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How To Create Jobs In The Age Of Robots And Low Growth

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The growth economy suffers from a productivity paradox. Corporations compete to reduce the time and effort that goes into production processes, which is generally seen as a sign of efficiency, but in reality has a troubling outcome.

Unless more stuff is produced and consumed, people lose their jobs as the same output can be achieved with fewer workers. This is why so many well-meaning people around the world fear the prospect of low growth, even when they recognise that the current form of industrial development is destroying the social fabric and natural ecosystems of societies.

Such a structural unemployment problem is further compounded by the real prospect of massive automation replacing humans in production chains. A study by Oxford University predicts that robots are likely to displace no less than 50% of jobs in the US and Europe in the next 20 years.

Machines are putting people out of work in emerging economies too, including in China, which has long been the global job creator. According to Martin Ford, bestselling author of The Rise of the Robots, most routine jobs are becoming obsolete. As Ford says:

We must decide, now, whether the future will see broad based prosperity or catastrophic levels of inequality and economic insecurity.

Unless societies change their approach to growth and development, they will not only end up with a broken planet and conflict-ridden communities: they will also face massive unemployment. There is no way the vertical structures of production dominating the current industrial system will generate enough jobs, let alone good jobs, to satisfy our needs.

Tesla’s secret formula

As I describe in Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth, the only way out of this predicament is to empower people to become producers and consumers at the same time. Or what I call “prosumers”. They must be capable of making most of the things they need through local systems of co-production and networks of small businesses.

And certain technologies can help develop a new form of post-industrial artisanship. Thanks to open source hardware, small business networks are building computers. With the assistance of 3D printers, artisans are taking on big business in a way that may challenge conventional assumptions about the efficiency of economies of scale.

Changing the focus

Rethinking work is crucial for industrialised economies as well as emerging economies, where job losses are being felt even in the presence of substantial, although diminishing, economic growth.

For instance, Africa is expected to achieve a record 2.8 billion people by 2060, becoming the largest continent in the world. Most of these people will be young and thirsty for work. There is no way the continent will create decent employment opportunities by adopting an industrial model that’s already eliminating jobs globally.

The Nerd Herd

A new approach is needed. The well-being economy forces us to rethink the nature of work by shifting the focus from the quantity of the production-consumption cycle to the quality of the relations underpinning the economic system. The growth economy pushes for mass consumption through an impersonal relationship between producers and consumers (which can be more efficiently performed by robots). The well-being economy must embrace a customised approach to economic exchanges, in which it’s the quality of the human interaction to determine the value.

Take a doctor as an example. From the perspective of the growth economy, the best doctor is the one that visits as many patients as possible in the shortest period of time. In theory, this function could even be performed by a robot. By contrast, in the well-being economy, the personal attention invested in the doctor-patient relationship becomes the key to value creation.

Intuitively, all of us associate the value of good health care with the personal attention that comes with it. The same holds true for education: any reasonable person would frown upon a school that asked teachers to teach faster and faster to an ever larger number of students. Common sense tells us that value is being lost through the mass consumption of these relationships, even when profits (both for the clinic and the school) may increase.

Rethinking productivity

Productivity is certainly a good thing, but it should not be embraced blindly. Above all, we need to ask what productivity is for.

The economy is nothing else than a system of social relations. If productivity undermines those relations, the economy itself crumbles, even when profits (at least for someone) may go up.

Many professional activities based on the quality of the performance cannot, by their own nature, become more productive. Asking an orchestra to play faster would not increase productivity: it would simply turn a melodic experience into a nightmare. The same applies to painters, dancers, barbers, teachers, nurses and the like.

This is why it still takes the same number of people to play a Mozart opera today as it did when Mozart first composed it. So, what about extending the same intuition to the rest of the economy?

