6 Ways to Make Yourself Indispensable at Work

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If you’re scared that your role might be eliminated in the post-pandemic economy, concerned about the accelerating speed of innovation, or just worried that artificial intelligence, machine learning or business process automation might take your job, here are some things you can do to make yourself indispensable.

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A little recent history

Before the pandemic, fear of missing out (FOMO) was motivating tech-savvy CEOs to get super-serious about data. Machine learning systems were already on a path to become “table stakes” for every company—department by department, system by system, function by function. Since the beginning of the pandemic, this trend has been accelerated in every sector across every industry—including yours.

Human/machine partnerships

Industrial-scale automation is coming, but it’s not here yet. In the interim, some work will be fully automated, and some will still require human expertise, due to limits of evolving technology, a result of cost/benefit or simply because humans still need to be involved.

To survive and prosper as AI-assisted automation takes over the business world, you will need to become the best human/machine partner in your peer group. This means you must be better than people who are competing for your job at understanding and using “technology” or whatever other name you wish to use to describe systems that can perform cognitive non-repetitive work as well as—or better than—unaided humans can.

Here are some concrete steps you can take.

Invent the future

If you analyze numbers in Excel, craft a narrative about them, and move them around spreadsheets, your employable days are numbered—unless you invent the future.

Imagine you are tasked with automating your job, every keystroke, every phone call, every in-person meeting—everything. Which areas will most likely be automated? It may only be small parts of the process. It may help to list everything you do and all your responsibilities and write down how they will be done when machines rule the world.

You will be surprised at how many things you believe cannot be automated that are already automated. You will also be surprised at how many things you believe are easy to automate that are not even close to being automated. This personal understanding of the capabilities and limitations of AI and machine learning is critical. How do you gain such understanding?

Start reading

Read everything you can about data, data science, machine learning, AI and automation. Everything you need to know is available online. There are about a zillion YouTube videos on the subject. Find companies that are working on automating cognitive tasks associated with your business. Look for partners, vendors, consultants, well-read bloggers—anyone who can help you understand what you need to do. Immerse yourself in the subject. It is your new full-time job.

Be ‘that’ person

This is the hardest step. Dig deep. Become “that person” in your department who “knows this stuff.” Figure out where to use data for better decision-making and what tools to use to automate certain tasks, and become expert in them. Your current lack of knowledge is unimportant. You can learn, so learn!

Propose a test project

After you have figured out which vendors, partners, processes, tools, consultants and colleagues need to be combined to accomplish your test project, build a short, uncomplicated presentation (if needed) to articulate what you will try to accomplish and what benchmarks you will use to measure success. You will be surprised at how quickly management says yes. If management does not say yes, you are working in a company that is not going to exist much longer, so look for a job where you get permission to use your new knowledge.

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