The Future of . . . (April 2012)

This is a monthly newsletter feature:  a  collection of recent stories and news articles that have appeared elsewhere; this is our way of helping you stay on top of developments in the worlds of technology, workplace and facilities design, the workforce, and work design – any and all of which will likely affect the future of work, often in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

How Leaders Kill Meaning at Work

This article, from McKinsey Quarterly, describes how many organizational leaders engage in four specific destructive behaviors that kill their subordinates’ creativity, productivity, and commitment to helping their employers succeed.

Authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer are convinced that the single most important thing that leaders and managers can do to foster employee engagement is to create opportunities for meaningful work—to help employees understand how their personal activities can make a difference for customers, for the company, and for society at large.

It’s an important concept, and the article is a good summary of the authors’ research.

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Occupiers Journal GRID Program is Studying the Strategic Role of Facilities Management

As you may know, Jim Ware, in addition to his leadership of The Future of Work….unlimited, is also a co-founder of Occupiers Journal Limited (OJL).

OJL is a global learning and development organization serving real estate and facilities management (FM) “end users” with whom OJL engages and cross-shares data, knowledge, experience, and case studies with other occupiers in a confidential environment. [continue reading...]

The Future: A Meal or a Menu?

When you hear the phrase “the future of work,” what kind of image or images come to mind? Do you “see” a tangible picture of some kind of corporate office, or of people all over the world sitting at their computers collaborating in the “cloud”?

Or does it feel like you’re on a dark road, in the fog, with your headlights simply disappearing in front of you? 

A Tangible Image A Foggy Road Ahead
Foggy Road

Or—one more possibility: do you see a whole collection of different pictures, each one representing a different potential future?

And, to stick with the metaphor in the title of this article, do you see the future as a specific meal laid out on a plate in front of you, or do you see a whole menu, full of choices?

A Meal A Menu
Steak dinner
Pizza Menu

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February 10: Talking About Tomorrow

11 AM Pacific Standard Time

Free, but advance registration is required. Update: this event is oversubscribed and now closed. There will be a another conversation in early March. See this post (dated February 1) for more information.

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Don’t Stop Talking About Tomorrow

by Jim Ware

Last month our feature article focused on scenario planning—as the only way to prepare for an uncertain, constantly changing future (“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”). As we have thought even more about the challenge of “futureproofing” an organization, we realized that scenario planning depends critically on an organization’s ability to imagine what the future could be like.

And organizational imagination in turn depends on the collective wisdom and insights of a large group of thoughtful individuals who are willing to share their perspectives and to learn from each other. In short, the only way to develop meaningful scenarios of future possibilities is to engage in rich, extended conversations.

Thriving in the future means holding many conversations—conversations with colleagues, with staff, with customers, with shareholders, with suppliers, and with representatives of every outside group that could possibly influence your future (including even competitors when you can get away with it).

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Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

by Jim Ware

As the television sports announcer Jim McKay once said of a star athlete, “His whole future lies ahead of him.” And of course, that’s true for all of us. And one of our strongest yearnings is to know what lies ahead. What’s around the corner? What’s over the horizon?

Those are interesting questions for us as individuals, but they are essential for organizations. Organizations make bets on the future every day. When McDonalds buyers place an order for potatoes and ground beef, they do so on the belief that they know how many orders for Big Macs and fries they’ll get next week. When General Motors sets its production quotas for Chevrolet Volts, they are betting on how many cars the dealers will be able to sell a month from now.

However, those two examples are basic, tactical management decisions that depend on sophisticated market demand analysis, complex multivariate equations, and a dose of guesswork. But while that kind of demand forecasting may require massive computing power, it’s simple in comparison to the need that senior executives have for understanding the bigger, broader, and more fundamental trends in the economy and society.

Will the economy get better? Or worse? When? How will it affect your company? Will your business thrive or struggle? What’s going to happen to health insurance, Medicare, Social Security, climate change, unemployment, average wages? How will terrorism, violent weather, pandemics, and public policy affect your business?

The truth, of course, is that no one can really know the future (in spite of what many pundits try to tell us). It has also been said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” However, as much as we’d all like to create our own future, that isn’t a very realistic option.

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Growing Talent for Tomorrow’s Industries

by Jim Ware

Last fall I was asked to contribute to a special issue of The Futurist, the official magazine of the World Future Society. My task was to describe the most interesting jobs I could think of that don’t yet exist but will be commonplace in the year 2030. I was one of a dozen or so futurists who responded.

The resulting series of speculations and predictions (“70 Jobs for 2030,” published in January, 2011) was exceptionally provocative.

But if the challenge of predicting those new jobs was difficult, it was nothing compared to the question I was then asked by IEDC (The International Economic Development Council): How do we train people to fill jobs that don’t yet exist?

I’m now preparing a response that question, which I’ll be speaking about at IEDC’s “Understanding Tomorrow’s Industries Today” conference in Indianapolis June 4-7.

What follows is a synopsis of my notes for that presentation.

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Futures Thinking 101

Just came across (via Twitter) an excellent basic guide to futures thinking (“Futures Thinking: The Basics“), written by Jamais Cascio for Fast Company magazine.

A good summary:

Fortunately, [being a futurist is] also a job with some definite practical uses. Futurism as it’s practiced today doesn’t try to predict the future, but rather to illuminate unexpected implications of present-day issues; the emphasis isn’t on what will happen, but on what could happen, given various observed drivers.

[continue reading...]

A New Look at an Old Tool: Scenario Planning

Scenario Planning is one of those powerful strategic tools that’s been around for a long time, can be incredibly powerful, and yet seems to be poorly understood, often misused, and mostly ignored.

Now, in an age we all recognize is increasingly uncertain, it’s making yet another comeback. I was reminded of the power of scenario planning by this recent article in the Wall Street Journal:  “Pendulum is Swinging Back on ‘Scenario Planning’“. [continue reading...]

Designing the Work Experience

All the world’s a stage. . .

Our most recent Future of Work Members Roundtable ended with a fascinating conversation about workplace design. No, we weren’t exploring cubicle sizes, layouts, or the color of carpeting.
Instead, our members’ comments were focused on what’s inadequate, and just plain wrong, about the way most organizations plan their facilities and workplaces. As one of our members put it:

We’re still using planning techniques we developed in the 1970’s, when the core assumption was that everyone needed a personal space of some kind, with a large work surface and plenty of filing cabinets. Now we’ve all got laptops, PDA’s, smart phones, and wireless access – and we’re moving around all the time, participating in global project teams and interacting with people on other continents at all times of the day and night. Isn’t it time to rethink the kind of workspaces we need and the way we plan those spaces?

After some extended discussion the group members concluded that they should embark on an exploration of how people in other industries and professions design both physical and social work environments.

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