The 4th industrial revolution: How to avoid being made redundant


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Everyone and every business’ success is a function of the level of fit between the subject strategic intelligence and the demand of the time they live in. Can Henry Ford compete with Elon Musk intellectually and strategically in the 21st century? Not so sure about that. Henry Ford’s strategic business acumen would have been a misfit for this century as Musk’s relentless drive in the time Ford lived in. Or, Better still, would Caxton have been able to succeed in the business environment of 2015 in the same way he thrived in the 19th century with his printing press?

When you consider such waned profile of the once mammoth Xerox and Kodak compared with the unending rise of Microsoft and Samsung Mobile, you should get a lesson in how the economy revolutionizes, whilst leaving, in its endless shift, relics in form of outsmarted business model, machines, gadgets, management approach and stale individual skills.

The World is in the midst of another serious industrial revolution. This is the fourth (4th) though. We have moved from the agrarian age to the first industrial revolution of machine, then to the printing press and the internet. However, since about two decades ago, we have been approaching a new revolution that is nearly in its apex. Welcome to the 4th industrial revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution cannot be summed up as just a digital revolution but rather a lucrative field of:

  1. Robotics
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. 3D Printing
  4. Digitalization

The effect is that businesses will have to adjust to the changing technologies; Individuals, as well, must upskill existing know-how, to adapt and take advantage of the rapidly changing economy. Why?

 While productivity and export is bound to increase, automation, especially in the industrial and manufacturing sector would be unfair to millions of people who live on paycheck. In the banking sector, we have seen the effects of artificial intelligence and automated machine on demand for cashiers. Chat Bot is also replacing call centre staff. At retail giants such as IKEA, robot will be used to stock and restock the shelves. All these will leave very little space for the human workforce.

Businesses must embrace new technologies. Since digitalization is on the rise, home delivery via preorder through the mobile will increase. It means, whatever business you do, start thinking of your customers as time-pressed, lazy and needing more proximity via smart-phone to make order for a pick-up van for their laundry or drop grocery.

While artificial intelligence like SeeMoreTM can help HR sort through CV in few seconds to select the best resume; Microsoft have also developed many packages that can help make diagnoses easier and more accurate. There are more in the field of accounting and other management capacity. The overall impact still boils to reduction in personnel demand or a transformation in roles and responsibilities at work. This will leave millions either under-employed or unemployed.

To keep pace with this new economy fostered on us all, three (3) approaches are necessary. Each categorized as responsibilities:

  1. Corporate: Businesses especially in the industrial and manufacturing sector must help their workers retrain to manage robots and use artificial intelligence. To also ensure they remain solvent enough to sustain the livelihood of the workers on their payroll, each business must future-proof its business models. Toyota wouldn’t be a dominant force in 2040, when most countries pull petrol and diesel cars from their streets, except it does something that is similar in some way to what Tesla is doing. If it doesn’t, it will be guilty just as Blackberry should be guilty of letting investors down. This is it. The business environment is forever in flux. A winning business model can soon be outsmarted. Therefore, complacency can be dangerous in any industry. As Bill Gates wrote in his book “Business @ the Speed of Thought”, businesses will have to use radical technology to improve their competitive advantage. Today, that has made the difference between Amazon current market position and that of Wal-Mart position in the market. It does mean an app business in California may be as large as an oil company in Angola in 2020. Remember Facebook is an app business – but it houses more people than the Africa continent! Perhaps, Richard Branson made a point by selling some of Virgins businesses: the point is if you can no longer manage it, pass it across to those who fit the challenge, and secure the jobs under your watch. People’s jobs are very important.
  2. Government: It is the responsibility of government to create the needed environment or an ecosystem for enterprise to thrive. Some of the strategies to deploy are massive investment in enterprise zones, tax cuts for crucial sectors, infrastructure (not just roads and bridges but massive broadband access) and incentives for research. In Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, kids need to learn coding on a massive scale; app-building must also be encouraged on a scale not seen before. The bulk of budgetary investment must be centred on making those aged 6-24, currently, tech-savvy, research and entrepreneurship oriented. The difference between developed economies (US, China, Germany, China), Emerging Economies (Russia, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa etc) and Frontier Economies (Argentina, Nigeria, Egypt etc.) is a consequence, basically, of the focus of each government. Governance based on human capital development will soon rule the world. If Rome did what the US and Germany is currently doing rather than investing in Amphitheatre and fighters, the Roman Empire would still have been strong!
  3. The Individual: Entrepreneurship and technological knowledge will determine who is in the upper-middle class within the next 10 years. It is not just for Nigeria but also continuously in South America, Europe and Asia. It is the responsibility of the individual to pursue the ‘better life’ within available means. People are free to retrain – a clerk can retrain for nursing; electrician can shift to coding etc. Current businesses running below par can up their entrepreneurship skills too.
Toyin Afilaka
Toyin Afilaka
Toyin Afilaka writes with simplicity and insight. He aims to enrich the Nigerian small business landscape. Through Hustle24 he connects entrepreneurs with information about new policies, enterprise solutions and opportunities that will aid their 'hustle'. He has written extensively for CobraReview, a product review portal, and served as a lead project manager for MarketingMix where he consulted as PR consultant for MTN Project Fame and Business Next Titan etc.


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