October 1, 2013

The 5 Ways Job Types Self-Destruct or Self-Sustain

Take a close look at your own job type. Is it a job with a future, apart from the question of whether robots, rather than you, will be performing it in the future?

By this, I mean not only a job you may be able to count on for your future, but also a job category or type that will still exist for others (long) after you’ve left it.—perhaps a job slot that will eventually be filled by robots.

Some job categories seem, by their very essence, to be destined to require or enjoy increases in the numbers of people who have them, that is to say, jobs that create more jobs just like themselves, e.g., Amway distributor. When such jobs utterly vanish, it is because of external factors, such as a horrible economy, not because of the “essence” of the job.

Others are doomed—by circumstance, design or by their intrinsic natures—to completely vanish, often self-destructively or through voluntary self-liquidation as “victims of their own success”, independently of the state of the economy. Here, our planet’s cartographers (map makers) come to mind.

At some point, the Earth gets fully mapped, making the cartographers redundant—barring the need or desire for fine tuning such as “fractal maps” or the occurrence of geological map-changing cataclysms like continental or tectonic world-crunching shifts.

A third group merely plods along, maintaining a more or less fixed number or proportion of all jobs in the economy. The U.S. Congress, with stringent membership quotas and standards, comes to mind in this connection.

Finally, there are jobs that go through cycles of expansion and contraction—either because of “exogenous” (external) variables, like the seasons’ weather,  or because of some “endogenous” (intrinsic, internal), defining factor or attribute of the job, e.g., unemployment wicket agent (whose numbers, theoretically and facetiously speaking, cannot increase indefinitely without creating full employment, thereby inducing a decrease in their numbers, since there would be no clients and no demand for the agents’ services).

A more realistic example is that of a growing population of fishermen on some small tropical island with static and limited offshore populations of fish: As the number of fishermen increases and overfishing or smaller catches per boat becomes a problem, the fisherman population will shrink to a previous lower level, until the restored larger catches per boat induce some of the locals to return to fishing as a livelihood.

Having sketched out the five types, let’s look at some details:

1. Self-perpetuating jobs:  one that, ideally and by design or evolution, guarantees its continued existence, but only at current absolute or relative numerical levels. Examples: tenured professor at a university with fixed budgets and stable enrollments, member of a medieval guild or U.S. senator.  “Self-perpetuating” does not mean the job is held in perpetuity by the same person; rather, it means perpetuation of the job as a category and in numbers that are absolutely or relatively constant.  Call these jobs “static jobs”.

2. Self-expanding jobs:  a job that, ideally and through its design, is self-expanding, e.g., Amway distributor. The Amway distributor business model inherently depends on the creation of more distributors, human or robots—infinite growth, once inter-galactic colonization is achieved.

That’s the essence of Amway and other multilevel marketing. However, despite any similarities to Amway in terms of the multilevel marketing of addictive products, drug dealers do not operate with a pure Amway model.

Instead of aspiring to create competing drug kingpins within their territory, they prefer to create customers who can be recruited as lower-level street dealers, drug mules, lieutenants, enforcers, etc., which, of course generates more buyers. On the other hand, multilevel marketing similarly encourages dispersion of its kingpins as much as competition to become one.  These jobs can be called “+ jobs” (“plus-jobs”), connoting their tendency to expand in number.

3. Self-shrinking jobs: These are jobs that, logically, ideally or inevitably, will, over time, decrease the number of those who do such jobs. Examples: What happens to their overall numbers when physicians who, in addition to being conventionally trained to cure, are also thoroughly trained in preventive medicine, including general nutrition and orthomolecular medicine?

Ideally, their numbers should shrink as the demand for full-spectrum medical intervention declines, thanks to sensible nutrition, more frequent exercise, use of effective food supplements, etc., reduce the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Of course, physicians will always be required—at least until our bodies are replaced by robots or software programs housed in computers, or are surrounded by protective force fields and our DNA stops aging and making mistakes. But once preventive medicine becomes as pervasive as curative medicine, a drop in the demand for physicians can reasonably be expected. Call these “-jobs” (“minus-jobs”), to reflect their contracting numbers.

4. Self-liquidating jobs: These are jobs that by design, logic, ideally or inevitably eliminate themselves, e.g., by eliminating the need for them. Jobs of this type include cartographers on a planet of finite size and the bold explorers who use the cartographers’ maps. When the final frontier has been charted and claimed, those jobs vanish. It is natural to call these “0 jobs” (“zero-jobs”, since their numbers over time will tend to shrink to zero).

