MC Interview | Future of work is both a crisis and an opportunity, and the idea of a stable job no longer exists: Ravi Venkatesan

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The future of work is changing fast, and presents a crisis, and an opportunity, argues Ravi Venkatesan, a former chairman of Microsoft India and at Bank of Baroda. “The idea of a stable job does not exist any longer.”

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Venkatesan now mentors small businesses that involves him in several projects instead of just one job. Learning agility, mindset, and leadership style will define professional career, Venkatesan shares in an interaction with Moneycontrol.

The alumni of IIT-B and Harvard Business School has recently authored a book on career and life lessons, where he tells why professionals needs to adopt and acquire ‘meta skills’ than just relying on their higher education degrees, for a successful career. Excerpts from the interaction:

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Please elaborate on your view that the future of work is both a crisis and opportunity. Also, what is the single biggest shift you are witnessing in work-life?

Everything is changing fast. Any kind of change is both an opportunity and a crisis. If you are able to grasp it, it becomes an unbelievable opportunity, else it’s tough. You see, 2021 was a tough year but we produced 40 unicorns. This was not conceivable five years back. It’s not uniformly a crisis. The nature of work is changing rapidly and the most important thing to realise is that the idea of a stable job does not really exist. It won’t exist for most people. Not everybody can become an entrepreneur but almost all of us have to learn to become self-employed.

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I have said in the book that think about life as a series of projects. Look at my life: Microsoft was an eight-year project, Bank of Baroda was a three-year project, Unicef is a four-year project, and I had a stint with Infosys, and also an ongoing stint as a social entrepreneur. At any time, I have multiple projects going on.

Job insecurity looks scary in a country like India with a massive young population.

At the beginning, it feels scary, and makes one believe that there is security, but let me tell you that job security and stability in the current time is a myth. This is the single biggest shift (shaping the work-life). Second, with people living longer, the idea of retirement at 60 has gone, you have to work longer. And third, learn to reinvent yourself many times along the way to stay relevant.

What kind of skills or ‘meta skills’ one must acquire to stay relevant?

Jobs are changing fast and those that exist today were not there, let’s say, five to 10 years back. There was a new job called AI ethicist – it was not there two years back. Changing work requires new skills and if you focus on narrow skills, it is going to be obsolete in five years. I will talk about four of these super skills or meta skills.

One of them is learning agility, which means the ability to confront a situation you have never seen and learn how to cope with it. This can be done by going out of the comfort zone and taking on new challenges. Similarly, the ability to work with other people. Typically, engineers find it tough. More and more work is becoming multi-disciplinary. So people or life skills are a must, which is not taught at any school. Third is entrepreneurship, and fourth, leadership. If any professional is good at these, you need not worry about AI, jobs or any crisis.

What are the key components of learning agility that professionals need to acquire?

I have mentioned in the book. Learning agility has five major components – mental agility, or how comfortable you feel dealing with new and complex tasks, how well you can see patterns and connect disparate dots. People agility, or how well you can work with others especially those who are different from you. Change agility, or how comfortable you feel with completely new experiences, ambiguity or change. Results agility, or whether you can remain positive and deliver results in crisis or fast-changing situations. And five, self-awareness, or how well you can recognise your strengths and weaknesses.

In your book, What the Heck Do I Do with My Life, you have mentioned about intentional choice? For a young professional who have either lost his or her job or just entering a career, what would be you three advices?

Job is an important launching pad, but excel at it. Two, figure out what you are good at and enjoy most. I have given example of a young colleague at Microsoft, who quit and become a very good comedian. It does not matter what you study but at what you are good at. The intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing is a great space. Third, you have to be a learning machine. People don’t learn any-more and everything they like bite size; anything bigger they fail to comprehend. This is a prescription for problem. You need to read deep, and be curious.

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