Once upon a time in a world before Uber and Lyft, all London taxi drivers had to do a test referred to as ‘the knowledge’.
Taking on average four years to study for, ‘the knowledge’ requires drivers to know every single street in a huge area of greater London. All told, there are over 25,000 streets and roads and drivers have to know each and every one.
In fact, the test is so intense that researchers found the drivers who passed had an enlarged hippocampus (the area of the brain that handles memory) that can be detected on fMRI scans.
All of this discipline and dedication was hugely valuable, a highly sought after skill. A ninja-like ability to evade traffic by knowing every shortcut is not to be underestimated in a big international city.
Until one day GPS came along and rendered the entire thing pointless. Almost overnight.
Today, it is literally impossible for a driver to compete. The combined networked intelligence of Google maps and its collective knowledge of traffic based on real-time reports from millions of devices is beyond what any one person could ever do. Checkmate.
People talk about technological ‘disruption’ a lot, usually in a broadly positive context. Yet, true tech-driven disruption can wipe out the competitive advantage of an entire industry almost entirely and almost instantly. This can create true redundancy of a hard borne out previously hugely valuable skill, with significant human cost, I’m afraid.
And it’s not just taxi drivers. Machine learning is better than radiologists at detecting issues in scans, hands down. And it’s not by a small margin, it’s ridiculously better.
The history of technological change is like this. Walkman CD players were great until the iPod came along, etc. etc. - you know how this goes.
So, why am I bringing this up?
The pace of technological change is going to increase rapidly over the coming years, and I’d bet you my house that financial services is going to be one of the industries most affected by this change. Heavily regulated industries are not exempt.. think taxis.
As I see it, the things that made advisors successful over the past two decades are in all likelihood going to be totally different from the traits that will help advisors thrive in the next two.
We may find that the currency of human interactions, and the personal approach to advice are the things hardest to productize and the most valuable. Elements of the job that seem to be most precious today could simply fall away.
You don’t want to end up like this guy: