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GLOOM vs. BLOOM OF THE FUTURE OF WORK: Can We Chart A Positive Roadmap?

August 2, 2017 • STRATEGY & MANAGEMENT, INNOVATION, Global Business, Talent Management, Editors' Pick, Emerging Ideas

By Mario Raich, Simon Dolan, Dave Ulrich, and Claudio Cisullo

As the digital era is continuously in its process to ripen, discussions of destructive unforeseen scenarios are always on the picture especially in the aspect of work. In this article, the authors comprehensively tackle and focus on the bloom rather than the gloom that awaits modern and future society in terms of work and of life.

 

“Too often the focus of work has changed from life sustaining purpose to transaction paid activities, which means that work has lost its meaningfulness.” 

There are thousands of articles and books about the future of work. The vast majority describes doom and gloom scenarios. It is very easy to join the crowd and elaborate on this negative and catastrophic landscape. Here are some typical examples that make the news:

• A large portion of today’s jobs will disappear in the digital world. According to Oxford university economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, 40% of all jobs are at risk of being lost to computers in the next two decades.1
• Others, predict that not only 75% of jobs will be lost due to automation, but the developing world may also see swaths of companies leaving their shores and returning to developed nations, as labour will be less of a factor for industry.2
• Futurist Thomas Frey, asserts that two billion jobs will disappear in the next 15 years.3
• Above is becoming even more catastrophic due to the fact that one or two billion people will enter the market seeking new jobs; and to make matters even more challenging, this will happen at a time when global market reach is creating tremendous global competition.
• In order to sweeten a bit the total gloom, Frey claims that 60 percent of the jobs that will exist ten years from now have not yet been conceived.4
• Gallup reports that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work.5

These predictions suggest the demise of the number of jobs and raise the question: “Will we have a job in the future?” More important are the questions:, “If we are lucky to have a job will it be interesting?” and “Will it be meaningful?” Beyond having a job, the more puzzling question has to do with the role and meaning of work. Here are some points to consider:

• Too often work has morphed from a life-sustaining purpose to a transaction paid activity. With an economy focussed mainly on profit generation; for many people work has lost its meaningfulness.6
• Today we are experiencing high level of unemployment juxtaposed with enormous wealth creation, resulting in an increasing wealth polarisation.
• The developing countries are experiencing a rapidly growing middle class, while the highly developed countries see theirs shrinking.

This paper shows that perhaps we can use the same drivers of future transformation with some creativity and imagination in order to detect opportunities and perhaps aspire for a more positive future of work. We realise that by selecting this focus, the paper might have less “scoops” and perhaps be less convincing to the readers. However, this is the challenge; to think out of the box and avoid delving into the gloom by focussing on the bloom. The rhymes works well for us hence the Oxford Dictionary defines Gloom as: “the state of depression or despondency”, while the same dictionary defines Bloom as “the state or period of greatest beauty, freshness, and vigor”.

 

What are the Principal Drivers of Transformation that will Affect the Future of Work in the Cyber-Age?

We are living in a world dominated by three powerful converging megatrends: globalisation, digitalisation and creation. Those will force companies to change the way they lead, manage and operate their business including their supply chains. Taking advantage of these changes will lead to great success. Continuing with current practice will result in revenue loss and cost increases.

Five global forces are shaping the latter: social changes, technological changes, global connectivity, environmental changes, and asymmetric conflicts. In addition, we have several global key issues such as changing demographics, shift from spiritual towards materialistic values, fast progressing environmental degradation, fast advancing artificial intelligence and vanishing jobs.7

In the context of the digital supply chain it is important to understand that many activities will and have to be automated but still will not be fully replaced by machines.

The Cyber-Age creates huge challenges and opportunities for humanity. It calls for a transformation of business and society, enabling them to harness the power of digital technologies. We have a unique historical opportunity to reinvent human society and the way of life by leveraging the achievements of the Cyber-Age. We can leverage the mighty driver of “creation” to get a constructive impact on education, culture, business and, finally, society. We can bring back meaningfulness into politics, the economy and of course to the world of work.

