Future of Work

September 6th, 2010

images-13It seems fitting on Labor Day to reflect on the future of work.  Today’s concept of work, employment, and jobs are an outgrowth of an industrial era that is long gone.  The industrial era is not coming back and it is time to rethink the basic concept of work.  Despite what politicians say most of the jobs lost in the current downturn aren’t coming back.  Work takes on new meaning in the 21st century and it is time to change our conversation.  The real wake-up call of this downturn is the enormous skill’s gap between the requirements of a 21st century economy and the skills and experience of the current workforce.  Waving our hands and political rhetoric will not close the gap.  Our education and workforce development systems must be transformed. Now.  The nature of work and the way we think about jobs must change dramatically.  Labor Day seems like a good day to start.

Here are 20 random thoughts on the future of work.  Add yours.

1)   Work becomes more about meaning and impact than repeatable tasks.

2)   9 to 5 is so yesterday.

3)   Global sourcing goes on steroids enabling third world opportunity and growth.

4)   Free Agent Nation becomes a reality.

5)   Projects are more important than jobs.

6)   Teams assemble and reassemble based on the job to be done.

7)   Changing nature of work transforms our daily commute and transportation systems.

8)   Industrial era organizations give way to purposeful networks.

9)   Everything we think and know about professions will change.

10) Education is no longer K-16 but a life long commitment.

11) Workforce and economic development are transformed and become indistinguishable.

12) Work becomes more self organized and less institutionally driven.

13) Job titles are more about what you can do than meaningless status monikers.

14) Compensation is about performance outcomes not seniority.

15) Entrepreneurship becomes democratized and the key economic driver.

16) Work and social become indistinguishable.

17) Getting better faster is imperative.

18) Art and design become integral to work and value creation.

19) Making things becomes important and interesting again.

20) Passion drives meaningful work.

17 Responses to “Future of Work”

  1. […] here: Future of Work « It's Saul Connected This entry was posted in Talk About Jobs and tagged fitting-on-labor, Future, industrial-era, […]

  2. […] Innovation Factory–where incidentally I will be a storyteller on 16 September–writes a Labor Day post on his blog listing what he calls 20 random thoughts on the Future of Work. (They’re not so […]

  3. John Hagel says:

    There is a profound and deeply disruptive pattern here in these so-called random thoughts. Very consistent with my perspective published on Labor Day last year – http://bit.ly/crktOH Bravo!

  4. […] on the verge of a new era of success, it’s encouraging to notice on Saul Kaplan’s blog that the model I’ve held dear for so long now is resonating so acutely today. There are no […]

  5. There are no less than 15 tenets of Schwadesign in this post, Saul. Thank you for bringing them to light so crisply. You could create a scorecard to measure start-ups against.

  6. Kent says:

    Very good thoughts Saul. I happen to agree with you 100%. The business world will eventually be forced to change, but I think it is a tragedy that the world of academics and conventional education can opt to remain so complacent without feeling the same level of pressure that businesses face because they still have society convinced the that old model of stacked degrees and long-term employment is the best and “safest” approach. Young people (our future workforce) are terribly ill-prepared for many of the changes you mention. Those who are “clued in” and interested in keeping an “edge” will adapt quickly and benefit, but the rest (unfortunately the majority) is in for quite an unpleasant surprise. You are right, we are not experiencing a short-term phase, this is a transition into a completely new social and business environment.

  7. […] United States, Saul Kaplan, founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory, posted a list of ways work is changing, driven in large part by the transition from an industrial to an […]

  8. […] Saul Kaplan offers a Labor Day reflection on the changing nature of work. Here are a few of his 20 themes: Global sourcing goes on steroids enabling third world opportunity and growth. […]

  9. Susan Mazza says:

    Wonderfully insightful collection of thoughts on the subject of Work Saul. You remind me of a simple thought I read from William Bridges in his book Job Shift in the 1990’s – The job is an artifact of the industrial revolution.

    While I do not comment much here I also want to let you know that I find your posts insightful, enjoyable and valuable. Thank you!

  10. Matt Meddiros says:

    A great list! A lot of it describes how agile and dynamic we have to be as individual team members and how we run our business. At slocumstudio.com we are a semi-virtual design studio focused on marketing and branding individuals and companies. We pull in local talent to complete the specific project at hand (6).

    A lot of clients do business with us because of the tie in to our local business to business network (8). We had a family run auto dealership for near 50 years before launching our new startup. It’s been a great ride since.

    I could go right down this list, as it’s all great information. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  11. […] a recent blog post “Future of Work,” Kaplan […]

  12. James Ware says:

    I agree it’s a good list – even if it’s hard for people (especially senior executives) to grasp what these transformations mean.

    And not to brag too much, but your ideas are very consistent with an article we first published in 2002:


  13. matt says:

    Exactly, the focus should be on how (communication)technology can let people work more efficient and effective.

  14. Now more then ever we’re forced to become skilled in everything in order to survive. Are you a dollar or ten dimes? I chose to not go to college. I choose to work in a factory, where it was similar to a sweat shop. Minimum wage, long hours, and you had to be able to do every job in that plant. When given the challenge of learning everything I did my best and it was noticed. That’s how new doors are opened and new opportunities to better your life are formed. HARD WORK, GOALS, & DREAMS. I’m a roll of dimes. So many skills if I lost one I still have plenty more to fall back on to survive. Don’t be a dollar!

  15. Saul, great list. The only thing I’d add is:

    21. 1-20 have been evolving & strengthening for over a decade…except in the beltway.

    Happy labor day!!

  16. Deana says:

    Maybe what I love most about this age of work is that there is no artificial shut-down time that you magically become unproductive and wait to expire. Just as work is being transformed, so is ‘retirement’.

  17. Luc Lalande says:

    This list is certainly not just random thoughts. They are gleaned from a keen sense of observing underlying drivers and emerging trends. What will be interesting to watch is how entrepreneurs are trying new “organizational experiments”, as Northwestern’s Scott Stern has previously written about, for new value-creation and value capture systems. Well done Saul.

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