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Meaningful Work in the Age of Digitization

John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco Systems, recently wrote in Fortune that “digitization—the intelligent connection of people, process, data, and things will be key to how countries maintain competitiveness, foster innovation, and create jobs.”  Similarly, Thomas Friedman and others have developed and are using the newly created word “STEMpathy” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math plus Empathy) to emphasize the importance of the link between hard/tech skills and the softer/human ones.  While most of us would agree that these are both critically important ideas, I believe there is more to this story.

I’d like to suggest that a deeper and more complete measure of “success” is needed.  It should be market-friendly, as Chambers, Friedman, et al,  have suggested, as well as purpose-friendly, where individual needs for meaningful work are given due consideration. Clearly, STEM-focused education is the way of the future.  Whether learning to code or simply understanding how technology is impacting our lives, it goes without saying that everyone needs a minimum level of STEM-familiarity. This means taking courses, engaging folks in technical conversation, self-study, and learning to be curious and open to the world that is rapidly being dominated by all things technical. Those who ignore this imperative will find themselves falling further and further behind and will see their sense of anxiety and insecurity rise accordingly.

As we work to become more STEM-literate, however, we also need to gain clarity about why we do what we do and how that then energizes us to give our best efforts every day.  We also need to become active and life-long learners along the way.  This pursuit of meaning includes several practices that will help us to live well in the age of digitization:

  • Learn what your strengths are and continue to develop and leverage those in ways that add value and foster continuous learning.
  • Gain clarity about your personal “value” proposition, first of all by knowing and articulating your own values and then understanding how that extends into and adds value in the world of work.
  • Become a change master by understanding and adapting to the changes going on around you, as well as becoming agile in mind and behavior. The more you gain comfort with rapid and continuous change the more likely you are to drive both sides of the success formula.
  • Make sure that your narrative, from your elevator pitch, to the story that embraces your purpose, is full and rich and that it includes your themes and meta-themes (i.e. Both your skills and strengths; what you can do and what love to do), that it covers the arc of your work life, addressing highlights, turning points, and lessons learned, and most importantly how that story identifies the unique and brilliant person you are.

In a world that is rapidly “digitizing” for virtually all of us, it is clear that there is great need to enhance our technical capabilities; to make sure our work lives integrate well with the emerging world of work. However, while this may make us more employable, it does not alone get us to meaning—that’s a whole other thread, and each of us needs to become pro-active in pursuing and fulfilling that part of the story.


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