Especially based on the three converging megatrends mentioned before, new sources of data will always emerge. New types of analytics will always be developed. And new software, new robotics and new customer demands will come to the fore. Most companies today fail to maximise the opportunities presented by the data, systems and people. As we all know, organisational change is mainly derived from people’s willingness and capability to move to the future. This is certainly true for the journey to a digital supply chain, which will require education, communication, organisational redesign, process redesign and bringing in new personnel. Therefore as well in the context of the digital supply chain it is important to understand that many activities will and have to be automated but still will not be fully replaced by machines. In fact, what has to happen, is a cultural change. The ways that people are operating will change and collaboration between different groups e.g. engineering and production, across geographies and head office, line managers and SME will become paramount.

You open any newspaper, almost in any country and region in the world, and to your dismay, you notice a rare mix of destructive forces in action that is leading towards destructive transformation. These includes greed, fear and hatred. Greed varies in its origin; there are many cases of greed for power, for money, for dominance, which at the end leads to corruption and abuse of power. Fear of losing acquired wealth and status, is manifested in forms of racial superiority, dictatorships, and others. Finally, hatred, which is all about not respecting differences, is manifested in the form of terrorism, fanaticism, and others.

The first phase of the Cyber-Age, where we are right now, is dominated by digitalisation; the second one, which is just emerging, will be dominated by virtualisation. In all areas of our life, we are being pushed out of our comfort-zone. Today one of the most urgent issues is the fast progressing digitalisation of work. Tomorrow we will have in addition the virtualisation of work. This leads to the competition between human competencies and the intelligent machines. No doubt, all this has and will have a massive impact on the quality of our Life.

Whether we like it or not, a new world is ahead of us. The past is gone for good, a new future lies ahead. It is now perhaps, a good time to live our dream.

The Cyber-Age is also the time for creation and destruction. Unchained creativity is the driving force of change and transformation. Destruction is the dark side of creation. Often it is a necessary precondition, and sometime a consequence of creation.

Back in the 1970s, Alvin Toffler in his bestselling book “Future Shock”, talked about the death of permanence. Today, it is by far more intense and real – nothing stays unchanged! Everything, without exception is being challenged. All human activities, beliefs and paradigms are being revisited, questioned, reframed and reinvented. These changes can be disruptive and often destructive as well. The speed of change is increasing. The half life of knowledge (when 50% of what we know) is decreasing. One of our colleagues who teaches PhD students in electrical engineering finds he has to have 50% new notes every 12 months, which is an incredible half-life of knowledge. We are moving into the centre of the hurricane shaking our civilisation. Nothing can escape this Maelstrom of Change. Whether we like it or not, a new world is ahead of us. The past is gone for good, a new future lies ahead. It is now perhaps, a good time to live our dream. However, in this maze of changes it is easy to get lost. Traditional ways of understanding and explanations are getting obsolete. We have the feeling of being on a ship in the middle of a powerful never-ending hurricane, without any instruments, which would point us in the right direction. So we are trying to hang on to the past and apply old solutions to new problems – obviously it does not work.

Today the Zeitgeist is characterised by intense creation and destruction and a permanent anxiety. “The Zeitgeist Movement is a global sustainability activist movement presenting the case for the needed transition out of our current unsustainable economic model and into a new sustainable socioeconomic paradigm based on using the best that science and technology have to offer to maximise human, animal and environmental well being in accordance with the natural world.” (https://thezeitgeistmovement.com/)

Nothing stays the same forever. Digitalisation goes global. The world is going through a major transformation. This creates uncertainty and anxiety about the future. There are many different sources that operate simultaneously and reinforce this uncertainty: (Chavez in Venezuela, BREXIT, or the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, to name a few). Others include environmental disasters (tsunamis, earthquakes, flooding, etc.), strongly increasing migration (Middle East and Africa to Europe), scarcity of water, armed conflicts, terrorism and on top the black outlook about the future of work and unemployment.

