The Future of Work and Business: seeing past the haze

Anticipating what the future will look like has seldom been harder to do, and more important all at the same time. In an era of unrelenting change and few certainties, trying to predict what next year holds might actually be harder than predicting the longer term. The foreground, contrary to our usual assumptions, becomes hazier and harder to differentiate than the future.

Stowe Boyd of Workfutures hit this issue at the beginning of January, and in the process he put his fingers on a few of the most crucial elements of that longer-term view - the elements that we here often describe as keys to a Future-Ready Workforce (and that I describe in the upcoming book Everybody Innovates Here) as the characteristics of the Fusion Economy).

Making these kinds of changes in the fundamentals of how we work isn’t easy - it requires us to challenge our assumptions constantly, to adapt, to grow in ways that we never thought we would have to grow. And that means that our personal short term, and that of our businesses, become messy and confused and contradictory as well.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear what the business (and person) of the future has to be able to do, and our key challenge at the moment is to get there.

Here is how Stowe describes this emerging paradigm shift {the bullets below are directly quoted from this piece):

  • Human-centered not role-centered. We lose a great deal when we limit people to only thinking about or acting on a limited set of activities in business. A machine press operator can have a brilliant insight that saves the copy millions, and a field sales lead can come back from a meeting with a customer suggestion for a breakthrough new product. But not if they are punished for stepping outside the painted lines on the floor. People can be larger than their job descriptions, if we let them.

  • Open not closed models of thinking and operations. This means a 'yes, and’ mindset, where we consider alternatives rather than rejecting them because they are novel. This means activity rooting out systemic anti-creative and anti-curiosity patterns in business dogma. It means embracing Von Foester’s Empirical Imperative: Always act to increase the set of possibilities.

  • Fast-and-loose not slow-and-tight operations. Agile, flexible, and adaptive methods of organizing, cooperating, and leading are needed. A less bureaucratic management style would increase innovation, and lead to building business operations around experiments rather than only well-established processes.

  • Heterarchical not hierarchical operations. The bronze age rule of kings, supposedly selected by the gods and legitimized by their personal charisma has led to terrible results, with narcissistic sociopaths all too often calling the shots. The occasional Steve Jobs or Yves Chouinard does not disprove the problems inherent to top-down-only organizations, especially in a time of great change and uncertainty. Organizational structure is another means to the ends that companies are created to effect, and serves as a powerful barrier to change when treated as sacred and inviolable.

  • Forward-focused, not tradition-bound. We need to adopt a new paradigm for business, one that explicitly breaks with a great deal of what passes for conventional wisdom, organized around new science, new forms of social connection, and leveraging the possibilities in the points made above. And science is not standing still, so we must incorporate new understanding into our work and the operations of business.

This is what we designed Econogy to build - in new professionals, in businesses and in communities. The foreground is sometimes hazier than we’d prefer, but we’re moving toward that future - faster and faster.

I hope you’ll join us.