You may be a Baby Boomer in your 50s with Gen Y children just joining the workforce; an alumnus of a business school, a 40-year-old Gen X preparing for 30 more years of work, with young Gen Z children; or an MBA student thinking about the years of work ahead of you.
Whatever your age, one of the most crucial questions you face is how the future of work will develop and the impact on you and the organisations of which you are a member. If you are now aged 30, you can expect to work for the next 40 years — that means in 2050 you will be a member of the workforce. If you are 50, you can expect to be actively employed for another 20 years — that’s 2030. If you have young children, they could be working until 2070.
Work is, and always has been, one of the most defining aspects of our lives. It is where we meet our friends, excite ourselves and feel at our most creative and innovative. It can also be where we can feel our most frustrated, exasperated and taken for granted. Work matters — to us as individuals, to our family and friends and also to the communities and societies in which we live.
Many of the ways of working that we have taken for granted for 20 years are disappearing — working from nine-to-five, aligning with only one company, spending time with family, taking weekends off, working with people we have known well in offices we go to every day. And what’s coming in its place is much less knowable and less understandable — almost too fragile to grasp.
Facing the future
Why it is so important now, to at least attempt to paint a realistic picture of the future, is that we can no longer imagine the future simply by extrapolating from the past. The past six generations have experienced the most rapid and profound change mankind has experienced in its 5,000 years of recorded history. If the world economy continues to grow at the same pace as the last half-century, then by the time my children are the age I am now — in 2050 — the world will be seven times richer than it is today, world population could be over 9 billion and average wealth will also have increased dramatically.
We live at a time when the schism with the past is of the same magnitude as that last seen in the late 18th century. A schism of such magnitude that work — what we do, where we do it, how we work and with whom — will change, possibly unrecognisably in our lifetime. In the late 18th century, the drivers of this change were the development of coal and steam power. This time around it is not the result of a single force, but rather the subtle combination of five forces that will fundamentally transform much of what we take for granted about work: the needs of a low-carbon economy, rapid advances in technology, increasing globalisation, profound changes in longevity and demography and profound societal changes. see more
It is not just our day-to-day working conditions and habits that will change dramatically. What will also change is our working consciousness, just as the industrial age changed the working consciousness of our predecessors. The industrial revolution introduced a mass market for goods and with it a rewiring of the human brain towards an increasing desire for consumption and the acquisition of wealth and property.
The question we face now is how the working consciousness of current and future employees will be further transformed in the age of technology and globalisation we are entering.
What is inevitable is that, for younger people like my two sons, work will change dramatically — and those of us already in the workforce will be employed in ways we can hardly imagine.
WORKING IT OUT
How will these five forces affect the way we work in 2025, and what does this mean for the choices and actions we should be taking now? My research and conversations about the future of work have led me to understand that the future will be less about general skills and more about in-depth mastery; less about working as a competitive, isolated individual and more about working collaboratively in a joined world; and less about focusing solely on a standard of living and more on the quality of experiences. Here are the ways I believe these three shifts will play out in our lives and the lives of others.
The shift to mastery
I believe that in the future the means by which individual value is created will shift from having generalist ability to having specialist ability and achieving serial mastery. Why? Because if you remain a generalist, there are thousands, perhaps even millions, of people who can do the same work as you do — yet faster, cheaper and perhaps even better. In the future, you will have to differentiate yourself from the crowd, build depth and yet be prepared to shift gears across the course of your working life. I believe that the perfect storm of the five forces has created an opportunity to shift from the age of mechanisation to the age of mastery. In this new age, there is a possibility for people to put their stamp on who they are and what they choose to do. However, this possibility carries with it the necessity to become more aware of what is valuable and unique and to craft credentials in a thoughtful and energetic way. This means becoming specialised in a variety of areas and achieving mastery in them and building and carrying valuable credentials in a way rarely seen in the past.
Taken from Article by Professor Lynda Gratton, London School of Business
Inspired by Melb Future of Work
The shift to connectivity
I believe that one of the paradoxes of the future will be that to succeed one will need to stand out from the crowd while at the same time being part of the crowd or, at least, the wise crowd. So, you will need to both stand out with your mastery and skills and simultaneously become part of a collection of other masters who together create value. Otherwise you will always be on your own, isolated and competing with thousands of others, with no possibility of the leverage that the crowd brings. In the past, success was achieved through personal drive, ambition and competition. In the future, it will be achieved through the subtle but high-value combination of mastery and connectivity.
That’s because, in a future increasingly defined by innovation, the capacity to combine and connect know-how, competencies and networks will be key. It’s in this synthesis or combination that real innovative possibilities lie. So, whom you choose to connect with, and to whom they are connected, will be one of the defining aspects of future working life. High-value networks will consist of a combination of strong relationships with a few knowledgeable people (what I call ‘the Posse’) and a larger number of less-connected relationships with a more extensive network (what I call ‘the Big Ideas Crowd’). Your high-value networks will connect you with people who are similarly specialised as well as those with very different competencies and outlooks. It is in the diversity of these broader networks, the Big Ideas Crowd, that the possibility of innovation lays.
The shift to quality of experiences
Finally, having confronted the paradox of both being individually masterful and yet joined with others, I believe that there is an even more complex shift. You, your friends and children will need to think very hard about what sort of working life you want. Simply opting for a high standard of living is not going to do it. Why? Because in the future, quality of experiences will trump quantity of consumption every time and words like ‘happiness’ and ‘regeneration’ will become the touchstone of future working lives.
The 19th-century industrialisation of the Western world heralded the move to cities and the breaking down of traditional communities. In its place came the nuclear family, often uprooted as father moved to seek work. So while the standard of living throughout the developed countries rose, often the quality of life hardly shifted. People may have been able to enter the consumer society and consume at quantity, but this did not necessarily bring them quality of experiences such as happiness or contentment.
I believe there is an opportunity over the coming decades to shape work and life in a manner that enables people to reconnect with what makes them happy and creates a high quality of experience. The breakdown of automated work, the rise of home-based working and the increase in the possibility of choice provide the foundation for a shift in focus away from quantity consumed as the only measure of success.
Challenges and opportunities
The future workplace will create both challenges and opportunities. Grasping these opportunities will be crucial. Some of these changes are inevitable (for example, flexible working), so the focus is on making them work as soon as possible. Other actions will be tricky and will require the creation of new practices in the way that companies are building competencies around virtual team working.
Perhaps those responses needing the greatest focus are those I call the ‘contested’ aspects of the future, workplace processes and procedures that have not been fully tested, such as the need for more democratic processes and a focus on experiences rather than on standard of living. Such new ways of working are going to demand a level of trial and error in the workplace that will prove challenging to workers and managers alike. Yet, in tomorrow’s brave new world of work, a healthy dose of courage and optimism will go a long way.
Here’s the RSAnimate video of Dan Pink’s talk, in case you’re interested. I strongly recommeny recommend that you watch it!