Augmenting Human Work 🔌 Transcend Newsletter #32

The future of work won't be about substituting humans, but all about empowering them.

Hey, Alberto here! welcome to another week of the Transcend Newsletter.

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Jobs in agriculture have gone from representing 8% of all US jobs in 1960, to roughly 1%. How can it be that agricultural output has grown by 3x since then?

The answer’s technology. Technology has increased productivity exponentially, and it is changing the way humans do work. Some predict these changes will extend to every industry, leaving little work for humans to do. Robots and algorithms will take over.

As I have argued in this newsletter before, I disagree with this notion. Work represents a fundamental source of pride and dignity for societies, so I don't believe it will ever disappear. Instead, technology will automate most manual tasks within our economies, and humans will have to focus our time on doing “Human Work”.

Human Work

I define Human Work (capitalized) as tasks that humans will always be performing over a robot: these will be difficult tasks to automate, but even if that’s accomplished, consumers would prefer to have humans perform those tasks. 

I believe there are 5 categories of Human Work: 

  1. Create + Curate: creative work by artists, influencers, curators, or activists.

  2. Communicate: bloggers, online commentators, book writers.

  3. Connect: bring together people in interesting, moving ways.

  4. Teach: facilitation of learning through teaching or mentoring.

  5. Care + Support: caretaking work, but also general support as therapists, or even coaches. A big part of it (especially child care) is unpaid and unrecognized today.

The future of work will be about "augmenting” this Human Work. Let’s unpack this. 

“Augmenting” Human Work

In a future where robots stock and file orders (eliminating over 2M jobs in the US), drive taxis driving (400,000 jobs), or enter data (200,000 jobs), the number of Human Work jobs will increase tenfold to accommodate for all these job losses. 

We’ll need millions of new teachers, caretakers, or therapists to run our economies. Yet today, most of these Human Work tasks are operationally expensive, so we can’t expect to multiply their supply just like that. "Augmenting" Human Work focuses on improving the quality of those services, and lowering the economic barriers so more people can participate in them, through technology.

Therapy is a great example of Human Work (Care and Support). Here’s how augmenting therapy can benefit society: 

Therapy as Human Work

In-person therapy is costly. It requires a therapist's full attention, one patient at a time, and plenty of back-office work to get the patient in the room (about half of the hours they spend with patients). 

Meanwhile, there’s an overwhelming demand for therapy, which cannot be served today.  

How Baylor Scott & White is addressing the shortage of mental health  professionals | Scrubbing In
The supply gap in therapy could be addressed through better enabling technology. Image

The rise in mental health apps hasn’t reduced the need for therapy. The answer to this supply gap likely won’t be building therapy bots or apps so everyone can access therapy on their phones. 

Instead, the answer is to augment the work of therapists: use technology to reduce the back-office, improve the patient’s digital experience, and provide digital complements to the in-person experience will free up therapists to focus on their patients. 

Once therapists are liberated from those tasks, they may choose to accommodate more patients in a day, or perhaps give more time to their appointments. More therapists should be able to set up shop too, as this progress could lower the economic barriers to entry, if not the regulatory barriers, which would have to change too in order to accommodate for that future of work. 

These strategies also apply to many other forms of Human Work, such as doctors, writers, or teachers, who spend 3-5 hours a day planning, answering emails, calls, and other tasks.

Strategies to Augment Human Work

The playbook to augment these professions is slowly taking shape. Here are four strategies that are being applied today across industries to Augment Human Work: 

🎨 Empower creators, curators, and communicators 

  • Enabling the creation of content (DAWs for music, Teachable) as well as the distribution (Patreon, Substack, or Virtually for online schools), to create more economic opportunities for creators. 

📠 Build complementary tools to reduce manual workload (teachers or supporters)

  • Removing distractions and adding services to enable more Human Work, like Quartet (for therapists), Integrate Schools (to reduce teacher’s data entry and connect student data across apps), or Mindstrong (for online therapy, by bundling complements and data sources within their app). 

🏋️ Improve decision-making

📱Move the synchronous to asynchronous

  • Moving some real-time interactions to asynchronous allows teachers, facilitators, and therapists to only join in real-time when it’s most effective – to brainstorm, to discuss, or to listen actively. Everything else can be self-paced, as shown by Parade (peer-learning for educational programs), hims/hers (preventive care and wellness), Medangle (for medical education), or Songbird (autism care). 

The road to Augmenting Human Work won’t be easy. 

First, we will need to accept that most work done today should and will not be done by humans. Then we’ll have to focus on building the tools that empower humans to do Human Work. 

That is what will get us to live in a world where teachers don't spend 5 hours a day on administrative work and doctors can focus on helping their patients heal. 

A better world, hopefully. 

What did you think? Please leave a comment or reply to this email with you thoughts!

👣More students are deferring enrolment than ever before – with almost 40% of students surveyed reporting they are considering taking a gap year. What experiences can be provided to youth as they navigate this uncertain time?

📝Overwhelmed by too many note taking apps and methods? Here’s how to choose the right one for you.

✊The Freedom Builder fellowship is a 10-month program for diverse fellows to study issues in higher education and develop effective policies, and it is now taking applications.

🎤Organizing an event and want to avoid putting a “manel” (man-only panel) at all costs? All Raise has put together a great directory of speakers at events so it never happens again.

🏋️Workforce development is proving to be a valuable investment for employers and workers alike – the growing number of startups could push this market to grow to $500bn by 2030, per Emerge’s report.

📬and 3 newsletters we are following:

  1. The Jungle Gym - think clearer, work smarter

  2. The Infinite Learner - all about the upskilling revolution

  3. Maker Mind - creativity and productivity

  1. Chief Storyteller - Virtually

  2. Business Development positions - Springboard

  3. Director - Job For the Future

  4. Customer Acquisition Rep - Talently

  5. UK Associate - Samaipata VC

  6. Senior Software Engineer - Strive

  7. Content writer, Researcher, Storyteller - Brainfood

For more job opportunities,  check out our full Job Board!.

Many thanks to Joel Christansen, Dan Hunt, Dan Li, Richie Bonilla, Nick DeWilde, Nick Drage and the Compound Writing community for the support, feedback, and ideas for this newsletter!

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