What Gets You Excited About the Future of Work?

February 20, 2017

The Future: Next ExitThere are four questions I’m asking everyone I know these days – and that includes you:

  1. What aspects of the future of work are you most excited about?
  2. What are you most uneasy about?
  3. What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on the way we work and live in the next five to ten years?
  4. If you could change one thing about the way you work right now, what would it be?

I’m just getting started, but I want to build on a few insightful comments I’ve already received about that first question:

What aspects of the future of work are you most excited about?

As you might expect, the people I’ve listened to so far are excited about a wide variety of developments they expect to see, ranging from improved – and personalized – education and health care to increased cross-cultural collaboration and much more efficient generation of energy using non-fossil fuel sources like wind power, solar power, and even geo-thermal (accessing and leveraging the heat emanating from the earth’s center.

I am most intrigued by the almost-universal expectation of much greater personalization – the ability of technology to handle the complexities arising from individual differences like personal educational backgrounds (we’ve all studied different topics and have differing levels of knowledge about anything and everything we can think of).

But for me the most exciting aspect of personalization is in the health care realm – what some people have begun calling “designer drugs.” With the advent of genome sequencing and DNA analysis there is no reason for you and me to ever take identical pills even if we have identical symptoms.

That is, you and I are different ages and have different weights. We probably have different heart rates, blood pressure, basal body temperatures, and our organs are producing enzymes, blood, and other fluid at different rates – and with different chemical compositions.

So why on earth should we be given the same medication to improve our health? Someday every pill you take and every injection you receive will be concocted just for you.

Okay, that’s intriguing – but how will it change the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance business? Here are just a few top-of-the head speculations (while the following statements sound definitive, they are in fact just bold assertions on my part, intended to stimulate conversation and learning – to begin thinking, not to end it):

  • Medicine will become much more about diagnosis and individual counseling. It will become even more data-intensive, and each of us will carry around (or have embedded under our skin) a chip identifying our entire genome as well as our medical history).
  • The pharmaceutical industry will be completely disrupted. No more billion-dollar drugs; no more television advertising to persuade you to ask your doctor for a specific medication. Instead, every prescription will be tailor-made for you, and you alone. If someone else were to ingest a drug meant for you, it could either kill them or have no effect at all.
  • Crime rates will plummet. If your pills have no value for anyone else, “war on drugs” will become a thing of the past. Will addiction become a non-problem? Or will it get worse?
  • Health insurance may become obsolete. If your unique health is fully understand, will the whole concept of being part of a risk pool of “similar” people disappear? How will we pay for differentiated health care? Or will we finally accept a social obligation to provide citizens with the health care they require, no matter what the cost?

I don’t have a clue whether any of these things will come to pass. But it’s terribly important to think about them, especially if you are a doctor, or an insurance company employee, or someone with what today we call “pre-existing conditions.”

Notice that even something as positive and exciting as personalized health care can also have unforeseen or even negative consequences. No matter how excited you are about the future of work, it’s important to recognize that every new thing has both positive and negative consequences.

We should always be asking “What if?’ but never ask that without adding “So what?” And remember that your “So What?” and my “So What?” will likely have produce vastly different answers.Questions, questions

How do these particular examples relate to the future of work and the workplace? I really don’t know yet – but I’d love to hear your ideas.

What do you find most exciting about your future of work? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Call or write, and let’s talk.

Stay tuned; I’ll be sharing other responses to those four questions, and I encourage you to add your own thoughts below in the Comments section, or in a direct email to me, at jim@thefutureofwork.net.

All I want to do is help the world create a future of work that works for as many of us as possible.  Let’s talk about how to make that happen.

Don’t face the future alone. Jim Ware is a workplace futurist, perpetual student, and meeting design specialist who has invested his entire career equipping organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Contact Jim today to learn how his workshops, keynote presentations, and expertise in orchestrating powerful conversations can put the future to work for you.

© 2017 by The Future of Work…unlimited. All rights reserved.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Buss February 21, 2017 at 4:19 am

Hmm. I think the war on drugs has little to do with the pharma industry. And mass produced medicine is effective for a range of uses, and seems likely to remain so. Who wants to pay for a specifically concocted recipe for aspirin?

Certainly designer drugs (of the recreational type) will be a big issue going forward and, with appropriate freedoms, could replace the current very troublesome “recreational” drug market. The other side of the designer drugs will get added on top of the current market. Who but big Pharma can get regulatory approval to use specially generated compounds on people that by definition cannot be clinically tested? At the end of the day a strategy or family of compounds / components will get approved, and this approval determines who can produce and sell such a solution/medicine. As such, the costs are likely to go up. Aspirin can be produce in a lights-out factory somewhere with low labor and shipping costs. Custom medicine will need to be produced closer to the patient and will necessarily be at a higher cost (perhaps not for the treatment, but for a unit of medicine), because more people are involved. As a change, it will effect the market with winner and losers, but I doubt there will be a big change over the next 25 years.

Your last point addresses risk and insurance. Medical risks fall into accidents, infections and diseases. Accidents are unpredictable and therefore need to be insured. The same applies to infections. They are unpredictable and therefore need to be insured. This leaves disease which may have a genetic factor. Testing might allow insurance companies to filter out higher risks, but they could just as easily generate early treatment plans that are much cheaper than waiting until a disease strikes. In the end, we might each be susceptible to different diseases, but the risk that some disease will get each of us is a given. (Evolution has not found to superhuman that avoids all diseases.) By filtering for a known disease and insurance company is left with the risk of unknown diseases, which might be very expensive in the long run.

If the government is to help, they should require large risk pools of over 100,000 people so that risk is shared. Grouping 10 people in some small company is not pooling risk, because there is no pool. Flip a coin ten times, what is the chance that 50% are heads – getting the average risk? Less than 25%. Getting 6 heads represents a 10% change in risk level. Flip it 100000 times and the chance of getting within 1% of the average risk ist extremely high.


James Ware March 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Robert, thank you for your very thoughtful – and realistic – comments and critique. I take your points with gratitude. Not to be defensive, but I sometimes (often, in fact) exaggerate when I’m thinking about the future, mostly to push ideas to their farthest feasible boundary (and beyond), precisely to stimulate critical thinking like yours.

I completely agree that the idea of “designer aspirin” is no doubt ridiculous, and I also know that the body chemistry of most of is almost identical, but I simply wanted to emphasize the possibility that paying attention to those “minor” differences might be able to save some lives – and with the increasing power of computers, I’ll bet that in many instances it won’t even be that much more expensive than mass production.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful response!


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