Young, Jobless And Angry

What if the mechanic of the future won’t be a robot churning out new spare parts every second, but rather a qualified artisan that helps us fix, upgrade and upcycle our vehicle for the entire duration of its life? What if the engineer of the future won’t be a remote computer taking care of our house appliances but a personal advisor helping households produce their own energy. They would help optimise the use of natural resources, from water to vegetable gardens, and make sustainable use of building materials?

A circular economy in which production is optimised and no waste is produced can be achieved in two ways. It can be achieved through robots-dominated production chains or by a horizontal network of qualified artisans and small businesses operating as a collaborative organism. In the first case, a few people will dominate the global economy. In the second case, everyone will be empowered.

A well-being economy cannot exist without empowerment, access and equal opportunities for personal and collective fulfilment. Developing countries can now leapfrog to such a new trajectory without being held back by a model of industrialisation that’s increasingly unfit for the 21st century. – Written by Full Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria

Originally published in The Conversation.

The Conversation

Technology

TikTok Launches $200 Million Fund To Finance Up-And-Coming Stars

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TikTok will begin financing emerging creators on its short-form video platform with a $200 million fund that it announced today, an unusual move by a social media company and one that comes after several weeks of concerns about TikTok’s future.

The company, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, didn’t provide many specific details about how it will give out that money or who may qualify for it. It may be directed toward users from minority groups—with the press release about the fund’s debut singling out creators like Boman Martinez-Reid, a LGBTQ comedian who has signed with CAA, and Tabitha Brown, who’s become famous for her videos about family life and veganism.

TikTok is in a multi-front battle right now. The Trump Administration is considering banning the app over concerns it may share data with the Chinese government, and the users who flocked to TikTok over the past year have been exploring other platforms for their content. In the past few weeks, TikTokers have posted videos urging their fans to also follower them on apps like Instagram, while others have turned to rival music-and-video apps such as Dubsmash and Byte to produce work.

The best way to keep them on TikTok is to offer a clear path toward earning money. Instagram and other social platforms have struggled to do that, and YouTube’s ad-sharing scheme—based on the views generated by someone’s videos—remains the quickest and simplest monetization for influencers. Companies such as Chipotle and E.L.F. cosmetics are already paying for sponsored content on TikTok, where influencers post videos advertising these companies for a fee, as much as six figures now for the top stars. But those deals are typically hashed out between the brands and the influencers without the social media companies getting involved.

TikTok’s $200 million fund is a different step, something neither Instagram nor YouTube have done. It theoretically would allow more creators to flourish as they start out and begin searching for commercial work, such as the sponsored content posts.

Abram Brown, Forbes Staff, Business

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The Billionaire’s Startup

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The world is awash in streaming services, and Meg Whitman already had her fortune — but then Jeffrey Katzenberg came calling with a mobile-focused startup. With nearly $1.8 billion raised and America on lockdown, consumers may have no choice but to try Quibi.

Minutes after Meg Whitman announced she was stepping down as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in November 2017, her phone rang. It was Jeffrey Katzenberg, whom she has known since they both worked for Disney in the late 1980s and early 1990s — Whitman was in strategic planning; Katzenberg ran the film studio.  ‘What are you doing?’ ” Whitman remembers her friend asking. “I don’t know,” she replied.

“I’m the chairman of Teach for America. I’ll probably do stuff with my husband and travel.” She continues: “He goes, ‘No. What are you doing tonight?’ And I said, ‘Knowing you, Jeffrey, I’m having dinner with you.’ ”

Katzenberg flew to Silicon Valley and, over dinner at Nobu in Palo Alto, pitched his idea for bringing high-caliber entertainment to mobile phones. For Whitman, the idea checked all her boxes: The potential market for the service was huge, prevailing trends were right and it occupied a unique niche.

“I ultimately said, ‘You know what? I think I have another startup in me,’ ” says Whitman, 63, who first got rich (she’s worth $3.3 billion) working with another visionary founder, Pierre Omidyar. She helped build eBay from 30 employees and $4 million in revenue when she joined in 1998 to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue when she left a decade later.

