In this episode of Inside Learning  we welcome authors Rob C. Wolcott and Kaihan Krippendorff to discuss their book ‘Proximity’.

They explore the concept of ‘proximity’, or the capability to deliver anything, anywhere, anytime, driven by advances in digital technology. The discussion addresses the impact of these changes on the future of work, with a focus on creating more adaptive, on-demand solutions and reducing waste. The conversation delves into the breaking down of traditional job roles, the emergence of portfolio careers, and the importance of continuous learning to remain relevant in today’s dynamic job market. The guests highlight the importance of integrating humanities and arts with STEM education to equip individuals better for future challenges.

The episode wraps up with reflections on AI’s role in facilitating quick learning and decision-making.

Introducing the Concept of Proximity

Proximity in the Workplace

The Evolution of Careers and Skills

The Role of Education in a Changing World

The Importance of Writing and AI Collaboration

[00:00:00] Intro: The Inside Learning Podcast is brought to you by the Learnovate Centre. Learnovate’s research explores the power of learning to unlock human potential. Find out more about Centre’s research on the science of learning and the future of work at

[00:00:15] Aidan McCullen: As technology becomes more capable, eventually even better at roles we’ve coveted as uniquely human, like creativity and empathy. It will be our individual and collective responsibilities to find new parts part of the challenge will not be an economic one, but a political one, for instance, what happens to those who make a living from driving vehicles after self driving vehicles become common, how are the spoils to be distributed,

[00:00:44] Aidan McCullen: Part of the political turmoil in the united states and Europe is perhaps a result of the chasms between elites and the rest of society, As the benefits of technology become more widely available through reform or revolution more of us will face the question when technology can do nearly anything what should we do and why. These are the huge challenges for the future of work and learning and they are posed by the authors of a brand new book privileged to welcome both those authors of proximity how coming breakthroughs in just in time transform business. Society and daily life Rob C. Wolcott and Kaihan Krippendorff or welcome to inside 

[00:01:30] Kaihan Krippendorff: So great to be here. Thank you, man.

[00:01:32] Rob Wolcott: Great to be here. Thanks. 

[00:01:33] Aidan McCullen: great to have you with us guys both of you and it’s a treat to have both of you with us for this episode so we’re gonna focus on, your book proximity you cover every subject of proximity in this and i thought the best way to actually start would be to describe what do you mean by proximity and then we’re gonna look at. Two lenses through this proximity lens to changes in society. One is the world of work. And then as is the theme of this podcast, the world of learning. So maybe one of you would bring us through this idea of proximity in the first place.

[00:02:11] Rob Wolcott: Well, thanks, Aiden. It’s great to be here. , there’s nothing more important than education. So what is proximity? the simple answer is anything, anywhere, anytime. And we’re not exaggerating. We’re not saying metaphorically. As we go forward over the next five, 10, 20 years, we will increasingly experience as consumers, as citizens. As human beings, anything, anywhere, anytime. And we’re just at the beginning of that. So the punchline for proximity is that digital technologies allow us to put capabilities all over the place and smaller and smaller packages. And therefore digital pushes the production and provision of value ever closer to the moment of actual demand. So setting up systems to wait until there’s a specific customer with a specific set of needs, and then you produce and provide right there for that customer. That’s where every industry is going the rest of our careers.

[00:03:04] Aidan McCullen: One of the things you talk about rob and Kaihan in the book is that the effects of that from a sustainability perspective from a planet perspective is that there’s less and less waste and it’s one of the great things about the book is that if we can create on demand. And not create excess demand.

[00:03:24] Aidan McCullen: So we don’t have any of this waste. We can actually have a much more viable planet going forward. We’re going to park that because I want to focus on two aspects in the book. One is the idea of the work and the worker coming closer together.

[00:03:39] Aidan McCullen: . And we’ve seen this come to life, despite the fact that many innovators many pioneers we’re working on solutions for this. For many decades before, particularly the COVID pandemic and the crisis pushed us into this world of work. Kaihan, I’d love you to share this because this is something that you’ve studied deeply, the proximity change between worker and

[00:04:00] Aidan McCullen: work. 

[00:04:01] Kaihan Krippendorff: Yeah. I think if we were to say any organization is simply a marketplace that is meant to take work and connect it with people who can do the work and there are different ways to do that efficiently. Traditionally, a hierarchical model is a right one because that’s the most efficient way to connect workers with work, but there are other ways, right?

