained to think and design only using two dimensions. 30+ years of designing products in front, side, and top views were all he knew. He was not willing at this time of his life to make this change.
This change was a career killer for some. Some fought it, others just gave up and retired, and some embraced it. Engineers who embraced it tended to be younger and more willing to change.
Today most complex mechanical devices are designed using solid modeling software. CATIA is still used by Boeing to design aircraft.
Dealing with Disruptive Technology
What I learned was your career can always be disrupted by disruptive technology. In both of these cases, the technology took decades to develop. However, few were proactive to get ahead of the technology that was coming.
Some fought it and this was a flawed strategy. Others just gave up. While others embraced it.
Today these changes are coming much faster. In both cases, as the disruptive technology was being implemented there was time to reskill and continue to grow in your career. That is changing fast.
You need to keep yourself relevant by tracking company and industry trends. If you spot a disruption on the horizon do not wait to start reskilling to keep yourself relevant. As I have stated before, your experience is not important if it is not relevant.
If you wait for the disruptive technology to be implemented you are most likely too late.
What’s Next in this Disruption Series
In the next post, I want to discuss health disruptions, that can impact your career. I can say, both of my health disruptions caused me to make critical changes in my career.
How have you dealt with disruptive technology in your career? Take some time to reflect on your career.
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