E Pluribus (Not!) Unum

What does this tell us about jobs of the future?
Mar 1, 2012
Dr. Larry Phillips

E Pluribus Unum translates roughly to, “out of many, one.” This was considered our nation’s unofficial motto for almost 200 years. Though it was replaced in 1956, E Pluribus Unum still appears on most United States currency and is on the country seal. At the formation of our nation, it was meant to convey the idea that one nation was created from 13 colonies. Now it has taken on a slightly different connotation and symbolizes creating a great society from the diverse races, ethnicities, origins and religions of our population. 

Our society, supported by our educational systems, has been under the impression that there is always one best/correct answer to any question. We are taught from an early age to reduce the number of possible answers for any problem to the one correct answer. This is the basis of science and math. In other words, “out of many, one.” The increased educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a newer version of this concept. 

Improved math and science knowledge is valuable. Possession of these skills could lead to higher pay and employment security. However, as low-tech blue collar manufacturing jobs of the 20th century fell by the wayside to automation and outsourcing, the same can be said for higher-tech white collar employment in the 21st century. Engineering, accounting, customer service, software coding and similar types of work are being sent overseas. This movement is facilitated by communication technology and the high level of English skills globally. Also, computer technology allows many knowledge-based tasks to be automated, such as the creation of basic legal forms and many accounting functions. 

So, what are the jobs of the future and what skills are needed? Those who study this issue believe that future high-paying and secure jobs depend not on “out of many, one,” but rather “out of one, many.” 

What cannot be automated and is more difficult to export to low-cost labor countries are innovation, collaboration, empathy, teamwork, big-picture thinking, relationship development, synthesizing diverse bodies of knowledge, complex communication and creativity. 

Dan Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” depicts this change as the movement from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Emotional intelligence (EQ) will become as important or even more important than the traditional IQ. According to Pink, the skills needed for jobs of the future are basic human attributes that can be developed and taught. He believes that our educational and business systems must migrate to systems that reward and develop the aptitudes of:

Design – creating products and services that are not only functional, but are also aesthetically and emotionally appealing.

Story – persuading not only with facts but with a compelling narrative.

Symphony – going from the specific to the innovative by increasing rather than reducing possibilities.

Empathy – understanding people and cultures in order to communicate effectively and to understand the importance of emotion in relation to logic.

Play – having fun in one’s work and life.

Meaning – adding purpose to work and life rather than mere accumulation of possessions. While our educational and business cultures reward performance in extrinsic ways (grades and test scores in education and benefits and perks in business), rewards for the jobs of the future are more intrinsic (accomplishment, happiness, etc.). 

Our forefathers needed mechanical skills to be successful first in an agrarian economy. Our fathers needed technical skills to survive in an industrial economy. We need knowledge-based skills to survive in the knowledge economy. Will our children need the conceptual skills and aptitudes described above to survive in the emerging economy? I think so.


For more information, contact Dr. Larry Phillips, SPHR, management consultant, educator, and author affiliated with Ergo Resource Management Inc.; lwphilli44@gmail.com

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