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AI, Mickey Mouse, and jobs of the future

Much is being written about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence on jobs in the future. What tasks will be eliminated? What new opportunities will arise?

The idea that technology will change how we work is certainly not new. Neither is the impact on how leaders need to consider changes in their roles.

I recall sitting in the Citibank auditorium at 399 Park Avenue in the late 1970’s listening to our Chairman and CEO Walter Wriston, an accomplished and well-respected banker of the time. Two of his points resonated with me, one about changes in technology and the other about leadership.

The first was that moving money around the world no longer required physical transport of banknotes; rather, technology enabled money to be digitized.  Its existence was just a recorded bit of data in the sender and receiver’s books creating new opportunities for doing business. He did not mention or perhaps did not yet foresee the potential threats that this posed.

Secondly, with respect to leading the then largest bank in the world in this new age of technology, he admitted that there were “no tracks in the snow” for him to follow. He would need to work things out as new situations arise.

A bit more than a decade later our 8-year-old son shared somewhat the same wisdom when he was asked, “What would you like be when you grow up?.” His reply was, “that job does not exist yet.”

However, a few years earlier he was a bit more certain about what he thought his future should hold.

My wife was working in the marketing department at Finnair on the team planning the airline’s first direct flight between Helsinki and Los Angeles. To mark the inaugural arrival in Helsinki they arranged with Disney for an appearance by Mickey Mouse.

When the plane landed in Helsinki Airport she was part of the welcoming committee, holding a bouquet of flowers waiting for Mickey at the bottom of the stairs leading up to where he would exit from the aircraft. As a treat she brought our son, then 5 years old, onto the tarmac with her. As the plane’s doors opened and the famous mouse stepped out, our son tugged on his mother’s skirt and excitedly asked, “When you die, can I have your job?”

We may not know what the impact of AI will be on jobs and leadership, but the change is coming, and we will learn soon enough. In the words of the comedian George Carlin, "The future will soon be a thing of the past."


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