I'm worried and won't lie. I'm not sleeping well at all these days because I'm seriously concerned about the futures of Executive Assistants everywhere...especially my MEGAs. Maybe it was a mistake, but I took a plunge down the rabbit hole and started binge watching YouTubes from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Sam Harris all having similar, REAL fears about the future of Artificial Intelligence and how it will impact business and jobs over the next 5 - 10 years.
AI left unchecked has the potential to completely eclipse the human race. I need you to hear me when I tell you this. Artificial Intelligence has the potential, in a very short amount of time, to displace tens of millions of workers around the globe by automating them right out of their jobs. The assumption is that we have the ability to control the growth and reach of AI and we would "never allow machines to outsmart us." Sadly, that would be incredibly trusting and foolish an assumption.
Machines are learning at a rapid pace. LEARNING! Not simply being told what to do. They are self-correcting their errors, building upon the algorithms programmed into them and figuring out how to perfect processes based on an algorithmic version of what they perceive to be perfection.
At the moment, we have an increasingly slippery grip on their abilities, but it's only a matter of time before we start handing over the reins and allowing these machines to craft the new existence that we'll all be forced to comply with and fit ourselves into. I'm sure many of you are rolling your eyes and writing me off as "dramatic" or even a little "cray cray." But I have zero issue playing the "I Told You So" card on you when my predictions come to fruition. So, listen up!
If you’re an Executive Assistant, I’d say you’ve got 2 good years left to do your job in the same manner you’ve always done it. Probably less. For those of you who think that Executive Assistants are so “specialized” and “unique” that they could never be replaced, please allow me to lovingly slap you across the face. Our role has historically been one that does the most, but garners the least amount of respect within the organization.
Shit, we still have issues walking into our Exec’s office and demanding pay commensurate with the work that we actually do and all of the miracles we perform on a daily basis! We can’t even advocate for ourselves 90% of the time, yet we feel we’re somehow indispensable “because soft skills.”
Reality check. Your soft skills likely won’t save most of your jobs once spreadsheets start flowing across your boss’ desk showing the tremendous value to the company by getting rid of the expensive Admin layer, bringing on that cool, new shiny object “Alexa,” and maybe keeping one admin around to help Alexa out and set up/tear down the conference room each day. I say this both will love and with urgency, THIS IS WAR!
1. It’s Time to Start Doing Your Research
This is for EVERYONE, not just Executive Assistants. The hyper automation of business is not just a thing, it’s a reality, and one that will soon create much turmoil in our lives. Unless you have a job that is such a unique specialty that AI has no chance of automating you out of your seat, you need to get seriously proactive and strategic. You need to really think about everything you currently do in your role and figure out if there’s already an app for it or if there are betas already in play gathering information and gaining steam. If there are, GET NERVOUS.
I recently watched a YouTube of one of the heads of Machine Learning at Microsoft who proudly displayed his Virtual Assistant, Cortana. She’s so advanced that she can handle everything. She can immediately schedule a meeting, send you an invite, answer any question you may have all within seconds of interacting with her. No surly EA having a bad day. No, “give me just a sec, let me check his calendar.” I won’t lie, I was really impressed. Shit, I kinda want one myself! But it represents the beginning of the end of this role hampered only by a few key updates and the amount of time a company has to roll out the technology. You only need the tech installed on machines throughout the organization.
Let’s say that's a $200K investment. You currently have 8 Executive Assistants of varying levels of experience on your payroll. Let’s assume their average pay is around $85K/yr each, or $680,000/yr. Install the software org-wide and keep one human around, you know, to for that human touch, and you'll still have a savings of almost $400,000 per year. Still feeling irreplaceable? We all know how Execs lick their chops at a savings like that. #getnervous
2. Work on and Master your Interpersonal Communications Skills
We will need to co-exist with our non-human coworkers. There’s no escaping it. Here’s what I see as the first phase of this integration. Machines will automate away much of the administrative and operational components of our jobs. However, what they lack is the interpersonal communication skills and abilities we humans (used to) have on lock. No robot can out-human a human. They can certainly outthink us and perform tasks in a fraction of the time, but they don’t have the smile, charisma, whit, charm, nuance and perception that humans innately have. And I highly doubt that in my lifetime I’ll ever encounter a robot that can drop a perfectly crafted F-bomb with such elegance and timing as yours truly, nor make an entire room of C-suite execs double over in laughter with one remark. Sorry, Siri. You ain’t ME, boo.
