What is Digital Labor? #innovation #automation

Several things put me in a unique situation to learn. One is teaching at a University. I hope it doesn’t seem odd that when I teach I learn. There is a lot of preparation and the University gives me access to some great minds and thinking. The other is my level of travel. I go to all of the big cities in the US at least two to three times a year and I get to explore those sites.


Traveling and teaching came together this spring in order to attach an interesting phrase to something I had been working on… Digital Labor.


In my class, Entrepreneurship, I like give the students tangible evidence that they are being innovative. Innovation is one of those things, especially at a university, that get used and over used to the point that people really don’t know what it is but are afraid to admit it. I wanted to break that cycle by using principles like jumping curves and creative destruction. Jumping curves is something I learned from Guy Kawasaki. The idea is if you listen to your customers on innovation you will make marginal improvements. If you are truly innovative you will make gigantic improvements like going from the ice factory to the in home ice maker or the flip phone to the smart phone or my favorite today (with 90+ degree weather) the hand-held fans to indoor air conditioner. Creative destruction is the improvements in the work world that makes tasks or even entire jobs obsolete. These principles are proof that innovation is in action.


On a trip to NYC I stop into a cigar shop and had a seat knowing that I would meet a kindred spirit for a smoke and a conversation. It always happens and the conversation are positive and it helps me forget how homesick I am. I struck up a conversation with business man and he asked me what I do. I told him I help companies automate their accounting process. He got a very pained look on his face and I said, “do you know about automation?” He said “I sure do” because he started a consulting practice to help businesses consume more automation. Now we are new best friends and for the next two hours engaged in all kinds of conversation on automation. Part of that conversation had him schooling me on the idea of a digital labor force and his unique perspective on how it would impact jobs in the future.

What is it?

It’s simple in principle and complex in application. The idea of digital labor is to put software into as many manual task as possible. The problem comes in (thanks to Hollywood) that if you do this the software will somehow take over and humans will be left without work. In my own business the net effect are people are willing to sit at a computer terminal and do data entry when that is completely a waste of time. The application of digital labor is to make the workforce smarter with higher paying jobs. This has played out over the centuries from the secretary pools of the seventies and eighties to female CEOs and hundreds on an assembly line to highly skilled engineers monitoring robotics. The future will continue like this and my hope for people is they not focus on what they think they are going to lose and focus on how they can better themselves.

About The Author:

Christopher Elmore has written 8 books, countless articles, lectures at UNC – Charlotte and travels around the country speaking on the topics of startup success, sales, presentation skills, change, entrepreneurship, accounts payable and payment automation. Having deep startup and entrepreneurial experience, Christopher was one of the six people who started AvidXchange in 2000 and continues to work in the business today. If you hire Christopher to speak or teach at your company or event… you won’t be sorry! Request a media kit or contact us for more information

One Reply to “What is Digital Labor? #innovation #automation”

  1. Digital labor is another creative destruction idea. This is good because jobs that people didn’t like to do and they took time to do, now it a computer does it faster. Digital labor takes some jobs away, but it definitely opens some other jobs that are better.

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