Trends and Predictions

Happy new year!Welcome to 2017!

I am committed to making this year a positive one on many fronts. As I wrote last month, I am starting it off not by making “Resolutions,” but by committing to develop new habits.

And my first commitment is to pay more explicit attention to the future of work. Despite the headline above, I don’t claim to have any unique insights into what the future will look like. However, I do have some expectations – and some warnings.

Let’s focus first on expectations. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that, long term, the future of work will be:

  • technology-dependent (duh!)
  • globally distributed;
  • hyper-connected; and
  • massively collaborative.

In addition, I am convinced that much of what we call work will become more and more invisible. That’s a more complex and less obvious idea, but let me briefly address those first four facets of the future before I describe what I mean by invisible work. [click to continue…]

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Disappearing Work - StuckyIn October my monthly Talking About Tomorrow membership program (“TAT”) featured former IBM researcher and current Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University – and Very Smart Person – Susan Stucky, who led the group in an important conversation about “disappearing work.”

But Susan wasn’t talking just about all the jobs that are being automated out of existence. She is of course highly aware of, and deeply concerned about, automation, but she asked the TAT participants to focus on another, often unseen, side of the emerging digital economy.

She opened with this statement by economist W. Brian Arthur, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, from a 2011 thought piece in McKinsey Quarterly:

Digitization is creating a second economy that’s vast, automatic, and invisible—thereby bringing the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution.

(from “The Second Economy,” October 2011) [click to continue…]

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Crystal BallYou don’t know – you can’t know with 100% certainty – what will happen tomorrow. Yes, you can (and we all do) contemplate the future with a good sense of what is likely to happen, although these days the future seems incredibly cloudy, uncertain, and basically unpredictable. And if tomorrow seems hazy, what about next week, next month, next year, five years from now?

And the less certain you are of what the future will bring, the more highly stressed you are likely to be. That stress comes from not knowing, and from being afraid that you won’t be able to control whatever does happen.

But what if you could “premember” tomorrow as clearly as you remember yesterday?

[click to continue…]

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peekingfear_000014658459November 8, 2016, is election day in the United States. This has been the most contentious, drawn-out, and, yes, tedious election in my memory. Everyone I know is glad it is about to be over. No matter what your politics or political values, I am positive that like me you are relieved we’ve finally reached the end of this unpleasant journey.

One inevitable result of this year’s electoral dysfunction (deliberate pun) has been rampant uncertainty about the future. And one of the best indicators of uncertainty is the stock market. The U.S. markets have been unsteady and volatile throughout the year, and foreign markets have generally followed suit. [click to continue…]

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Social PhysicsOver the just-completed three-day weekend celebrating Labor Day here in the United States I started reading Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter, by Alex Pentland, Toshiba professor at MIT and a co-creator of the MIT Media Lab.

Dr. Pentland also directs MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab and co-leads the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives. In 2012, Forbes Magazine named Pentland one of the seven most powerful data scientists in the world. In short, he’s a very smart guy.

I’ve only read the first two chapters so far, but I can tell already that this is an important book filled with valuable insights (I’ve been aware of it for over a year; shame on me for waiting so long to finally pick it up).

Social physics is “a quantitative social science that describes reliable, mathematical connections between information and idea flow on the one hand and people’s behavior on the other.” In my words, it is the study of networks and relationships – of all the interactions, information, ideas, and emotions that flow between and among people. It utilizes “Big Data” to develop new insights into how ideas form and spread, how and when people communicate with each other, and even what they pay attention to.

For me, the first “Big Idea” to jump out from the pages of Social Physics is this: [click to continue…]

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Sigmoid1Last week (“Ignore the Sigmoid Curve as Your Peril”) I described the Sigmoid curve, also known as the technology assimilation curve and the “S-curve.”

It depicts the way many new technologies, new products, and new ideas grow in the marketplace; they begin slowly, and then if successful reach what Malcolm Gladwell dubbed the Tipping Point, followed by rapid, almost out-of-control growth. Inevitably, however, even the most successful products/ideas eventually experience slowing growth, which is often followed by decline as even newer technologies and products begin their own new growth curves: [click to continue…]

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We live in uncertain, unpredictable times.

That may be one of the least controversial and most widely accepted statements I’ve ever made.

The world in 2016 is filled with “VUCA” – Variety, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. We face “wicked problems” every day.

However, as chaotic and dynamic as 2016 seems, this is hardly the first time the world has seemed out of control. In fact, that familiar phrase, “The future isn’t what it used to be” (meaning, the future won’t be like the past), was first used by the French poet and philosopher Paul Valery in 1937.

Indeed, for most of the last several hundred years the future has usually seemed unpredictable, if not uncontrollable. Ever since the Industrial Revolution we have experienced never-ending technological change, although clearly the rate of change has been accelerating at an incredible rate of its own. [click to continue…]

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I ended last week immersed in an intensive two-day extended conversation with about 65 really smart workplace designers, real estate executives, facility management professionals, architects, consultants, and HR/leadership experts.

I was a participant, a presenter, and a co-designer of the first innovation workshop that brought together the Workplace Evolutionaries (WE) and the Real Estate and Advisory Leadership (REAL) communities within IFMA (the International Facilities Management Association). The workshop was hosted by Nike at its Tiger Woods Conference Center in Beaverton, Oregon.

There is no simple way to summarize the many presentations, conversations, and working sessions that engaged and excited all of us. [click to continue…]

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FutureShock

(image from Amazon.com)

The recent passing of Alvin Toffler has led me to reflect more than usual on the challenge we still face of overcoming – or at least surviving – “Future Shock.”

Toffler defined Future Shock (way back in 1970) as the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.” As Farhad Manjoo commented in the New York Times on July 6:

…‘unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it,’ [Toffler] warned, “millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments.”

How’s that for an accurate forecast? Considering that Toffler issued that warning close to 50 years ago, it was uncannily prescient.

Manjoo goes on to comment in his excellent thought piece (“Why We Need to Pick Up Alvin Toffler’s Torch”) that it is both ironic and tragic that “futurism” has gone out of style. Now, when the pace of change is accelerating faster than ever, and the potential sources of disruption are ever more numerous, is exactly when we need to think constructively about where we’re headed. [click to continue…]

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toffler-smI was deeply saddened to learn of Alvin Toffler’s passing earlier this week. He was not only a brilliant futurist, but a decent and caring human being. He and his wife and business partner Heidi Toffler essentially invented futurism, and they had a major impact on my own life and career.

I won’t attempt to write a full history of Toffler’s contributions to our world; that has already been done, and done far more eloquently than anything I could say. See this from the New York Times:

Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, dies at 87

And this online note from his colleagues at Toffler Associates is also worth reading:

The Toffler Legacy

I still remember the first time I saw Future Shock in a bookstore (it was in 1971, though I have no idea where). If I recall correctly, it was the first mass market paperback ever published with multiple alternative covers (green, blue, and red) – a perfect demonstration of the “mass customization” of products that the Tofflers wrote about in that seminal book about global cultural change. [click to continue…]

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