[00:04:21] Kaihan Krippendorff: There are marketplaces. There are democracies, there are ecosystems, there are communities, there are different ways. And what we’re arguing is that proximity technologies are starting to make these other ways of connecting workers with work more efficient than a traditional hierarchy. And then another aspect of proximity is that the value gets broken up into components.

[00:04:42] Kaihan Krippendorff: And so we’re starting to see work getting broken up into maybe tasks or jobs so that you can start assembling a job instead of you being the. Head of compliance, right? You might be compliance for these things and HR for these things. So we start , be able to configure these roles more efficiently.

[00:05:01] Kaihan Krippendorff: Lots of examples of this, whether they are Dow’s or decentralized autonomous organizations or kind of platforms like resilience labs, one that we cover,  but you start seeing these other ways of connecting workers with work. That gets the work to the people that can do the work in greater proximity.

[00:05:17] Aidan McCullen: One of the things that changes, I was thinking about this is you talked about the hierarchy, but also it changes the whole idea that, well, that’s my job or that’s Kaihan’s job. You need to talk to him. It becomes. The kind of a team of teams in an organization to get

[00:05:32] Aidan McCullen: the job done an outcome versus that so and so’s job and the accountability is with them and this leads to then the change in the workplace to a more portfolio career. This is something that we’ve talked about on this show before is the need for just more than one skill in an organization going forward.

[00:05:53] Kaihan Krippendorff: . Agree a hundred percent. I mean, what’s interesting is that a portfolio career is not a new thing, but before the 1920s, everyone had portfolio careers. There was no job. Then we started creating jobs. And so from 1920, especially through the 1950s to today, the idea of bundling all these tasks together as one job, and you’re a hundred percent dedicated to that company, you can’t do anything else, right?

[00:06:15] Kaihan Krippendorff: , that is going away in part because companies are saying, Hey, we want complete loyalty, but at least the United States. We’re not necessarily going to give you complete loyalty or give you a long term sustainable career or promise you lifetime employment. So you start seeing this fragmentation and a lot of people getting side jobs become side hustles become portfolio careers.

[00:06:36] Rob Wolcott: I’d love to add to that. A lot of people think about this as say gig workers, and that’s certainly an example, but it’s a much bigger concept than that. So you can have a, as Kion mentioned, you can have a full time job somewhere. But we’d recommend given the pace of change and the volatility of change, we highly recommend also finding other activities, whether they’re paid or not, that could lead you on other paths in the medium to longterm, because you never know.

[00:07:05] Rob Wolcott: And so in addition to, for some people, like, I think the three of us already have portfolio careers. We like to do a lot of different things. We like to connect with a lot of different people, building trusted relationships across industries and sectors and geographies. , but even for those who , that’s not their natural act.

[00:07:22] Rob Wolcott: I think it’s increasingly important because they need the portfolio optionality as the world changes.

[00:07:28] aidan_1_06-24-2024_171202: Rob, of the things you were telling me off air, and this will resonate with our audiences that you did a talk right at the onset of the COVID pandemic for enterprise Ireland and enterprise Ireland, actually one of the funders of the Learnovate Centre, which is the patron of this podcast . I’d love you to share a little bit of what you saw then the things you were talking about from a proximity perspective, right at the start of the pandemic and how they’ve actually panned out since the pandemic,

[00:07:56] Rob Wolcott: Yeah. Thanks for that. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Ireland , and I know I, and you were setting me up to say so many glowing things about Ireland and guess what I am going to say so in early COVID, when we’re all thrust into our home offices and everybody’s trying to figure out what to do there were two countries. That and I travel, Kaihan travels a lot. We meet a lot of people in the world and there were two countries that percolated up really fast. I heard from one was Ireland and enterprise Ireland. And I was happy to do that online session where I talked about proximity. It was one of the first times. That I talked about proximity broadly and the other country was Estonia. And as your listeners probably know, Estonia, like Ireland has had extraordinary economic success from creativity, entrepreneurship, technology, and you’ve done it in slightly different ways, but there’s a proactivity and there’s always a level of humility that both, countries have.

[00:08:53] Rob Wolcott: And so you’re always thinking, okay, we’re doing fine right now. But what about tomorrow? Okay, well, let’s keep working. Let’s find the next thing to do. Let’s find the next thing to build. And, by the way, and I’m not just saying this, it’s a lot of fun to go to Ireland. It’s a lot of fun to go to Estonia.

[00:09:08] Rob Wolcott: And yeah, and you guys are pretty good to work with too.