Many people are being caught in the trap of the negative hype about future of work. There is no surprise – anxiety sells! Most outlooks about the future of work are looking at the destructive side of the transformation in the workplace. In a world where machines would do nearly all work and artificial intelligent (hereafter AI) based entities, serious social problems would arise. Additionally, assuming that most people will be concentrated in large cities, it is easy to imagine the unrest and tensions that might be forthcoming. This brings to the surface the following key question: Are we entering again into a dark age of anxiety and fear? While the conventional answer is yes, indeed, in the ensuing paragraphs we would like to tackle the various challenges from a more positive and inspiring angle. The motto for the message can be summed up as following:

“The future will be history soon! If we waste it, there is no second call!”

The Cyber-Age creates huge challenges and opportunities for humanity. It calls for a transformation of business and society, enabling them to harness the power of digital technologies. We have a unique historical opportunity to reinvent human society and the way of life, by leveraging the achievements of the Cyber-Age. We can leverage the mighty driver of “creation” to get a constructive impact on education, culture, business and, finally, society. We can bring back meaningfulness into politics and economy, and last but not least into our work and life.

True, different jobs will be affected at different forms and levels. In fact, only quite a few jobs will vanish entirely; they will be transformed into hybrid work.

The unfolding fourth industrial revolution has the potential to revolutionise the speed and scope of creation. The convergence of new technological solutions will alter our life and work far beyond expectations. It will also change politics and the role of governments. Virtual Reality is adding a new dimension to it. Its impact is difficult to imagine today, but it will be very deep and way beyond anything, we are doing today!

Talking about “jobs” is a wrong starting point. Work is composed of many different tasks and activities and in next five to ten years an increasing number of those tasks and activities, considered today as “working activities”, not jobs, will be performed by intelligent machines. This does not mean always the disappearance of jobs. True, different jobs will be affected at different forms and levels. In fact, only quite a few jobs will vanish entirely; they will be transformed into hybrid work.

People and machines will act as teams. To see the benefit of people/machine interface, look at the evolution of transportation. Walking was replaced by horse driven carriages then replaced with cars then with airplanes. Each stage of person/machine transportation increased an individual’s ability to broaden and explore the world. Likewise, today’s AI will enable new visions for people/machine interface that increase not only productivity but also a view of the world, likely beyond our imagination.

  



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About the Authors

Dr. Mario Raich is a Swiss futurist, book author and global management consultant. He was a Senior Executive in several global financial organisations, and Invited Professor to some leading business schools like ESADE (Barcelona). He is the co-founder of e-Merit Academy (http://emeritacademy.com/), and Managing Director for the Innovation Services at Frei+Raich Ltd. in Zurich. In addition he is member of the advisory board of the Global Future of Work Foundation in Barcelona.

Dr. Simon L. Dolan is currently the President of the Global Future of Work Foundation. Used to be the Future of Work Chair at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. He is a prolific author with over 70 books on themes connected to managing people, culture reengineering, values and coaching. His full c.v. is at: http://www.simondolan.com

Dr. Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and Partner at the RBL Group (http://www.rbl.net). He has written over 30 books and 200 articles on talent, leadership, organisation and human resources.

Claudio Cisullo is a Swiss entrepreneur. During his entrepreneurial career, he founded and established over 26 companies in different business segments globally. He is Board member of several internationally renowned companies. He is the founder and owner of the family office, CC Trust Group AG and also the founder and Executive Chairman of Chain IQ Group AG with headquarters in Zurich. Chain IQ is an independent, global service and consulting company providing strategic, tactical and operational procurement.  (https://chainiq.com/)

