On Sunday, I met Kariuki the guy who sells DVD movies by the street close to my house. Kariuki was lamenting about how his business had dramatically slowed down and he wanted my advise on what he could do to pick up sales. Turns out Kariuki’s movie business has been uberized, with disruptive players like Netflix and Kodi that give movie watchers accessibility and convenience to stream movies at the comfort of their homes. Similarly, the taxi business in Nairobi went through the same kind of disruption when Uber came to town. Our world. Is. Changing. Fast.
Routine and linear tasks are being automated in cities such as Nairobi and Lagos that still have deep pockets of extreme poverty, high unemployment rates and are rife with scarcity – take for example an administrative assistant’s job that largely consists of scheduling meetings. Last week, I scheduled a meeting via email with a friend of mine, Aaron. Aaron copied his admin assistant Amy Ingram in the email and asked her to schedule the meeting. Now, I was surprised about Amy because I had been to Aaron’s office on numerous occasions and did not recall meeting Amy. I shrugged off my surprise and assumed his team was growing. Because I was not feeling well on the day of the meeting, I emailed Amy and asked if she could reschedule the meeting. Amy was proactive and efficient in checking Aaron’s calendar and getting back with me on his available time slots. Her efficiency and timely response impressed me – then I found out Amy Ingram was an A.I (artificial intelligent) admin assistant!!
As an innovation enthusiast, I have known about A.I developments but was surprised at the accelerated pace of automation happening in my home town in Nairobi and other parts of Africa. These effects of the digital age are not just being felt by informal SME business owners like Kariuki – but also by established players and local innovators. Based in Silicon Valley, Tala instantly scores applicants and delivers real-time credit to individuals who lack access to formal financial services disrupting local established innovators such as M-Shwari and M-Benki. With the disruption forces at play, the world is changing at a furious pace. Going back to Kariuki’s question, what can he do to remain relevant in this new world?
I’ve been reading ‘A Whole New Mind’ by Daniel Pink and he writes about how the world has moved from an economy built with rule-based, linear, pre-determined absolute answers & standardization to a world that demands we harness our creative, intuitive and empathetic capabilities within us so as to succeed in the digital economy. Developing a mindset that harnesses both sides of the left brain and right brain thinking is more critical than ever before…. To succeed we need to do work that delivers on these new imperatives of the Conceptual age – the age of heart, connection and art. Daniel Pink urges that we ask ourselves the following questions:
- Can someone overseas do the work we do cheaper?
- Can someone do it faster?
- Are we offering something that satisfies the nonmaterial transcendent desires of this new age?
The reality is that there is no easy answer to Kariuki’s concern. The augmented age in which machines can apply both creative and linear thinking is fast approaching. Our hope lies in our ability to learn, grow, connect and adapt to this ever-changing world. I’d love to hear what you think about this article and what you think can be done to adapt and succeed in this new world.