[00:09:10] Aidan McCullen: we’ll have to try and make that happen again, Rob, in the future, this time in person and , not the proximity tools that are available to us. You mentioned there. One of the levers that Ireland put in place for a long time was the realization that education would be so important and investing in free education.

[00:09:30] Aidan McCullen: I remember when I went to university, it had just moved from fee paying to being half fees, and then it went on to be , free. So third level education in Ireland is free, which is incredible. Really, when you think about the debt problem that many students have in the But I say that to say that even still. So many people who rack up huge debts for student debts are studying what we would consider now the wrong things. And I’m going to quote a little bit from proximity here. You say STEM disciplines alone cannot sufficiently equip us for the future. We’ll need exposure to social sciences how and why people do things. The humanities. What matters and why for our lives in society and the arts, how we share visions and emotions, well functioning civil society depends on this. And you say here in approximate world. Work focused on creative activities art hospitality public discourse and human connectedness will emerge as an ever wider share of our global economy I’d love you to refund that a little bit because. It could easily be overlooked but that focus on stem where it’s like going yeah study stem study the hard skills and you’ll have a job for life. Those days are over

[00:10:53] Rob Wolcott: , I wouldn’t want to go too far and say they’re over, but look, I have a PhD in engineering and I love.  I have great reverence for what we can do with them. But the fact is, Aiden, most of us here on earth are human beings. , now AI bots are coming but they’re going to be integrated with us.

[00:11:10] Rob Wolcott: That’s another discussion. , and so we’re going to have to figure out how to construct and continue to reconstruct societies in which we desire to live. And these are questions that can. Only be answered by the humanities, social sciences, the arts, et cetera. And, furthermore, the hard skills are easier to automate. , everybody says, Oh, the hard skills and the soft skills. That’s a horrible metaphor. , how many people do we know who are pretty darn good at hard skills, but they can’t interact with other human beings. And, that’s actually a very complicated, nuanced way of being that we can learn about.

[00:11:47] Rob Wolcott: Now, all that said. I also tell the story that I’m confronted with often in my career, which is, you know, a parent, well, it could be an alum, it could be just someone I randomly meet at a coffee shop, and they find out I’m a professor and they say, well, professor, what should my kids study in college? And they want me to say, oh, you know, engineering and computer science and whatever. And I say, you know what? They should study whatever they’re most excited about and do the best they can at it. And after they’re shocked because they’re thinking, well, my kid likes art history or, or football. , I say, but here’s the thing, they should study whatever they’re most motivated to be best at, because those skills of learning and acquiring and engaging are better used when you’re motivated, intrinsically motivated. But then I say, but you know what, we all need the following three tool sets. Accounting, statistics. And how computer systems work. I’m not talking about coding. We’re talking about how computational systems work, do, what they don’t do. So take intro accounting, intro statistics, intro to computer systems of some sort, and then study whatever your heart desires, because you know what, your paths are going to change rapidly over the next 20 years.

[00:13:01] Kaihan Krippendorff: Yeah, I could add to that too. Yeah. If you could think about where we’re not, the career path that doesn’t exist anymore is I pick a career that has been trodden, that I can identify someone who’s had the career that I plan to have. And therefore I can predict what I need to know in the future. And so I fill my mind with that now in order to extract it later.

[00:13:26] Kaihan Krippendorff: There are three issues with that. One is. With AI and other technologies, we don’t know what the role of the human is necessarily going to be, you know, is it creativity? Is it recall, you know, we could debate that, but we, there’s uncertainty there. The second is this, the fragmentation of the jobs. So that it’s no longer a career, but a whole bunch of small jobs that can get reconfigured depending on what’s needed.

[00:13:47] Kaihan Krippendorff: , and the third is just the uncertainty of macroeconomic uncertainty, technological uncertainty. So think , we’re stepping into a world, which is very different from the past where we cannot predict what the path will be.  So then what I think. The skill is that will last. There is the ability to adapt and learn.

[00:14:07] Kaihan Krippendorff: So if a new skill appears as important, the people who can most quickly ramp up in learning that, . They will be very quickly. The world experts on it, and there’ll be the world experts in three months or six months, and they won’t have gone and gotten a PhD on it. So I think a skill is learned. So how do we learn to learn is by picking up a subject and then another subject and another subject and being able to very quickly orient and learn.

[00:14:36] rob-wolcott_2_06-24-2024_121418: compliment to that Aiden is what should I be doing and why? And this is the question of purpose. Now, most people, when they hear purpose, they think I want to save the whales or, you know, build a billion dollar company. That’s all wonderful stuff. But Kion and I, in the book, when we say purpose, we really mean the big purpose.