“We’re pioneering into a space that only exists because of two things: YouTube, and Steve Jobs and the iPhone,” Katzenberg says. “Those two things have now created a new piece of real estate, and that real estate is 7 in the morning until 7 at night… That’s the thing that’s exciting to me.”

Two years after that dinner, Quibi (an awkward portmanteau of quick and bites) is poised to launch its mobile streaming service offering original movies, reality TV, comedies and news edited into bite sized nuggets of 10 minutes or less, optimized for viewing on phones.

Many in Hollywood think it’s a terrible idea. At a time when viewers are awash in entertainment options, many of them free, who is going to pay for another? “If I’m going to watch Game of Thrones in eight-minute chunks, what’s the difference between what he’s doing and me hitting the pause button?” scoffs one powerful Hollywood insider, who requested anonymity because his clients sell shows to Quibi. Barry Diller, perhaps the greatest Hollywood visionary of his generation, recently called Quibi a “gutsy speculation” for his former protégé (Katzenberg, 69, worked for Diller at Paramount in the ’70s). “He’s so naked out there with this.”

It’s not a new idea. Back in 1999, Katzenberg tried something similar with Pop.com, which was supposed to deliver short animated and live-action films across the internet. With the technology for viable video streaming still in its infancy, it was an uncertain notion at best. Despite being backed by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Paul Allen, Pop.com was dead within a year.

This time around, Katzenberg raised enough money to play it out, including $1 billion in August 2018 from the likes of Alibaba, Disney and Sony. It fortuitously wrapped up a $750 million follow-on round in March, just days before the coronavirus froze the country. “I’ve never seen an environment change this fast,” Whitman says. “Every day is a new day, with new data and new concerns.” Luckily, Kevin Hart and Jennifer Lopez already finished work on their shows, and Spielberg has a movie in the works, attracted by a “cash plus” deal that lets them retain rights to their material. After two years, they can stitch together their “quick bites” and release them as a full-length movie.

Inadvertently, America’s lockdown might have created the perfect moment for Quibi. Nielsen projects media viewing will spike by as much as 60% due to COVID-19. People will certainly know it’s available: Quibi is spending a gargantuan $400 million to promote its new service and in mid-March announced that it will offer the service free for three months.

“This is a moment in time in which we have a chance to do something that is putting some happiness and some joy and some fun and some laughter into people’s hands,” Katzenberg says.

Quibi also has the advantage of being loaded with fresh content just as the production of all new shows and movies has been stilled by the pandemic. Quibi has been stockpiling programming since last September in anticipation of a possible writer’s strike, fearing a replay of 2008, when a union walkout halted new production for 100 days.

The service debuts on April 6 with 50 original shows, including movies offered in cliff-hanger chapters such as the thriller Survive, starring Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) and Corey Hawkins (BlacKkKlansman); 120 reality shows and documentaries; plus news, weather and sports. In all, Quibi promises to deliver 8,500 quick bites from 175 shows in its first year.

But the $1.8 billion question remains: Will anyone pay to watch them? Some Hollywood players are adopting a “DBA Jeffrey” — Don’t Bet Against Jeffrey — attitude.

“Jeffrey has only taken a couple of big swings in his life, and he’s hit it out of the park,” says a senior executive at one of Hollywood’s major talent agencies. “If you had blindly bet on Jeffrey Katzenberg for the past 30 years, you’d have made a lot of money.”

– Dawn Chmielewski

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‘WFH’ here to stay?

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The home will be hub and flexible working the norm. The result? Renewed employee trust, wellness and cost savings, say more companies.

Even the words out-of-the-box seem out of date at a time when shipping containers are turning into ICU hospitals and arms firms are making ventilators and personal protective equipment.

If technology is being repurposed, so too homes and humans.

