Have you gone to a restaurant lately? Or taken a flight? Have you noticed that the level of service is generally way crappier than before the pandemic? This might sound like a grumpy complaint yet the anecdotes are so plentiful that it’s hard to ignore. Not enough people, not enough trained people and skyrocketing demand are only the symptoms – this is part of something much bigger.
In my line of work, I get exposed to the biggest challenges companies are facing. By far and away the main boardroom topic over the past year is the people problem. This leads me to believe that this issue is much bigger than we think. What’s fascinating is that it’s multifaceted. It’s not only about the great resignation, remote work, attracting smart people and keeping the team happy. My general sense is that we are underestimating the scale of the problem.
There are not enough people
Many smart folks are talking about the lack of people globally. The number one issue we’re facing is demographics. We are simply not reproducing at a high enough level to sustain the economy and keep growth going. Sure immigration helps in developed countries but total population growth in the world is radically slowing down. For instance, there are estimates that China’s population will be 40% smaller by the end of the century.
I don’t want to argue whether this is a good or bad thing, it just feels that it will happen anyway so might as well get ready for it. Having fewer people has implications for so many aspects of society, I’m gonna stick to a few ideas on how technology is already helping.
Consumerization of everything
All (digital) products focus on improving the user experience. Our tools are becoming easier to use and this will only quicken in the future. This makes complete sense since it is the basis for competitive advantage in a connected world. This focus on making people’s lives easier with less human intervention is fascinating and one that I will want to continue learning about. The possibilities are mind boggling and we can expect many companies to be created to tackle these problems. Let’s take one simple example, elder care. With an aging population, new products will emerge to assist people living at home that need support. We can think of telemedicine and robots exploding in the coming years. Machines will increasingly intermediate our interactions and I expect that some tools will be welcomed with open arms and others with skepticism.
Focusing on what people are good at
In the creation of these new companies, there will be many cool innovations that will enhance people’s lives. The one thing that will not be replaced is human empathy and creativity. This is an important principle for leaders that are building companies; what can be automated will be, so focus on building enduring relationships and helping people be more empathetic to your customers.
I expect that the decrease of people in the workforce will cause headaches and crises for companies for many years to come. This makes me think of the Japanese definition of “crisis”. It is dangerous and scary but it also represents the opportunity to create a better future.