Interpersonal communications and stellar customer service will not only experience a renaissance, they will become some of the most sought-after skills of the future. Think about it. Machines will be able to handle all things administrative and operational in record time, creating levels of efficiency and accuracy we have never experienced in business. Which means the in-person client meetings and deal closings will become the new commodity for business as automation speed and accuracy become ubiquitous across all industries because AI. People with incredible interpersonal skills, customer service mastery and the gift of gab will be highly sought after and coveted by companies looking to differentiate themselves from their competition, which will fall into human hands. So, there’s a win. Yay.
But here’s the issue. We have an entire generation of people with the interpersonal skills of a tomato. Drive past a Google bus stop and observe. And, then, feel a little depressed. No one’s talking with one another, unless they’re friends. Their heads are buried in their phones not because they’re working or keeping up with Donald Trump’s tweet faux pas du jour. It’s to avoid all awkward eye contact or random conversation at all costs. Everything vital to interpersonal communication. And it’s not just “the millennials” who are failing miserably at it. It’s pretty much anyone who spends more than 4-5 hours per day staring at their phone and purposely avoid saying, “hello” to the stranger next to them whom they can kinda feel is aching for a little conversation.
We need to begin being present and talking with one another again. Striking up conversation in transit. Putting our phones in our back pockets and chatting up the UBER driver. All of these missed opportunities for some sort of connection has already created a society of clones. We need to look down the road a bit and start adjusting our behavior to suit a future that will rely on interpersonal communication for our survival. If we continue on this path and ignore this critical component, AI will continue to improve, learn and teach itself, automate us out of our jobs and into global unemployment mayhem. It can’t even compute them.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Wait…your business is teaching Executive Assistants. Why are you blowing up your spot and potentially doing damage to your own business?” To which I’ll say this.
I’m a realist. MEGA Assistant University isn’t a money grab for me. What motivates me to get out of bed every morning is the fact that I truly care about the human condition. I care that we all have some sort of opportunity to live the best life we can and, if we have to work, do work that fulfills us and builds us all up. I came from nothing. Like a lot of people. But I always believed in myself, my ability to roll with the punches, and my gift of being able to identify opportunities and consistently capitalize on them before my competition did.
My almost 26 years as a Top 1%, C-suite Executive Assistant has provided me with so much. I repay those blessings 36 Saturdays per year from 9am – 5pm teaching the strategies, mindset and intuition that made me successful to a bunch of passionate Assistants I hope will be just as successful, with far fewer scars and bruises to show for it.
Sadly, I know in my heart that this role and my business have a shelf life that diminishes exponentially with each new release of Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Amy, Shaniqua, and Chantel. And that’s okay. Change doesn’t scare me. In fact, my ability to embrace it continues to keep me far more relevant than most my age and experience level. However, I won’t sit idly by knowing a tsunami is approaching without sprinting to the highest peak I can find and shouting my warning. Those who know me know that I’m not a doomsday prophet or wildly impetuous. I research the shit out of EVERYTHING. It’s the secret sauce of my success.
So please hear me when I say this is NOT a drill. For any of us! Please do your due diligence and start asking questions. Keep an eye on the news outlets and follow Elon, Bill and Sam’s feeds like a hawk. They’re pretty smart kids and frighteningly accurate in their predictions. The inevitable is coming. Please don’t write it off thinking it won’t affect you. It will. You need to diversity NOW. Take some classes. Dust off your desire to start your own business. Get the band back together. Find a specialty or two that can't be automated away and master them. Make sure your kids can carry on a conversation with another human. Master your business etiquette and polish up your polish. We're at T-minus 5 years and counting. It's time to get busy.
Food for thought: The first iPhone was released in June 2007. That’s only 10 years ago, kids. Tesla’s (pronounced TEZ • luh, by the way) about to release its 6th vehicle…a self-driving semi truck. Microsoft and Amazon are combining forces with their Virtual Assistants to offer a more seamless experience from home to office and all points in between. Yep. Already.
Better start perfecting that elevator pitch.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.