With full credit to William Gibson...
Our perspective at the Work Design Collaborative and Future of Work (my home base) is that the future isn't a given, that we (all of us together) are creating it every day with the choices that we make, both individually and collectively. So a big part of our focus is on identifying and reporting on those leading-edge examples to help everyone else make more informed choices.
Now, by way of introduction, Charlie Grantham and I (that's the "we" and "our" that I keep referring to) came together about four years ago to build a small think tank (so small that Charlie calls it a thought pool) designed to help organizations achieve the holy grail of integrating and coordinating three critical functions (and assets) that typically don't get along with each other very well (if at all). You can check out our bios on the Future of Work website, at www.thefutureofwork.net/principals.html.
Those functions are, not surprisingly, Human Resources, Information Technology, and Corporate Real Estate/Facilities Management. We believed then, and are convinced now, that effective strategic integration of those three areas can reduce the cost of operations and workforce support by 30% or more while creating work environments that attract and retain the best and brightest talent.
That may sound like Nirvana, and hype, but its true. Today we know organizations that have achieved cost savings in excess of 40%.
But the future of work is about a whole lot more than cost cutting. The real, and long-lasting, benefits of embracing new work patterns, adopting alternative workplace strategies, and leveraging new workforce values and expectations have a lot more to do with attracting, retaining, and leveraging creative talent.
We know that's going to be THE theme of the decade as the global economy becomes more and more focused on creativity, innovation, and knowledge work - and as knowledge workers become more and more "in charge" of their own careers.
There's a big workforce shortage staring us in the face as the Boomers retire and shift to part-time independent careers, as our educational system continues to ignore the needs of the Information Age, and as the economy heats up. Oh, and by the way, those talented knowledge workers have a whole new set of expectations and values that don't include being loyal corporate citizens any more.
I'll be writing a lot more about those issues, challenges, and opportunities over the coming weeks and months. And Charlie will chime in occasionally as well. We're convinced there is a revolution underway, and we want to help our clients and readers not only prepare for it, but lead it.
So stay tuned for a series of thought pieces and provocative points of view on what the future of work might look like - and what I at least hope it will look like (which is not always the same thing).
While at the Collaborative Technologies Conference this past week in NYC I heard Gordon Quinn, VP of Strategic Technology and BD for Nortel Networks mention the notion of identity. He said "identity is an underlying enabler of 'presence.'" (The session was called Presence: The Battle for the Desktop) He went on to say that we all have a variety of identities - whether it is a work identity, an end user identity, a gaming identity, a blogging identity, etc...and therefore there would need to be "different types of rules for identities" (and therefore presence.)
His comments reflect a technology bent, but I think the same is true for the future of work from an HR perspective. Equally, I could have been sitting in an HR seminar called Presence: The Battle for Hearts and Minds.
Herminia Ibarra's book Working Identity discusses identity in transition, identity in practice and ways to reinvent your career. Throughout, she advises us to experiment and practice as we start changing our working identity. Here is her most recent article. Quinn's remarks about multiple identities seem to be more fitting; we just have multiple identities even when we are not in a career transition. It's just people's nature these days.
We are now living in the midst of a new world of work that has been predicted and promised from Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock onward. Some of it is as the experts predicted, but most remains a surprise.
With the scope and range of what is surprising about this world of work around us, we have all become equally expert or, to be more honest, all equally ignorant. We are all making it up as we go. No matter how desirable it might be to be able to “just do my job” it isn’t likely to happen. As fear-inducing as that can be, I prefer to treat it as an opportunity for learning and discovery.
Instead of learning to perform a script, we need to hone our skills at improvisation. If you watch those who are good at it, most improvisation is pretty ordinary; sometimes it bombs. But every once in a while, something brilliant and magical occurs that no script could ever produce.
The aspect of future work that most intrigues me is the emerging dominance of knowledge work. Elsewhere I have characterized it as a new kind of craft work. It is also craft work that is supported with industrial strength power tools. Finding that synthesis between the lessons of craft work and the applications of power tools is one of my starting points in trying to make sense of this new world.
The second aspect of my efforts to make sense of this world is a choice to focus on the level of the individual knowledge worker. As much as I have enjoyed and benefited from reading writers such as Bell and Toffler, I frequently end up disappointed. The movers and shakers who are in a position to act on the global advice of these pundits are a small, albeit powerful, group. But what of life in the trenches? Or wherever it is that we might expect to find our fellow knowledge workers. What can we be doing at the grassroots level to operate more effectively in this developing world? Do we have to wait for new organizations and institutions to emerge before we can act on new opportunities? What kind of power or degrees of freedom can I create for myself regardless of where I happen to work?
A final aspect that flows from combining the view of knowledge work as craft with a focus on the individual knowledge worker is the changes that brings to how we think about learning. There is no curriculum yet that prepares us to operate in this new world. And there aren’t any masters of the new craft we can sign on with as apprentices. How can we go about writing our curriculum on the fly and adapting the notion of apprenticeship to a world where what experts might exist may be no farther along in their curriculum than we are in ours?
Self-Empowered Innovators (14%)
Fair & Square Traditionalists (20%)
Accomplished Contributors (17%)
Maverick Morphers (15%)
Stalled Survivors (19%)
Demanding Disconnects (15%)