Another more cutting-edge example is that of robotics engineers who may be creating robots sophisticated enough to replace themselves. In this connection, it is worth noting Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent estimate that, within five years to ten years, Google-developed artificial intelligence could pass the Turing test (which evaluates whether a machine has equivalently or indistinguishably match human intelligent behavior).

Then, of course, there are the autonomous robots that require no handlers and the self-assembling, self-replicating super-smart robots and nano-machines that Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems warned us about in his 2000 scary and prophetic article, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”.

Given our own restless ingenuity and the “receptivity” of robots to its application, the ultimate elimination of robotics engineers and their job category seems a logical as well as historical inevitability.

5. Self-cycling jobs: These are jobs that, by design, ideally or inevitably will go through a repeating cycle of expansion and contraction in terms of their numbers. “Fashion designer” may leap to mind, given the endless repackaging and recycling of styles, lengths, fabrics, etc., that the industry requires to survive.

However, strictly speaking and despite the obvious and inevitable recycling of fashion, e.g., short skirt/long skirt, ultra-revealing/ultra-concealing, masculine/feminine/unisex or retro/trendy, and earthy/bold colors, in the self-cycling, self-peddling world of haute couture and catwalks, it is the job product, not the number of practitioners that follows a cyclical pattern.

As an example of a truly self-cycling job, seasonal farm laborer comes to mind—but with a caveat: Fruit pickers may prefer to work throughout the year, but cannot, because their job cycle is externally, i.e., exogenously driven—by the Sun and the weather.

A pure self-cycling job is one in which the cycle is created and initiated by the worker, not by some independent force or agency. Hence, it is perhaps better to describe seasonal farm jobs as “semi-self-cycling”, even though their numbers increase and decrease in very regular seasonal cycles.

Rotating chairmanships or boards of directors likewise do not meet the standard for being self-recycling jobs, inasmuch as only the personnel are recycled, not their alternately increasing and decreasing numbers.

The fisherman scenario, in conforming to a kind of ecological predator-prey boom-and-bust cycle, does seem to exemplify inherently cyclical job categories. In what’s called the Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model, when prey populations experience sharp spikes, comparable spikes in the predator population are sure to follow, until the prey population—and eventually the predator population—drops to a lower level (temporary equilibrium), to await the next prey population spike. (Warning: the Lotka-Volterra model’s math is a bit advanced, but the graph of the cycle illustrating the main point here is easy to grasp.)

Another kind of fishing may, under certain circumstances, exemplify the self-recycling job in purely human terms: the job of online scammer. For example, the now infamous Nigerian phishing scam involves “phishing” through spam-scam emails for fools “of exemplary character” who really believe they will get millions of dollars free for helping the insanely rich widow of some previously (fictitious) exiled general move her fortune offshore.

Eventually, the word gets out, people wise up, the law clamps down and the scammers move on to somewhere or something else, reducing the local population of scammers, until the heat’s off and a new crop of gullible dreamers is ready to harvest.

Any scammers addicted to the Nigerian scam will take a break until the time and fools seem ripe once again, which would make the specific job-category of “Nigerian Phisherman” a self-recycling job.

Call all such true self-recycling jobs “cycle jobs”.

Now, armed with an awareness of these five job types, you are ready to speculate on your own job type’s future—both long-term and short-term.

One caution: Just be sure not to confuse the job type with the job service. As an example and analytical exercise that makes this point and provides a warm-up for analyzing your own job, consider jobs in recycling: As cycle-based services, any jobs that provide recycling services are unlikely to be themselves, as job categories, self-cycling or recycling, since there is no reason for the demand or supply of recycling workers to be inherently or exogenously cyclical in terms of increases and decreases in the numbers of recycling-job holders.

Likewise, a recycling job is not likely to be self-liquidating, self-shrinking or self-expanding (beyond a certain point, namely, the point at which recycling makes primary resource extraction unnecessary).

“Self-perpetuating” seems to be the appropriate category in many cases of recycling, e.g., recycled plastic used to make more replacement recyclable plastics.

But come to think of it, there’s probably a sixth category that “save-the-planet” recycling jobs fall under—and, if you are lucky, maybe a type your own job fits into.



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Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).