Death of the Computer Screen? Why Scenarios are Important.

hologramIn 2013 I wrote a scenario (see below) in which I painted a picture of the future of work. In the article, which later became a chapter in my book The Open Organization, I presented the idea that computers would be as small as a silver dollar coin and would operate by voice and hologram. Fast forward to 2017 and a C|Net article titled: World’s thinnest hologram will make screen size ‘irrelevant’. As a futurist, I am always excited when I see a scenario I wrote about coming true. Now, I cannot take credit for the idea of a Hologram by any stretch. In fact, the first time I even knew about what a Hologram even was would date back to 1977 and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. I was… well.. .young back then…and the now famous scene of R2D2 displaying a hologram of Princess Leigh is etched in history.
 
Predicting the future and its potentiality is fun… but it is not always easy. While I can spike the ball now – sometimes anticipating a preferred future is difficult and requires a lot of information to get close to .. well.. maybe in the neighborhood of right.
 
Developing Future Scenarios are not about predicting exactly what will happen – but offering a glimpse of what could happen and what we would do with this information if we thought it could come to pass. Foresight is about creating a mental image of a possibility and then creating responses to those mental images in hopes that it will better prepare us for disruptions and market penetration. Scenarios force us into “What IF” analysis of our potential future state. It helps us to navigate theoretically through options before we have to do it in reality.
 
This is why athletes, firefighters, police and even the military practice so much. So that they can be prepared for what ever eventuality the future hands us.
 
————————————————————————————————-
 

Embracing Open in the New Millennia

Imagine it is the year 2025. You walk into your home office and set your Smart Device (SD) on your desk. The SD, about the size of a silver dollar coin and as thick as a credit card, activates when placed on a flat surface. Sitting down, you lean forward and focus your attention on the holographic screen hovering above the SD. You say, “SD, date and time please.” In a clear voice your SD responds, “February 8th, 2025. The time is now 0900. Would you like to hear your appointments and tasks for today?” You briefly think to yourself how far computers have evolved in just a short period of time. In fact, you think, the constant we face is a world quickly changing before our eyes.

For the United States and much of Europe, the world has already begun to change as it relates to the way organizations interact with their employees. The field of employment has been shifting since the market crash early in the century. By the year 2040 it is estimated several emerging social and technological changes will greatly affect the way organizations view employment and human capital in the Westernized World.

Your SD speaks again, “You have an incoming call from Jeff and Dustin.” You turn your attention back to the hologram and tell your SD, “display call.” The hologram shifts to the images of your colleagues. You met Jeff and Dustin in your doctoral program a few years ago and the three of you formed a successful strategic alliance. Today you are meeting to discuss a proposal the three of you are working on. Your alliance with your colleagues has opened the door for all of you to compete with much larger organization on projects that you would have otherwise avoided.

The Great Shift

Since the late 1980s, Americans have begun working longer and foregoing their retirement. As a result of this trend we are beginning to see an increase in what we now call the Graying of the American worker. We are seeing an increase in job-sharing, consulting, coaching and even strategist positions growing among the Boomer population as Generation X begins taking over the reins of leadership. While the working population of the United States is growing older, fertility rates are also dropping amongst American women which ultimately will create a deficit in human capital available to replace an existing workforce. If that weren’t difficult enough on businesses trying to fill positions, legal immigration is on the decline in America creating even greater deficits in available workers. As a result of all these sociodemographic trends, we are beginning to see demand and acceptance of more flexible, freelance and collaborative opportunities in an increasingly less secure globalized world.

Emerging social and technological changes are forcing companies to move toward the use of short-term, temporary and independent contractors and consultants. With advances in technology and availability of WiFi in nearly every location, employees no longer need to pay to drive to an office setting every day nor will organizations need to continue supporting expensive centralized office space. In fact these advances in technology open the door for workers who are no longer limited by geography thereby permitting them to live anywhere they choose. Smaller offices and fewer employees working in those locations permit businesses to focus on finding and keeping essential employees while outsourcing the remaining positions to independent contractors. With these changes, businesses will be better able to shrink overall expenses and employees will gradually no longer see themselves as being employed by a single company. Employees are now able to work anytime and anywhere they choose as long as they are able to meet their job objectives.

The future of employment appears focused more on an individual’s talent. In fact, it is estimated that most jobs of the future will require higher education, advanced skills and high-tech training. The twenty-first century organization will require an ability to share ideas, knowledge, resources and skills across organizational, generational, and cultural boundaries from within and outside of the organizational system.

The year 2025 is closer than you may realize. Technological and social changes are moving at an alarming rate and while many may see the opening scenario as fantasy, the trends say otherwise. Collaboration will breed a greater competitive advantage, create influence and consolidate resources and expertise within a given organization and in a future that requires less human capital to produce a product or service. Now is the time for organization to begin examining the impact of a shrinking workforce. The Open Organization will likely be the formal response to the much anticipated deficit in human capital. Organizations will become flatter and there will be a greater level of shared information and even evaluations will come from co-workers rather than the traditional top-down leadership review. In fact, we very well could be witnessing the end of much of the hierarchies we’ve grown accustomed to since the early 1800s.

This shift in organizational structure will take time to adopt yet it is believed that these structures will be the most effective way to obtain a competitive advantage in the future. However, organizations may experience managerial resistance in adopting new organizational structures. Success is reliant on the commitment of the organizations leadership. It is necessary for organizations to address the fears of management and leadership in an effort to overcome delays in adoption.

The days of an abundant workforce are coming to a close. This shift in demographics will require organizations to view their structures far beyond the traditional business school training. Experts claim that there is a lack of future-readiness in the United State of employers and employment. Great challenges are ahead of us and the best way to address them is take the long-view and plan ahead for a new economy, new organizational structures, and a mobile diverse workforce like we’ve never seen before. These changes will require rethinking the view of hierarchies, traditional employment, and what it means to be self-employed. Technology will play a key role in the adoption and success of the organization of the future.

The conference call with your colleagues went well and as their holographic images fade, you sit back and smile. “SD,” you say, “Open RFP Alpha457.” Your SD responds, “Opened. What would you like to do?” You begin to dictate to your SD and so another day in this new world economy begins. You smile and remember a time when you used to work in a cubical and you think to yourself, “I’ve surely come a long way from those early days in the working world.”

As the story begins to illustrates, the twenty-first century organization will require an ability to share power, authority, ideas, knowledge, resources and skills across organizational, generational and cultural boundaries within and outside of the organizational system for the purpose of achieving desired goals. The world will continue to become smaller as technology advances and organizations grow in diversity of individuals from differing cultures and geographical locales. Organizational decision-making styles will grow in influence by generational and cultural attributes of the individuals from with the organizational system.

—————————————————

cropped-img_0100-001Dr. Philip A. Foster is a Thought Leader focused on the Future of Work and the 21st Century Workplace. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available on Amazon. He is an Ambassador to the OpenSource.com community and holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight from Regent University, Virginia. You can contact him at http://www.maximumchange.com

Advertisements

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.

——————–

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.