[00:14:57] rob-wolcott_2_06-24-2024_121418: But we also mean the everyday purpose. What should I be doing over the next couple of weeks and why? And you know what? Very few of us in our educational careers or our careers, 

[00:15:07] rob-wolcott_2_06-24-2024_121418: , post education have been taught the tool set to ask, what should I be focused on? And why? And the better I can do that, then with all these new technology tools rising, I can leverage the tool set far better and more effectively.

[00:15:22] rob-wolcott_2_06-24-2024_121418: And as Kaihan said, continue to learn and iterate much more effectively.

[00:15:27] Aidan McCullen: Learning how to learn is really important as you get older then there’s gonna need more on ramps and off ramps in education as we as adults need to change, stuff we’ve learned maybe it’s out of date now or maybe machines have caught up with us and they actually do it better than we could have done it. What are the things i think that’s so important for so many people I’d love your opinion on is the ability to write and it’s not. To be able to write to create a book like you have done but it’s more to be able to write so you know what you know and you know what you don’t know but also you know how to organize your thinking it’s such an underrated skill and. As we have a proliferation and things like ChatGPT people right sourcing that skill to the eye when actually they should be focusing on the creativity of that skill.

[00:16:15] Kaihan Krippendorff: . I think that you can sort of tell now, at least in the current state when something’s been created by AI and it sort of sounds like it makes sense, but it’s almost like a voice that you can recognize. You know, I think it, I think it gets better. I have found, however, to AI to be a really helpful thought partner.

[00:16:30] Kaihan Krippendorff: When I’m thinking about wanting what to write, I will say, what is a way that you could approach this? , how would you structure something like this? And I just start talking to, and then I reach my conclusion of what a good structure is. , but going back to proximity of work in the past, I would have had to call up Rob and say, Hey, can we meet next Tuesday?

[00:16:49] Kaihan Krippendorff: Do you have time between 12 and one 30? And then a week later, we could have that dialogue. Now I’ve got five minutes between meetings. I can pull up whatever that LLM is, and I can just interact and get that thought partnership immediately.

[00:17:07] Rob Wolcott: , It’s astonishing how quickly you can throw a new subject at a large language model and it can be reasonably conversant. So you can throw in a question about Martin Heidegger and then you want to talk about Southeast Asian architecture, it can actually have a conversation. That doesn’t mean that you should just take on face value, everything that it says. I mean, you’ve got to check it out. You got to make sure it’s what you want. So I think to extend that notion aid, and it’s not only writing, but it’s also, we have to become better at the curation editing and curation of what it is we want to create, because sure, the large language models can write an entire book in a couple of days if we want, but is it what you want to be said?

[00:17:50] Rob Wolcott: Is it set in the way that you need to convey it? To have the impact you’re seeking to acquire.

[00:17:57] Kaihan Krippendorff: Would just say, humans are just not very, we’re not very good, decision makers. We have hundreds of biases. And I think that is where the interaction with AI can actually help us get better. And this, one professor, Michael Shraga from MIT that we mentioned in the book in this section on work, and he talks about, You know how AI can help us improve ourselves.

[00:18:15] Kaihan Krippendorff: And so that maybe that’s what the introduction, but it becomes a coach, if you will.

[00:18:20] Aidan McCullen: and for people who wanna find out more about you perhaps bring it to Ireland again to do another keynotes where is the best place to find out specifically about this book but also find you guys separately.

[00:18:31] Rob Wolcott: Well, the book would be proximity book. net proximity book. net myself. I’m always on LinkedIn, Robert C Walcott and also Aiden

[00:18:42] Kaihan Krippendorff: Yeah. And I’m, I’m probably one of the only Cajon Krippendorff’s on LinkedIn as well. That’s probably a good place to find me.

[00:18:48] Aidan McCullen: Yeah I’m still get the spell your name wrong man i still have to keep. Spelling it right but definitely no problem with SEO and search engine marketing for you, my friend. 

[00:18:59] Rob Wolcott:  just write his name in Gaelic. Nobody will be able to tell that it’s misspelled.

[00:19:07] Aidan McCullen: been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. Authors of Proximity, Cian Krippendorf and Rob C. Wolcott. Thank you for joining us.

[00:19:15] Kaihan Krippendorff: Thank you.

Thanks for joining us on Inside Learning. Inside Learning is brought to you by the Learnovate Centre in Trinity College, Dublin. Learnovate is funded by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Visit to find out more about our research on the science of learning and the future of work.

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