Ten years ago, plunging temperatures led to rolling blackouts across Texas, leaving more than three million people without power. In February 2021, a near identical scenario occurred; billions of dollars in damage and 57 people perished as a result. The problem both times: failure to "weatherize" the Texas power grid to protect it from extremely cold weather.
In retrospect, taking the trouble to weatherize seems like a no brainer. Yet in the same way that Texas failed to get ready, we are all in danger if we fail to "futurize" our thinking, and prepare for the unexpected in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we are living in.
As a futurist and innovation speaker, I help my clients to look, think and act ahead of the curve. To futurize is to consciously and consistently attempt to anticipate and creatively respond to rapid changes. And not just changes in climate, although this arena is likely to dominate others over the next decade. But also emerging social, technological, demographic, regulatory, economic and workplace developments that demand our attention — and sometimes our "out of the box" response.
Workplace changes in recent years have become so prolific that researchers have begun referring to them as "future of work" issues. And today, even as many countries are still experiencing infection surges and tremendous hardship and pain due to the Global Pandemic, the signals are increasingly clear that an economic boom is on the horizon. Will you be ready? Will you be pro-active or reactive with regards to the changes taking place? Will it reignite the “talent wars” we saw in 2019 before Covid struck?
It's never too soon to put on your futurist hat and start “futurizing” the trends you observe. Take a minute to ponder the four "future of work" forecasts below. Use them to challenge your organization and yourself to get ready to benefit from what promises to be an exciting and dynamic period - for those who futurize and act.
Forecast #1. Working from home is here to stay. But firms will need to adapt in order to benefit fully.
The work at home trend may become permanent, but not everyone is pleased with the remote work trend. "I don't see any positives [to the trend]," writes CEO Reed Hastings in a new book. "Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative." Hastings wants his super-achieving workforce to brainstorm together and challenge each other's thinking in real time, face-to-face. At Netflix they call this "radical candor," and Hastings is convinced it's essential to innovating at warp speed. He's convinced that having everyone playing nice and "go along to get along" in virtual meetings stymies the drive for excellence.
Hastings has a point. The post-pandemic workplace will be defined by the remoteness of co-workers physically, but some degree of physical in person interaction will be essential to build and maintain trust, and to allow new hires to build their networks. And while it no longer matters where you're working from so long as you're productive, but that’s not enough.
The issue that Hastings and innovation coaches like myself are concerned about: can the distributed workforce foster insanely great innovation, to borrow Steve Jobs favorite phrase, or will it lead to greater conformity and a "just keep your head down and execute" mentality? Will it lead to cultures where risk takers feel safe to foist crazy and disruptive ideas that require persistence and sometimes all-nighters to translate vision into reality?
Action steps: Take charge of the greatest transformation in modern workplace history - the transition to remote work. But wrestle with the need to make it work. Ponder: what will it take to make it work on a permanent basis? What new systems and practices do you need to put in place to insure that your innovation culture is positively effected by this trend?
Forecast #2. Job category churn will accelerate, creating sunrise and sunset occupations.
A year ago, AI specialists, robotic engineers, cyber security experts topped the list of hiring managers. Today, according to research by LinkedIn, the most explosive growth has shifted to more familiar job titles: educators, healthcare workers, sales professionals, along with digital content creators, marketers and e-commerce workers. And beneath these shifts, lies a mega-trend that demands our attention - the declining and accelerating pace of job category demand.
Before Covid, the fastest-growing category in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, was solar panel installer, followed closely by wind turbine technician. But other occupations and professions are going the way of the buggy whip makers.
In 2005, more than 1,200 people applied for home appraiser traineeships. In 2016 only about 100 did, Reason: enabling technology -- in this case, artificial intelligence -- is sunsetting this profession at a rapid pace. Lenders such as Fannie Mae, Zillow and others are allowing certain loans to be approved without an appraisal by a human being. If present trends continue (always a caveat), the occupation of home appraiser may go the way of the buggy whip maker over the next decade.
Action steps: Feel the "churn" in your own industry and line of work, then "futurize" your thinking, and plan accordingly. Whether you're just starting out or are well along in your career, successful navigation in the 2020s involves more than just following your passion or going with the flow. Choose proactively and wisely based on sunrise/sunset projections. Mentor others. If someone you know is thinking of paying $5000 to become certified as a home appraiser, help them out. Suggest they first consult LinkedIn's lists of fastest growing (and fastest disappearing) occupations. Avoid occupations with no future or plan to reinvent them as booming luxury travel broker Virtuoso has done. Even if you're well into your career, pay attention to future forecasts in your profession and industry.
Forecast #3. Lifelong learning, up-skilling and re-skilling will no longer be optional activities. They will be vitally necessary habits for sustained career success.
The median age of workers at Facebook, LinkedIn, SpaceX and other tech companies is 29. The hiring rate slows markedly at 34. Generation Z's recent arrival in the workplace is jolting Millennials into realizing that they are no longer the new kids on the block, and irrelevance happens faster today than ever before. The solution? Constant up-skilling (expanding your capabilities) and re-skilling (learning new skills) so you can do a different job or keep on doing your current job once routine parts of it have been automated by software.
Don't expect your current employer to do this for you. A relatively few firms are as forward-looking as AT&T in this regard. Each year, AT&T's CEO shares where the company is going, and gives insight into what skills will be needed to remain employed in the foreseeable future. AT&T then partners with Udacity to create "nano-degree" courses which help employees develop needed emerging skills, for which the company is willing to pay for. The only caveat: employees must take these courses on their own time.
Action steps: To thrive in this new world of work, think of yourself as You, Incorporated. Today You, Inc. is selling services to your current employer. But what about your next move or even your next career? Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, explore other careers, keep; your resume current, volunteer for new projects and stretch assignments, especially those which develop your "soft" skills and innovation skills. Be willing to relocate for new opportunities. Take risks that pull you out of your comfort zone.
Forecast #4. Automation will accelerate job displacement. But "augmentation" rather than joblessness will be the norm.
There’s no question that Covid-19 accelerated the digital transformation of every industry, job and occupation. According to research, currently available technology, if fully implemented, could automate almost half of the activities people are paid to perform today. And "currently existing technology" is advancing at the rate of Moore's Law, which predicts a doubling of capacity every 18 to 24 months.
In 2017, McKinsey 's research brought ominous headlines with a report that indicated 73 million people were in danger of losing their jobs through automation. But then a funny thing happened. The unemployment rate in the United States plummeted to a 50-year low, and employers and employees alike now wonder: if automation is going to wreak such havoc, wouldn't its effects already be starting to show up in unemployment rolls? Instead of massive displacement, there will most likely be continuing and constant displacement of workers as automation becomes a driving force in both the service sector and manufacturing. The new trend, however, is augmentation – technologically enhancing the worker’s unique skills to create a greater whole.
Action steps: Look at how automation is impacting and will likely impact the work that you do, the profession you are in, and the company you lead. Ask: where are present trends headed for your profession? How will you need to add value differently in the coming years?
In the past decade, job category churn has accelerated to the point where front-line workers, professionals, and employers alike must "think ahead of the curve" or face unpleasant surprises. But those who anticipate and plan for change can create their own reality and ride the waves of change.
The new world of work is taking shape, not so much before our eyes, but beneath our noses. Because of Covid, it will never be the same. Take time to ponder these forecasts that follow. Use them to prepare your company and your own career to prosper in what promises to be an exciting and dynamic period.