NOTE: I wrote this last July of 2016! WOAH. I did not publish it then and was not able to find the right time to publish it because so many other urgent things were happening in the country and the world. But as I am re-reading all these now, I realised that this is more relevant now than before.
I always listen to cool podcasts while stuck in traffic and one of my favorites is Planet Money! If you have some time right now, like, if you are stuck in traffic too, you might want to listen to this. It talks about The Sewing Robot. But it is not just about one robot that could sew uniforms, this is about robots (in general) that will take over jobs in the future.
This is one of the big things that scare me about the future: the rise of incredibly smart and productive machines. Actually, scared is not the right word. I don’t know what the right word is so here are a few words: a-little-scared-challenged-and-thinking-of-ways-to-make-jobs-relevant-for-people.
See, we are in the business of providing high-value livelihood to artisans. And there are reasons why we have always been precious about building a brand that recognises & partners with artisans.
Reason number 1: Our theory is, if we always recognise our artisans and connect them to advocates, they get to be part of what makes R2R a brand that people can emotionally connect with and love. People do not just buy for price, necessity, quality, or novelty, they also buy for meaning and purpose. We want to continuously inform our advocates that our products have meaning, purpose, and amazing people behind them.
Reason number 2: Good brands live longer. We are not in R2R for short-term gains. We built R2R to be a sustainable business partner for artisans. Because of this, we realised that we can’t operate like a project or build just any manufacturing business. A project has an end date and manufacturing is a highly competitive industry that won’t necessarily let us play to our strengths. The lives, livelihood, and future of our artisans deserve long-term solutions.
The reality is, technology is super fast. Within the past few years (not even decades!), we have seen 3D printers, fast machines, smart machines, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and a lot of really cool and exciting things. They will be part of the new norm before we realise it. I’m personally excited for all of them! But at the same time, as these machines become smarter and more efficient, they will be replacing people. I could only imagine the millions of jobs that will no longer exist in a few years because machines will take over. Yes, yes, of course, new jobs will also emerge! But let’s also be honest here. Not a lot of us are preparing ourselves or our communities for these new jobs. I know, it sounds like a Sci-fi movie, but lots of seemingly far-out Sci-fi movies in the past don’t seem too crazy anymore today. The bar for what we think is impossible has gotten a lot higher than ever before.
I think about it all the time. If a software can design, say, a bag, and a 3D printer can manufacture it in minutes, how can an artisan compete in terms of go-to-market speed and cost?
So instead of stressing over the inevitable, I thought of just thinking of solutions that could help, not just our artisans, but people in general, to hone the right skills and talents to not just survive, but also thrive in the age of the Robots. Oh, and let’s change that name to: Age of highly skilled, adaptable, and creative human beings.
1.) Build brands – As I have mentioned in Reason number 2, Brands live longer! People identify with brands in an emotional way that goes deeper than just convenience or need. So, what if we can create brands that stand for real human connections and meaning? These brands can be inclusive in a sustainable way. Machines may be able to do the jobs of people better and faster, but they will find it incredibly challenging to replace the emotional connection that a brand creates. This means that really effective and inclusive brands have the potential to promote and protect the arts, crafts, and skills of actual people.
2.) Create art, not just products – Functional products are great! BUT. Purely functional products with no other value proposition other than being functional, will find it hard to stand out from a sea of other functional products. Products with purpose and meaning on the other hand, may stand a chance (or several chances).
For example, instead of just training artisans to make eco-bags (great start, but there are hundreds of thousands of eco-bag suppliers in the world), train artisans to share their stories through the products. They can make art pieces out of the ordinary through putting in their unique touches and stories. Maybe instead of just sewing the bags, they can also hand paint them with images of their community, family, hopes, and dreams.
There is a reason why art pieces have survived throughout history. They resonate with people, they represent ideas and artists, and they connect us to worlds and places in time that fascinate us and make us think, feel, and imagine.
3.) Train, not just for skills, but for the following: problem-solving, creativity, people management, systems thinking, empathy (the World Economic Forum came up with this really cool list of 10 skills you need thrive in the fourth industrial revolution), and other not-so-obvious but really important skills for the future!
4.) Create Great products with Inspiring stories (inspiring, not sad and destitute) – Inspiring stories behind products should come with great products. The inspiring stories and people behind them deserve nothing less. And when you get to create a great product (with a great brand, ideally), tell its story in an empowering way.
Major Emphasis on: Inspiring & Empowering
It is true that pity sells. It is easy to tug on the heartstrings of well-meaning people and compel them to buy something they won’t necessarily buy otherwise just because it’s for (pick one or more) charity, a good cause, livelihood, employment, education, water sanitation, and others. And don’t get me wrong, I love buying things for a cause too! But when the sole unique selling proposition of a product is its good cause, it won’t be selling long enough to create more positive impact.
The world is changing in an exciting and big way! So instead of resisting all these changes (and honestly, we can resist all we want but they are going to happen anyway), we have to learn to understand them, adapt to them, and more importantly, shape them.