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Don’t Be a One-Hit Wonder

ConcertSafety in shrimp

The first time I heard What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes, I was elbow-deep in a bucket of raw shrimp. It was a month before I started high school, and I’d been slaving away all summer fileting fish and peeling shrimp in the sweltering kitchen of a local seaside crab shack. It was a thankless job that left my hands both stinging and stinking.

And I loved it.

There was safety in it, I was good at it, and people left me alone – likely because I spent most of my days covered in mullet guts. Regardless, it was just me, my work, and a tiny portable radio that sat atop a nearby refrigerator, softly coughing out Top 40 drivel. But then, it happened. From amid all the pop fluff arose the anti-pop voice of Linda Perry, the 4 Non Blondes frontwoman. She seamlessly went back and forth from a deep, brooding register to an eerily pleasing meadowlark warble.

But whatever happened to 4 Non Blondes? 

Though What’s Up? made it to the top of the charts, subsequent singles like Spaceman couldn’t gain traction. The band’s fame shone brightly…and fizzled quickly.

Like so many one-hit wonders, 4 Non Blondes were able to produce value that spoke to people at a very specific moment in time – a too specific, fleeting moment in time. They had a sometimes bluesy, often grungy, usually gloomy sound, yet they entered the arena when Grunge Rock was in decline and listeners were pivoting from gloom to gloss. It was a shaky, transitional period, and the band couldn’t find its sea legs.

Each of us can learn from one-hit wonders, whether you prefer 4 Non Blondes or Vanilla Ice, Right Said Fred or Los Del Rio. The lesson? Attune yourself to the various forces changing the world around you and adapt.

The pace of change

Adapting may sound easier than it is, though, given the pace at which the world is changing. Take, for instance, the smartphone. It took merely 10 years for 40 percent of Americans to adopt this technology; by contrast, its primitive forebear, the telephone, took four times longer to reach the same adoption level. Perhaps more importantly, the technologies themselves are advancing at exponential rates. In less than a year, for example, some autonomous vehicles being tested reduced their reliance on human intervention by 1664%. Meanwhile, AI and robotics are busy automating basic tasks across multiple industries and in various professions.   

Automation has even impacted my own vocation. Writing robots have been publishing earnings reports and sports recaps for years, and I’m okay with that. I see technology as untethering people from that which can be automated, as liberating people to add even greater value to the businesses, people and societies they serve. The caveat, of course, is that people must rise to the occasion.

But how might one rise? For those in any profession, lifelong learning proves increasingly essential, especially considering the exponential pace of change I’ve mentioned. According to A New Culture of Learning by John Seely and Douglas Thomas, half the new skills you learn today will be obsolete in five years. Idling’s a risk.

Be more human

Some of the statistics I’ve presented may seem daunting, but if you want to harness technology (instead of allowing technology to harness you), simply view your primary objective as this: be more human.

A recent study claims that AI may soon pass the Turing Test but not for the reasons you may think. AI hasn’t reached a level of human sophistication; rather, people have become less capable at recognizing what makes us human. Today, we communicate more artificially, in acronyms and emojis. We’re buried in our work, our smart phones and our social media – so much so that we’re less astute at meaningful, face-to-face interactions with our own species. We’re less able to identify subtle, uniquely human nuances.  To counter this, we’ll have to think more analytically, lead more creatively and make more valued, valuable judgments. We’ll have to upskill, specialize, and become experts at things that cannot be easily automated. We’ll have to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and wallow in all the clichés that, again, make us undeniably human.

Don’t be a one-hit wonder.

To get where we need to be, we must move quickly. Technology’s not waiting for us play catch-up. We mustn’t get too comfortable doing what we’ve always done. That would make us a sort of one-hit wonder. Cutting fish was no longer cutting it for me, and 4 Non Blondes frontwoman, Linda Perry, adapted and forged ahead as well. She became a Grammy Award-winning lyricist. Her words have risen time and again to the top of the pop charts, in a sense allowing her to find a place in the genre where her former band failed to eke out space. In 2015, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

So how will you adapt? How will you stay ahead? What’s your plan? There’s a hall of fame waiting for you, too.

Brock Faucette, Corporate Communications Manager, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Concert courtesy of Shutterstock

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