Sorry, Everybody Can’t Be a Director

Dan Gardner
Co-Founder & Exec Chair,
Code and Theory
Co-Founder, ON_Discourse
The Shift from Knowledge
Work to Direction Work
Toby Daniels
Toby Daniels
Founder, ON_Discourse, former Chief Innovation Officer, Adweek, Founder and Chair, Social Media Week


It’s 2027, but it looks like today. ANTHONY gets out of bed and sits in front of his COMPUTER–

This is no ordinary computer; there is no interface, no folders, no zoom calls, and no meetings needed. He’s staring at his one sole text field called ‘the prompt box.’ He says to himself –

“Get to work”

Anthony starts to submit directional commands.  Prompt after prompt. He gets a sense of fulfillment knowing the robot will do his every command. 

THEN the Camera pulls out of the window of the 


Moving further and further away, we reveal even MORE CONDO BUILDINGS. Inside, we see OTHER PEOPLE sitting in front of their computers with the prompt box.

The Camera flies back into


The camera flies all the way inside to a close-up of Anthony’s face. He turns to look into the next room. His wife PAM is sitting at her prompt box doing the exact same thing. It looks like she’s talking to herself.


Pam! Luckily we changed our majors in college back in 2023. We are now so prepared for this prompt box. Johnny and Michelle must be screwed!

Anthony commands his BARD and audio via voice application.


Hey Bard, play today’s interesting business stories.

We hear a familiar voice… It sounds like SNOOP DOGG.


New study says…

But we quickly realize that this is not Snoop, but rather a DEEP FAKE –


…millions of jobs were saved by the early predictions of jobs shifting from  “knowledge workers” to “direction workers”

Another deep fake voice chimes in. This time it’s Al Pacino –


Yes, It’s amazing how knowledge is not important anymore, but unfortunately, companies still can’t hire enough direction workers and it’s causing salaries to increase at a rapid pace

The rapid ascent of generative AI, automation, and technologies that boost creative output has caused speculation and fear that we’re on the precipice of a massive industry shift away from knowledge workers. The breakneck pace of change has young people wondering how to best prepare themselves for an unpredictable world – Should I study computer science? Is coding obsolete? – and employers grasping for how to hire for the skillsets of the future.

My answer is, Don’t be so dramatic.

The rate of advancement in generative AI is so extreme that we are all trying to understand real-time the implications and guess what the ripple effects might be. It’s given everyone in every single industry collective whiplash. 

And it’s resulted in over-the-top projections and calls for overcorrections, like a total shift in how we approach educating the future workforce and hiring for skills necessary for success. But both traditional knowledge workers and “direction workers”– those who direct and instruct the technologies of the future – will always be necessary. Creativity and success aren’t possible without both.

To clarify what I mean by “direction workers,” I’m referring to managers who not only lead teams but also primarily direct or instruct humans or technologies in various, often creative, outputs and tasks. If creative work is nearly wholly produced by generative AI, the story goes, those creative “doer” jobs will disappear in favor of jobs directing the tech.

Video Killed the Radio Star

The Buggles

But before we write off creativity and knowledge workers as superfluous, remember this is not our first industrial revolution — in fact, it’s one of many. So it’s essential to have some perspective on where we’ve been, where we are presently, and where we’re heading as a society. In every instance in the past where we saw dramatic changes in manufacturing, technology, and behaviors, one thing remained constant: passion, drive, creativity, and knowledge are the elements that drive innovation.

There are still thriving musical artists despite the advent of MTV. And music artists AND music videos are still thriving despite the advent of YouTube. Then there were still those artists, and record labels, despite the advent of MP3s, and so on, and so on.  Did job types reshuffle because of new processes,  business, and distribution models? Of course. But the industry didn’t vanish – it just evolved. Old jobs were gone, and new jobs were created.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

Albert Einstein

It is not a new concept to suggest our educational system is outdated.  The emergence of AI may have shined a spotlight on this fact, but it sure isn’t the cause. We have basically had the same classroom teaching style for the last century, despite all that has changed around us.

The traditional education system has long emphasized memorization and rote learning, which is ineffective in a world where information is readily available at our fingertips. Students are often taught to regurgitate facts rather than develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and adaptability — all of which are crucial no matter which discipline you choose. 

An updated education system should embrace interdisciplinary approaches, encouraging students to explore the intersections of different fields. This will enable them to connect the dots and develop a holistic understanding of complex issues, fostering innovation and adaptability regardless of where AI takes us. Hypothesizing on where AI is going in order to inform your educational choices today is ridiculous and should not be the point of education. 

A small reminder that if you’re 40-something years old or older, you somehow went through all of high school without a computer as a primary focus, and even in your college days, the computer offerings were likely rudimentary at best. And yet many have gone on to have long-standing careers focused on the web, mobile computing, and social media. How was that possible if they didn’t teach it in the ‘90s?

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.


Another issue with the push for AI and automation tech is that so many voices chiming in on this topic are overly fixated on the merits of staff reduction based on the output possible from artificial intelligence. Voices are asking, “Why does my business need ten people when I can have five people, or maybe better, just one person doing the job of the whole department?”

But if you and your competition are so intent on reduction, where does differentiation start? It doesn’t matter whether you majored in art or in engineering — we’re all aware that multiplication builds, while subtraction takes away. 

So if one company is multiplying and the other is subtracting, who may have the better outcome? What are companies adding to the discussion, the organization, and the culture at large, when they’re so focused on reduction? 

We are at a pivotal moment right now. That is undeniable. 

Everybody, across every level of an organization, is going to work with AI in the future, the same way the computer is essential today. Yes, some jobs will go away, while new ones are created. However, the types of careers that will emerge as a result of AI will differ from the ones that are being displaced. 

The Shift from Knowledge
Work to Direction Work
Toby Daniels
Toby Daniels
Founder, ON_Discourse, former Chief Innovation Officer, Adweek, Founder and Chair, Social Media Week

Nevertheless, occupations that rely on human skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and empathy are less susceptible to being replaced by machines in the immediate future. As AI continues to advance, these roles will also probably experience some impact. The encouraging aspect is that AI will augment, and potentially multiply the value and output of,  these occupations, propelling problem-solving, creativity, and empathy to unprecedented levels and generating fresh opportunities like never before.

If you take the implication of direction work to its most extreme conclusion, you can imagine the story above playing out where tens of millions of white-collar workers are all sitting in front of their computers, much like today. And, as the story goes, with these computers having just that one field. And the direction worker’s job is just to keep telling some artificial intelligence what to do: And now, computer, write this. Now, computer, create this – on and on. That’s a preposterous idea because there’s simply not enough direction that will be needed for that to happen. 

Do you agree with this?
Do you disagree or have a completely different perspective?
We’d love to know