The Brightest Future Ever…But

A good friend of mine sent me this link today about the future of the work world, asking me if I thought that the predictions would come true. The executive recruiting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas has peered into its crystal ball to predict the future of our work environments. According to the Information Week Blog, the recruiting firm expects:

  • More employees will work from home
  • Cubicles will be phased out by shared communities via wireless devices
  • Free agency will flourish
  • The US will increasingly target recruiting efforts oversees
  • Companies will offer more of their own educational programs
  • A four day work week will become more common
  • Companies will provide less health benefits to employees

A lot of these predictions make sense. In light of the proliferation of novel productivity tools, they actually are very reasonable expectations. But will these predictions actually bear out?

NOT SO FAST
Well that depends on many factors, including:

  • Global economic conditions
  • Geopolitical catastrophes
  • The degree of corporate allegiance to 20th Century industrial mechanics (e.g. The Short Snout)
  • The willingness of businesses to adopt distributed collaboration over centralized command
  • The advancement of entrepreneurial deployment along the Long Tail

I’m not so sure that the Short Snout is all too willing to hand it over to the Long Tail. Chris Anderson has the right idea about the general trend of inventories becoming freer. But those Short Snouts clustered around the Small Head don’t give up the bone easily. Swiss Bank Socialists: they will cry Mommy after dropping the ball on their own foot.

(Incidentally, there’s now some controversial evidence out of Harvard Business School that sort of challenges Chris’ theory, of which his analysis you can read about here).

Although these predictions were made a decade ago and still have yet to become major trends, I do believe the technological and cultural changes that are taking place right now will in fact bring some of them true within another decade.

It just doesn’t make sense for businesses to ignore Moore’s Law, nor for people not to exploit the benefits of sleeker means of community inter-reach. Moore’s Law is making tools increasingly more powerful and robust while diminishing their relative and absolute costs.

No, the problem, as I see it, is that the changes are themselves changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Businesses, less and less, can project with a straight line. Their vision has be be curved through the space-time warping that is Moore’s Law.

HIKING

If you’ve ever hiked up Mount Rainier or Half-Dome in Yosemite, you know that the beginning trek is a pleasent stroll. You’re excited about your journey. You hike for hours and you feel great. You enjoy the views as you stop for a break.

But then a curious thing happens. Your feet feel a bit heavier. And pretty soon your huffing up steep edges, rough woods, through cold air. The view is spectacular, but you wonder if you’ll get to the top. It seems much farther now that you’ve gotten closer.

That feeling that things are getting rough… Well that’s the feeling of hitting the inflection points along the metaphorical curve of Moore’s Law. And if you don’t know that you’re climbing up a mountain, and not just a small hill, you’re less likely to make it. You’ll be psychologically blown down. At that point, businesses will either have to get huffing very fast, or they’ll just stop in their tracks and be done.

VISION and CLEAR FOG

Even the smartest of large enterprises sometimes vastly underestimate the Tao of Change. Years or decades of financial boom and comparative advantage tend to make the Short Snouts blurry-eyed with reverie. When startled awake, gluttony seizes everything around.

A 13,500 ton ship is no way to sail down the river of change.

We can all predict wonderful things as our technologies become increasingly refined, more potent and cheaper. But if millions of people continue to work in organizations that see the world through clear fog then we’ll continue to see much of the same as we see today: cubicle on cubicle, cog-job after cog-job and clinical depression to accompany the economic malaise that follows dysfunctional social traditions.

Overall, I’m optimistic about our opportunity along the expanding Long Tail. As should you. Optimism breeds itself.

For perhaps the first time in history, we all have the chance to manifest our entrepreneurial visions on the side. Moonlight Entrepreneurship might be in the cards for those who can’t yet quit their cubes. Which means that those predictions which Challenger is making might come true only if individuals take the initiative to make them come true. It could be a nice future, the brightest ever.

…But: never take your eyes of the Short Snouts. History has a long tail of them ruining promising things.


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