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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.

Building Future-Ready Workers and Leaders

“Students aren’t prepared for work – and they know it,” said Brandon Busteed, Executive Director, Education & Workforce Development at Gallup. “The fact that 88% of freshmen say, ‘getting a good job’ is the reason they go to college, yet only a third strongly agree they are getting the skills and knowledge they need to succeed is a mandate to improve how institutions approach everything from their academic curriculum to advising.”


--”New Survey Reveals Crisis of Confidence in Workforce Readiness Among College Students,”   Gallup and Strada Education Network. http://www.stradaeducation.org/news/new-survey-reveals-crisis-of-confidence-in-workforce-readiness-among-college-students/

Go to College.  Get a Good Job.

That’s what we’ve been telling our children and students for years.  But more and more evidence indicates that students come out of higher education without the skills that they need to succeed in the workplace today - let alone thrive in the fluid, interdependent, unpredictable workplace they will encounter in only a few years.  

Thriving in the new workforce increasingly takes a different skill set than the ones that conventional classrooms teach.  Students brought up to meet clear grade rubrics find that the workplace measures success by an entirely different yardstick, and the school skills of memorization and reciting facts matter very little when they enter the workforce.

But the biggest challenge for many new professionals lies deeper than learned skills.  The most fast-moving, future-ready businesses need people who are not waiting for approval or permission.  They’re looking for people who can take intelligent risks and learn from failures, But if your entire upbringing has emphasized that failures lead to catastrophe (like bad grades and poor college prospects), then you may not know how to take risks - or how to come back from failures.

To build future-ready businesses, we need future-ready workers and leaders.  And to get there, we need them to learn more than what they are learning in conventional classrooms.  

Econogy helps tomorrow’s professionals, leaders and workers develop those crucial skills.  Our student consultants, student-run business managers and more gain firsthand experience in applying what they have learned to real-world business applications.  But perhaps more importantly, they develop the skills that they will need. They learn to collaborate with others, to make decisions, to take risks and learn from mistakes.  And they gain the confidence that they will need to do this when the stakes are high.


How to find the Path

If everything is changing, how do we know which way to go?

If the ways we work, buy, learn, collaborate, discover, you name it, are being transformed, how do we know what our business or organization should do to succeed?

And if all of that is happening so fast that we haven’t absorbed the last thing before it’s time to move on, then how do we make the right decisions to get us to a strong long-term future?

Everything has changed.  And chances are it will change a whole lot more.

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During my years as an urban planner, I based dozens of plans on linear extrapolations. If Town X averaged 3% growth per decade over the past 30 years, then we projected future population growth as a continuation of that 3% trend. Employment changing? Households smaller? Less in-migration?

I’m ashamed to admit today, we didn’t always ask those questions. If we had, some of those towns might have had different plans.  

But businesses and organizations make the same mistake.

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Econogy Talent Group was built to accelerate sustainable change in a future that we can’t simply extrapolate.  Businesses that operate today the same way they did in 1985… are probably no longer businesses.

ETG specializes in change.  Our best work comes when there is no tried-and-true blueprint to follow, because our youth-driven Innovation Teams don’t see the barriers that more experienced people take for granted.  

One of the tools we use to help our Innovation Teams find new solutions is the Pathfinder framework.  We’ve used Pathfinder with businesses, nonprofits, and even neighborhoods. And it consistently works.

Pathfinder

  • Equips our clients with the Insight they need  -- about themselves, and about the world through which they are moving.

  • Enables them to articulate the Impact they want to make -- not just in terms of some grand ideal, but in terms of the concrete behaviors and access needed to make that Impact.

  • Identifies several alternative Pathways -- specific strategies and tactics to make that Impact happen

  • Creates a synchronized Action Plan to make it happen.  

Pathfinder helped one of our clients raise $5 million in start-up funds for an online business that was the first in its industry. Pathways helped another client identify a way to meet its Impact goals while at the same time setting it apart from the competition.  And Pathways is even helping an entire community define and claim its own identity - and leverage their strengths to attract new residents and businesses.  

You can learn more about Econogy’s Pathfinder method here. We’d love to learn about how we can help you find a Pathway to your future.