References

1. After the robot revolution, what will be left for our children to do? http://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/may/11/robot-jobs-automated-work; http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
2. https://futurism.com/un-report-robots-will-replace-two-thirds-of-all-workers-in-the-developing-world/ ; http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/presspb2016d6_en.pdf
3. http://www.futuristspeaker.com/2012/02/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030.
4. http://www.futuristspeaker.com/speaking-topics/.
5. http://www.gallup.com/services/190118/engaged-workplace.aspx
6. Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich. 2010. The Why of Work How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win. New York: McGraw Hill.
7. For more detailed description please look at: Beyond: Business and Society in Transformation, Mario Raich and Simon Dolan, Palgrave-MacMillan, London 2008 and “The great transformation in business and society. Reflections on current culture and extrapolation for the future“, Simon Dolan, Mario Raich, in: Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 16 No. 2, 2009, pp. 121-130
8. American Job dissatisfactuion reaches record high. Source. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2010-01-05-job-satisfaction-use_N.htm
9. Based on Ulrich & Ulrich. “why of work” – synthesis. Op. Cit.
10. http://www.britannica.com/technology/artificial-intelligence
11. http://www.accenture.com/t20170620T055506__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/Accenture/next-gen-5/insight-ai-industry-growth/pdf/Accenture-AI-Industry-Growth-Full-Report.pdf?la=en
12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applications_of_artificial_intelligence
13. Inside the AI revolution that’s reshaping Chinese society, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2100427/chinas-ai-revolution-and-how-its-rivalling-us
14. China is betting big on AI – and here’s why it’s going to pay off, http://www.scmp.com/tech/china-tech/article/2100119/china-betting-big-ai-and-heres-why-its-going-pay
15. The rise of the QR code and how it has forever changed China’s social habits https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2095576rise-qr-code-and-how-it-has-forever-changed-chinas-social-habits
16. http://www.photonics21.org/download/other_news/HLII-OpticsandPhotonics.pdf
17. Ibid.
18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Industrial_Revolution
19. http://onpeople.lhh.com/h/i/335185209-who-will-be-replaced-by-a-robot-what-business-hr-leaders-need-to-know
20. David Richards The future isn’t cloud. It’s multi-cloud, http://www.networkworld.com/article/3165326/cloud-computing/the-future-isnt-cloud-its-multi-cloud.html
21. Khaitan et al., “Design Techniques and Applications of Cyber Physical Systems: A Survey”, IEEE Systems Journal, 2014.
22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyber-physical_system
23. Based on : Ulrich and Young: Beyond VUCA: What Next-Generation VUCA+ (DRET) Means for Your Organization and for You, Forthcoming paper 2017
24. See www.caringeconomy.org section on Social Wealth indicators. See also R. Eisler, Economics as if Caring Matters, Challenge Vol. 55, No. 2, March-April 2012; “R. Eisler. Economics and Business as if Caring Matters: Investing in our Future.” Cross Cultural Management: an International Journal, Vol. 20 Iss: 2, pp.145 – 160, April 2013.
25. Schiess, Ueli, and Jacqueline Schön-Bühlmann, “Satellitenkonto Haushaltsproduktion: Pilotversuch für die Schweiz (Satellite Account of Household Production for Switzerland),” Neuchâtel, CH: Statistik der Schweiz 2004.
26. “The Australian Care Economy” available at http://www.security4women.org.au/projects/the-australian-care-economy (last accessed September 18, 2013).
27. According to research done by McKinsey, less than 5 percent of all occupations can be automated entirely using demonstrated technologies, about 60 percent of all occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent activities that could be automated. Source: A Future that works: Automation, Employment and Productivity. MGI-A-future-that-works-Full-report.pdf
28. Mario Raich, Simon Dolan, Beyond Transformation of Business and Society, 2008, p.134
29. Yariv Levski, Why VR and Internet Of Things are a Natural Fit, https://appreal-vr.com/blog/vr-and-internet-of-things/
30. 
This paragraph is a summary taken from: “Technological convergence” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_convergence#cite_note-Garreau_2005-22 

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