For Impact


The Rise of Automation. Man’s Search for Meaning(ful) Work.

Story | | Nick Fellers

15% of The Suddes Group’s focus is in the form of coaching emerging social entrepreneurs. In that area, I will remember 2017 as the year we saw the rise of automation-for-social-impact. We’re encountering dozens of artificial intelligence start-ups for social good. It’s eerie. All of a sudden we’ve crossed some threshold where this ‘automation stuff’ is a commodity.

At the same time, the business conversations around meaning, purpose, and work are exploding. So we can SEE a future where there will be fewer jobs, AND we’re collectively searching for more meaning in the jobs we have.

This is what makes an article from America Magazine about meaningful work so timely. “Can Catholic Social Teaching Help Solve the Labor Crisis?” – August 21, 2017. (America is a bi-weekly Jesuit Catholic publication.)

I’ve shared this article dozens of times in the past two weeks. It captures the collision of these concepts. It also provides a moral argument for meaningful work.

In summary, the article walks through three big discussions:

  • Due to automation, jobs will continue to disappear.
  • Meaningful work is our purpose and inherent to human dignity.
  • We have a responsibility to do more than ‘make-work-jobs.’ We must think about how to create meaningful work. Work that “has a meaningful contribution to the common good.”

Selected highlights:

  • “The United States in this century has seen the most severe falloff in employment rates since before World War II.”
  • “For most working Americans, foreigners are not the main competition–machines are the ones gunning for jobs.”
  • “One study in 2013 found that 47 percent of Americans were at high risk of losing their jobs to automation in the foreseeable future.”
  • “Human beings were made for work…. the United States’s poor and marginalized yearn to be full participants in their own societies. As Catholics, with our rich body of social teachings, we need to stay engaged in the conversation, helping people find work that is meaningful. Of course that means encouraging job growth. But we may also need to reject some of the quickest and most obvious solutions to the employment problem, in the interests of realizing an economy built around service and the common good.”
  • “St. John Paul II reminds us that work is ‘a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth.’ In Genesis, God commands Adam and Eve to work, and responding to that command is our way of answering the divine call to ‘multiply and subdue the Earth.'”
  • “Work derives its objective significance from its meaningful contribution to the common good… this is a magical ingredient that can convert even a dreary task into something ennobling, humanizing and salutary for our souls.”
  • “Stimulating new markets is much more difficult than generating make-work jobs, but the former is much better if we want people to spend their lives engaged in meaningful activities… for those who truly need material assistance, it is better to subsidize directly than to distort the labor market.”