I write this as a distraction from preparing a talk on the Future of Work. This is a bit of a worry as the talk starts in three hours. On the other hand I have always found that when one plays in the predictions game, making them at the last minute, or even better after the fact, always pays dividends.
I was afforded a glance at the future of retailing this week, and it looks bleak for some. In particular it looks bleak for the egotistical dunderhead who tried to sell me some clothes. I was in a touristy bit of town and my eye was caught by an item so garish and of screamingly poor taste that I felt it would be perfect for a Boney M concert. On entering the store I was immediately assailed by the owner, speaking perfect tourist Australian. “Are you visiting?”. “Yes for the last 22 years…” – clearly either I retain the prison pallour of the English or the proprietor was working out which price list to use.
With the skills more generally seen in card sharps, the salesman detected a slight flicker of my eyes toward his jackets. That was enough for him to deliver this gem; “Oh we cater to men like you who will never be seen in a medium size again”. Now dear reader, your correspondent has been on a bit of fitness binge this past year (50kgs and counting), so this remark was received as enthusiastically as Donald Trump on a football field (or actually just about anywhere). Having enthused and marvelled at his own creations and insulted the only potential buyer in the shop, he seemed confused when I promptly departed.
Earlier in the week, I popped into another store, where Gareth, for that is his name, struck up a wonderful conversation about a city where both of us had lived in years gone by. He was the real deal, or was the Dux of the faking authenticity class. He also lightened my wallet something rotten with some new threads. In size medium.
What has all of this to do with the future of work? In a word, relationship. In a world where we can price match and have goods delivered to our door, there needs to be a compelling reason to go into stores. Computers, robots and the internet can do it faster and cheaper, and they can also do it more tactfully than pituitary cases. However, they cannot tailor the experience and deliver a real connection with a customer. How about that, clothing salespeople becoming tailors. Tailoring the experience to the customers needs at that moment.
This applies more generally with the future of work. In a world where we are now so highly connected that we are disconnected from authentic experience, those with the skills to develop effective relationships, the ability to develop empathy and therefore trust, and to be responsive to the needs of their colleagues and clients will thrive be it in retail, engineering, law, medicine or the trades. Ironically, the dehumanising impact of technology over the last 200 years has brought us back to that basic human need of authentic connection.
Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DrJimBright.