I think in matrices; write in parentheses and speak in heresies. Given that, and my natural tendency toward snarkiness, I am proposing something new in US political economics. In the world of strategic foresight, we call some leading indicators ‘weak signals’. What was a weak signal last year (in the before times) is now flashing red on the dashboard of change. Here is an update for 2021; I update my conjectures about changes to the workplace for the coming decade.
The systemic changes we see coming will most likely be presaged by some triggering event. Society crossing the event horizon as it were. Whatever this triggering event is. It will have a few identifiable characteristics: It will …
1. be global in impact
2. appear to be outside the control of current social/economic/political structures and processes.
3. appear and take hold suddenly (i.e., within 30 days).
The COVID19 pandemic will be seen historically as a ‘warm-up pitch’ or, in military terms, a ‘fire for effect.’
Indeed, a shift upward in a magnitude of consequence. In the era of incremental industrial society, we labeled these shifts ‘changes’. Change management was the cause celebre and found its way to the front pages of popular literature. What’s coming is more than that.
Change → Transformation → Awakening
The crossroads now is an intentional, conscious, and evolutionary shift. Is what’s coming a ‘transmutation’ or a change in a state of being? Scanning the horizon of knowledge at the present time, there are several candidates that could lead to such an ontological Shift:
- Biotechnology increases human life span by 20+% within a decade
- Engineered modification of the human genome
- Discovery (and verification) of sentient life form off-planet
- Artificial intelligence technology reaches ‘self-awareness.’
Specific Pronosticians for the 2020’s Workplace
I’ve listed these from Global to Local order. The more local, the higher the probability of occurrence. I have technical and white papers about each of these forecasts. Available upon request.
- Centralized power and status structures will devolve.
Nation-states, multinational corporations, and non-secular organizations will lose status and trust among citizens, stakeholders, and congregations. Corruption will weaken their trust bonds. Loss of power (defined as legalistic relations) will follow. The USA is poised to become the global leader. In its place, localized communities will appear which are loosely connected in federations on a planetary basis.
- Corporations will morph into confederations with shared liability.
Modern corporations are an artificial legal structure created within the past 100 years to minimize the risk associated with large asset bases’ control. As Peter Drucker so aptly notes, the assumptions, which have underlain their need, are no longer valid. Primarily large organizations were required to capitalize on the investments needed for the ownership of the means of production, such as factories. With a shift to more conceptual work, this isn’t required. Confederations of business clusters will instead move to the forefront. They will be held together by strategy, not ownership of assets.
- The conceptual dots will be disconnected.
The artificial connections between people, organizations, and society will decompose, and a new higher-order will emerge. A growing realization of the interconnectedness of ‘everything’ will presage an almost mystical realization that human civilization is rapidly evolving to a new order. Revolutionary advances in technology (e.g., robotics and biotech) will finally directly impact human development and longevity.
- Back to guild structures
Guilds and ‘confederation’s’ will return as the primary social, organizational model for these smaller groups of people. Guilds will be responsible for the recruitment of talent, training (more like mentoring), and enforcement of process quality standards. Used to be an employee/employer relationship or a contractor relationship. These forms proved inadequate for the new, more agile, and fluid kinds of social relationships required by knowledge workers (the creative class).
- People (atoms) will combine into teams (molecules)
People will become highly networked for the duration of individual projects. They will form up into molecules of several people; stay together for a project, break apart, and then into new molecular forms. The Hollywood model where actors, directors, and producers come together for a project and then re-group for others.
- The uncertainty of the task and the final outcome will increase.
We no longer live in a world of certainty—as if we ever did. The illusion that Homo sapiens controlled their fate has crumbled with the evolution of the industrial, mechanical age. Work projects will begin with some goals and vision but will continuously morph as the projects rolls on, being responsive to external influences. This means that project budgets will be moving targets, deadlines somewhat arbitrary, and final design impossible to predict. Managers of certainty will evolve into leaders of ambiguity.
- Leadership competencies will transmutate
The leadership skills that worked in the industrial era don’t work today. This is a conceptual world, not a machine world. New leadership skills will be needed in a global, interconnected world. Effective leadership for the 21st Century begins with an internal, personal transformation. You can’t change an organization until the leaders change. The skills, competencies that are needed are knowable and can be taught through experience.
- Engagement, not compensation, becomes the social glue of work teams.
Cash for effort belongs to the realm of robots. Humans strive for something else. The strength and persistence of a person’s bond to their work team is the degree to which a person’s self is aligned with what they do, who they do it with, and their sense of emotional connectioness. Engagement can be reliably measured and has three main components: cognitive, emotional, and physical. Changes in these scales are leading indicators of productivity, tenure, and wellbeing.
- Community Hubs
The 21st Century equivalent of the ‘town square’ will develop. The need for alternatives to work in central offices (in the Central Business District) and suburban residences will be met witha re-purposed commercial space. This will satisfy the demand for a flexible workspace that is owned and operated by the local community. These ‘places’ will provide space and services and a place to go and be better together. Local is the new global and is the place where it’s at. Moving forward, there will be a much greater focus on all things local—to create more unity, we need to get more local and more micro. In other words, we cannot have unity without community.
- “Live/work” residential structures.
What were once primarily ‘residences’ will morph into “live/workplaces” resembling our once shop on street level – live above places. Expect to see designs with separate work areas, network communications, outside spaces, and haptic/voice interfaces on the high-end, small video studies with special lighting and sound capabilities.
“You can’t hold my body down”. Take us out Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra.