"The Future of Professions” by Richard & Daniel Susskind

AUTHORS: Richard & Daniel Susskind

AUTHORS: Richard & Daniel Susskind

For a long time, we have been talking about how globalisation has changed the world. Our jobs are outsourced to cheap labourers abroad. Our call centres are no longer in the country of operation. The internet has taken over our knowledge source. When information is so easily accessible, does this mean that experts are required less and less? Do we rely more on quick and easy information and forgo the need to even verify our information? These are very real questions we need to consider when we operate in international relations. When we need fast answers, it is often tempting to crowdsource information and accept them as facts. Modern technology and the internet has very simply revolutionised our society. When we go on to crafting our niche and area of expertise, are we in competition of crowdsourced information or is our job safe from modern technology?

This is a real issue particularly for diplomats. Historically, diplomats were the key correspondent between two countries as there was no other way of exchanging highly confidential information. Nowadays, we get breaking news straight to our phones with embassies and diplomats playing catch-up and mitigating damage control. How do we ensure that our profession also evolves with technology? Have industries as old as diplomacy evolved and modernised at all?

To put these issues into context, we would like to recommend the book “The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts” by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind in support of Chapter 1 "Skills for a Changing World" of the Diplomatic Planner. Richard is the Chair for the Advisory Board of the Oxford Internet Institute and Daniel worked for the British government in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit before becoming a lecturer at Oxford University. Drawing on years of research, the authors predict the decline of today’s profession and discuss how people and systems are being replaced by modern technology.

When we consider the skills we need to survive in our field, we also need to consider threats and risks that may become an obstacle for us thrive in our careers. As professionals, we don’t simply memorise knowledge from journals and books. We learn from them, apply them and tailour our knowledge according to what we are working with and who. We stay on top of developments in our fields and aim to maintain a high standard of quality in practice. In addition, professionals are trusted as an honest source. We maintain authority over our field and keep others safe. However, the value professionals bring comes at a price and referring to a more accessible, online source is becoming the norm. The financial crisis and resulting public sector funds is making it difficult to maintain a high level of quality service, and fewer people can afford access to professional expertise.

Even with that in mind, the internet has created a new way for us to communicate which should provide professionals great access to its audience. We have online communities, video tutorials, and a rise of online academies that offer a floodgate of knowledge to countless people around the world. Rather than resisting such change, we must try to embrace it. Often, an expert might unconsciously try to keep an intellectual distance from people to maintain professional exclusivity, discounting self-help or self-discovery journeys. Naturally, Grassroot Diplomat disagrees with this and highly encourages open source learning and self-development. Thanks to technology, we have entered into an age of easier access to professional services. Technologies makes professional work more efficient by automating routine tasks. The Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy has a reference list to many third party taskmasters to help you manage your everyday life and professional missions with ease. Automatisation can take care of administrative tasks like bookkeeping or travel arrangements, allowing us to focus on more complex tasks.  

Advanced technology can assume other aspects of professional work, through the creation of protocols, standardised documents or online services. This results in enhanced productivity and faster turnaround and delivery for services. Technology also makes professional expertise more readily available to the layman, which threatens certain professions. For example, the business of tax filing has been revolutionised through technology, threatening the work of tax professionals. However, tax specialists can also use technology to organise accounting work, making changes to accounts to minimise tax that needs to be paid. We are therefore able to use technology to drive our professions forward so long as we are aware of how it enables us and other people we serve.

Knowledge spreads naturally and becomes more valuable as it reaches more people. You don’t lose what you know when you share your knowledge with others,which means that the value of knowledge doesn’t decrease when it is shared. If anything, knowledge grows when it is being shared. The authors refer to this as ‘non-excludable’ which means it isn’t possible to prevent someone from using it. Therefore, should the knowledge you obtain be shared or kept in secret? If it is the latter, technology will work against you. With the internet and social media, a single person can send a message to thousands of people so you will need to be tactful with what you share.

As technology progresses, more and more tasks will be performed by non-specialists with the assistance of digitised processes and systems. Standardisation is important because the more information we accumulate, the more challenging it becomes for a professional to stay on top of things. Can you imagine how much resource an embassy can gain back if standard visas were processed digitally? Standardised routines can ensure certain processes are carried out correctly, allowing a professional to focus on more unique or intellectually straining tasks. Yet, the advent of expert knowledge becoming a common online good raises questions about the kind of society we are building and want to be a part of. The authors suggest that if we distill knowledge of hundreds of specialists into a single system, who will become accountable for technological failure and maintenance?

Our decisions on how accessible information should be will shape our future society. When putting technology in the context of international relations, we shouldn’t be afraid of using new technology and we should make it our focus to make technology a common goal. Technology won’t dehumanise society and damage personal interactions. If anything, technology helps us to filter out the people we want to work with before we make any further commitment and stay on top of developing trends in the field. We can now follow top leaders and diplomats around the world and see how they work as a shadowing opportunity for our own growth and knowledge. Social media platforms like Twitter is bringing us closer together through the exchange of information and we need to learn how to drive such information to our advantage.

When professionals feel threatened by technology, they misunderstand their role. Your reason for ‘being’ shouldn’t be about maintaining your privileged status but to help solve society’s problems by providing even more access to expert knowledge. We need to be flexible in adapting to technology as and when it becomes available. It is a tool for us to use and we must be able to stay flexible as society changes.

“The Future of Professions” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register