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Archive for February, 2016

The Future of Working: Dystopia or Utopia?

Cbw_bXzWAAIt_ap                  Image Source: (McCormick 2016).

Recently I read an article from The Verge by Rich McCormick (2016) regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The focus of this article was a picture of Mark Zuckerberg walking past attendees who are wearing Samsung’s Gear Virtual Reality headsets. Rich states that the image,

“…looks like concept art for a new dystopian sci-fi film. A billionaire superman with a rictus grin, striding straight past human drones, tethered to machines and blinded to reality by blinking plastic masks.”

Normally I would chuckle and move on, however this picture represents deeper insights about the future of our workforce and leadership. In fact, last year my colleague Dr. Jeff Suderman and I published a similar scenario in our paper “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios.” In our article we presented four scenarios which depict how we might engage human capital by the year 2050. Two of these scenarios explored the possible dehumanizing effects or impact of technology in the future workplace.

One scenario focused on something we called Bio-Circuitry Leadership. It was represented by an image found in the movie Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers were partnered with armored body suits. We imagined a scenario in which there would be “minimal separation between humankind and machinery/technology and very often, humans must adapt to the needs of technology instead of technology being adapted to meet our needs” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).  In this scenario, organizations and their leaders become “a complex blend of the best of both worlds: machines and humanity. The era of bio-circuitry leadership means that organizations have leveraged people and technology into a seamless system. It is difficult to distinguish between who people are and what they do because of how effectively human capacity is enhanced and blended with technology” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

The second scenario presented a contrasting view and was titled Automaton Leadership. “By definition, an automaton is a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being. As a result of the relentless progression of technology, human capital will be shaped into a group of robot-like devices to accomplish the betterment of our world” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). As this scenario unfolds we find a world in which the “economic collapses of the early twenty-first century coupled with a decreasing full-time workforce led to a wide acceptance of technologies in everyday life” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). Under this scenario we imagined a world in which individuals of working age “…apply for and are fitted with docking harnesses which permit them to connect directly into the work grid. The Internet of everything now includes humans themselves. Individuals strap themselves into a work pod and the docking harness connects their entire body into the Internet” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). In this world the lines between “reality and virtual are merged as individuals spend most of their waking time connecting to the network” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

Dr. Suderman and I recognize that our storylines are no more than best guesses about how our future will unfold.  However, the usefulness of scenarios about the future is not how accurate the stories turn out to be, but rather, how they help us shape the possibilities of the future. Twenty years ago few of us knew or even thought about the impact a smart phone would have on our lives. Today, we find mobile technologies impacting everyday decisions such as grocery shopping, taxi services and hotel accommodations. The seemingly innocuous introduction of ubiquitous technology has shaped a new economy right before our very eyes.

The idea of a future workforce strapped into some kind of technology may not be as farfetched as we would like it to be. In fact, most of us are already invisibly tethered to our smart devices. Laugh if you will, but the picture of Mark Zuckerberg and the audience of drones could very well be a glimpse into what is to come.

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IMG_0100-001Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. Twitter: @maximumchange, E-mail: philip@maximumchange.com.

Dr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman, E-mail: jeff@jeffsuderman.com.

 

References:

McCormick, Rich (2016). This image of Mark Zuckerberg says so much about our future. The Verge. Retrieved on February 21, 2016 from http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/22/11087890/mark-zuckerberg-mwc-picture-future-samsung

Suderman, J.L., &Foster, P.A. (2015). “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios. A Case for relevant 2050 leadership – preparing for change.” Building Leadership Bridges. Sage Publishing.

 

Dealing with New Organizational Models

962dab_84da176577754dacb1b687d5fd2d2458Many that follow my work know that I am deeply focused on the 21st century organization. Specifically, what it means to lead, follow and otherwise operate a business in this new century. I have often made the bold statement that we are witnessing the greatest shift in managerial protocols and organizational leadership since Frederick Taylor adopted the Scientific Management approach in the 1890s.  For many the shift is nearing seismic conditions. In fact, the models we use to define an organization or even an employee is shifting faster than we can comprehend. With this challenge comes the problem of how government regulators approach the emerging concepts. How government regulators define and recognize organizational models and practices have profound effect on everyone involved. Allow me to offer a case study to expound on how such problems in defining the new organization has devastating effects on business owners and their human capital. I have a dear friend and colleague who is working on gaining legal status with a goal of Citizenship in the United States. All he is asking for is to extend his L1A visa which is an intra company executive transfer visa. It was denied for a reason that says “we don’t see that you are doing executive tasks.” While I do not pretend to have all the details, I do have a grasp on the fundamental problems in his case. He owns a micro-corporation. A micro-corporation is one that has a small number of employees and engages in building alliances with other consultants and professionals in their respective field. He, in essence, has a distributed workforce of professionals available to meet the needs of his clients. An interesting fact is that his organization has been growing substantially.  His company grew from over $125,000 in 2013 to nearly $700,000 last year. He has actually hired full time employees who work directly on the payroll of his company. My friend’s business model is the epitome of an emergent 21st century organization. I should also note that he has paid income tax on both his company and his personal income.  His company is very much a legal entity within the context of the state in which his company resides. Here is where the rub comes. The United States Government does not recognize his micro-organization as a true company. They are having a hard time grasping that he is actually a business owner and thusly have denied him Legal Status here in the United States. Not only has he been a tax payer and upstanding citizen, his family is here with him and his children attend American schools. The government has said No to him. In my opinion – they have said no because they don’t understand the new economy. They don’t understand the realities of a globalized, distributed workforce model. I give you this case study as an example of the immense mountain we must climb to help regulators change their view of what a business is much less what an employee is. A recent poll shows that by the year 2025 over 50% of the working population in the United States will be freelancers – consultants. If these trends play themselves out, we are anticipating this number to increase to over 60% by the year 2040. It is unacceptable for regulators to define today’s business under an outdated, out-of-touch context. The time is now for society to catch up with today’s reality of our workforce. We can no longer afford to define organizations using 19th and 20th century ideals. Unfortunately getting the government to change their opinion is a slow process.

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Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at philip@maximumchange.com.