Over the last few months the world over, the pandemic-induced ‘new normal’ has seen homes turning into head offices, with the volatile economy forcing businesses to rethink long-term strategies in a work from home (WFH) environment that looks here to stay.

Even the big corporates say this could extend post-pandemic.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley said its staff will not revert fully to its pre-January work habits. “There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy; the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” he said after the company reported its first quarter profits for 2020.

Internet giant Google said all staff are expected to work from home until 2021, according to a May 2020 report in Bloomberg. S,imilarly, Facebook will let staff work remotely through 2020. Twitter, on the other hand, announced a short while later it would let staff work from home “forever”.

Euromonitor International’s Global Consumer Trends 2020 report has highlighted areas that Covid-19 will have an impact for the year ahead. Some of these include multi-functional homes where, in the long-term, the home becomes the hub and businesses will adapt accordingly; private personalization, which will put privacy concerns on hold in the short term but will return in the long term; and inclusivity for all would see disabled communities benefitting from technology.

In South Africa, the government has stipulated five levels of lockdown dictating how businesses may be carried out, including which sectors can operate as levels change. This requires flexibility and being able to adapt from one week to the other.

Jordan Rittenberry, Edelman Africa CEO, says the company’s transition towards more flexible working policies has been sped up by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the process has been a success with renewed trust in employees.

“We believe that flexibility, particularly in the current environment, is a useful way for companies to treat their staff right and foster mutual trust,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. “The pandemic has required a rapid mind-set change as companies take on new responsibilities towards the people that work for them and employee wellness is the first port of call as we navigate these uncharted waters.

“Every crisis presents opportunities and new ways of doing things. The shift we are seeing now is one of those that could help to meaningfully improve employer-employee relationships if managed carefully.

“As more people work from home, we will naturally require less space over time and this will yield cost savings to the business that can be passed on to clients.

“Besides employee costs, real estate is our biggest expense,” he says. Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice President at Sage Middle East and Africa, has come to a similar conclusion. “We realized that we do not need as much office space going forward and working remotely using cloud technology tools has maintained productivity levels from our colleagues,” says Bensch to FORBES AFRICA.

“Our entire workforce began working remotely before lockdown and are in no rush to return until it is safe but have encouraged video calls so they can see each other.

“Our cloud accounting and payroll product sales have increased, which is a clear indication that our customers now understand the power and benefits of cloud solutions to maintain business continuity.”

The mental wellbeing of employees has also been top priority.  “All Sage colleagues received a free subscription to Headspace, a brilliant award-winning app and guide to everyday mindfulness,” adds Bensch. The company also formed a ‘[email protected]’ community for staff looking for peer support on how to adapt with differing family needs and challenges.

A Johannesburg-based agency called BetterWork that specializes in design thinking for human resources has been hosting weekly lunchtime Zoom calls since the beginning of lockdown in South Africa. Attendees include a mix of its professional network, members of The GoodWork Society and other members of the general public. Some of its takeaways have proven that WFH is more productive than working in the office, which cited minimal distractions and the extra hours gained from not having to sit in traffic. Additionally, introverts seem to be thriving and tend to feel more comfortable with contributions to teamwork. On the other hand, BetterWork says parents on the call have expressed being overwhelmed with not just their own work but also the additional responsibility of being teacher-guides to their children.

The company believes the home-office is now the responsibility of the employer where people-focused services such as tele-therapy, support for parents and social programs become an additional duty to ensure a healthy, productive team. It adds that an obvious benefit would be the compensation or subsidizing of laptops, stable internet connectivity, webcams, etc.

Palesa Sibeko, Co-founder of BetterWork, says offices are typically expertly assessed and constructed to suit an organization’s work activity needs, but the same is not true for the millions of homes that are now acting as places of work. “There is not a concerted effort to view home-work life more holistically, to identify the needs and address them to create environments conducive to doing great work.” BetterWork says it is currently looking into how to support organizations on this important mission.

– Nafisa Akabor

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