Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Disappearing Jobs

In 2014, new technologies continue to automate work. But it is no longer manual or semi-skilled workers whose jobs are disappearing but also the brain-power jobs of professionals and specialists.

The knowledge density is astounding. So much incredible capability packed into a device that fits in the palm of your hand.

In many of the villages, towns and cities the visible signs of failure to adapt are everywhere. Many of the mills of the 18th century and the factories of the 19th and 20th are still standing but either empty or used for less valuable purposes such as storage. Many chemical impregnated Brownfields remain untouched as they are more expensive to redevelop than to develop Greenfields sites on the outskirts of towns.

Offices that proliferated in the 70s, 80s and 90s, are starting to empty as people increasingly work from home. Large factories that produced goods for which America was famous are now shuttered, their work performed in far off China and Bangladesh. Big box stores, shopping centers, book and computer stores under threat from on-line retailers who deliver to your door in just two days are joining the queue to oblivion.

We were promised high-end knowledge work jobs, especially those in the STEM fields, for which we were urged to get a degree. But many employers report they are unable to find people with the skills they need, especially in the mid-range technical jobs that support the higher-level jobs. Many of these jobs also require maths, science and people skills that the education system does not seem able to produce in adequate numbers.

Take a look at this list of the Top 10 disappearing jobs in 2012. We are the cause of many of the job losses. We the customer now have the tools to be our own computer operator, typist, word processor, print layout person or typesetter. Advertising and promotions managers getting the chop, as social media and distributed capacity in organizations eats into what was a centralized function. Some of the losses are due to companies shipping jobs to Asia in the textiles, knitwear, clothing and computer chip making sectors. In the depressed US housing and infrastructure sector, many of the jobs are due to a downturn in capital investment. But some of the work of carpenters, brick and stone mason helpers as well as plasterers is also being displaced by factory-produced components rather than raw materials.

Now take a look at the Top 10 new jobs that are emerging. The most significant growth is in energy, especially the oil/gas sector which in the USA is booming thanks to new technological developments that enable fracking. Personal services is also big, with massage, skin care, personal care and coaching figuring prominently. There has been a big uptick in interpreters reflecting the globalization of everything and the music industry is replete (but not necessarily flush) with a generation of self-published Internet music entrepreneurs.

Here's some questions to think about:

1. What are some of the major changes that are occurring in your world?
2. Thinking about children growing up today, what kind of skills will they need to be successful in a world where accelerating change is normal?
3. What changes have occurred in your world? For the BETTER? That are CHALLENGING?
4. What skills do you have that help you deal with accelerating change?
5. What skills would you like to have that would ensure you could adapt more successfully?
6. If you could partner with other people who have complementary skills to you, who would that be, what would you do together and why would you do that?
7. Abraham Lincoln said the best way to predict the future is to create it. If you had a magic wand, what would you do to revitalize the villages and towns in which you and your children will live in tomorrow?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The language of leadership

As an outside observer of the US Presidential elections, I am amazed that anyone in their right mind would want to try out for president. It can get quite nasty.

It raises the question: what should we expect from our leaders? Do we want people who put others down to boost themselves up, or leaders who acknowledge the contributions of their opponents? Do we want leaders who push a narrow agenda or those who seek to embrace their opponents interests in some way? And do we want leaders who blame others for their mistakes, or those who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions, and when they make mistakes, admit to them and vow to act differently?

In the USA, you need the hide of an elephant or rhinoceros, a Teflon coated ego, the morals of a saint, about a billion dollars, and a past business or public life that is in some way heroic. You also need to be really likable and have offended as few people as possible.

It also seems you have to be born in the USA (which means Arnie can never be president, even though he was allowed to be the Governor of California).

But it is the process of selecting this super-human which seems so daunting, no matter which side of politics you favor.

You begin the sorting process by expecting the candidates to fly incessantly (or, as in the case of Rick Santorum, drive) around the country giving speeches, attending fund raisers, shaking people's hands and kissing babies for about six to 12 months making promises you can never keep, to a punishing schedule, not for just one election season, but for at least two, until you give up altogether.

During this time you appear about ten or 12 times in a television game show with the other candidates in a "fight to the death" gladiatorial contest, where the main task is to trash the other candidates' reputations. Your fellow gladiators pick over everything you have ever said or done and challenge you to refute the inference. Fortunately there are some categories of accusations where you do have a defense. For example, if you are correctly accused of smoking marijuana at college, you can say you did not inhale. And you can also change your mind several times about key issues as long as you dont do it within one election cycle, otherwise you will be labelled a "flip-flopper".

Each of the candidates have friends with deep pockets (unions, business and wealthy individuals such as movie moguls, technology whizz-kids, Wall Street types and oil barons) contribute to a SuperPAC which has a licence to further trash your reputation, taking great care to only print or broadcast outrageous lies or distortions. Four Pinocchios in the Washington Post seems to be par for the course.

Along the way pundits from the extreme left and right also assail your reputation, sometimes also trawling through and exposing gossip about your spouse, kids, friends and associates that you would rather not be mentioned (for example, pastors whose services you attend whose rhetoric you have to disavow, or advisors whose personal views clash with your espoused position on critical issues e.g. the Romney adviser that quit this week).

You are mocked on Comedy Central or Saturday Night Live. The trogs on the Internet spout vicious, foul-mouthed bile about you. Some people even make threats against your life.

The last person standing is declared the winner (or the possible winner if you don't stack up enough delegates).

It's such a "baptism of fire", I can't imagine why anyone would bother.

Meanwhile back in Australia, my home country, our leaders are also in the business of trashing each other's reputations, or trashing their own. We have a Prime Minister whose disapproval rating is 60% and the alternative prime minister, the opposition leader, who has a disapproval rating of 56%.

Maybe it's time for a change in how we speak about and with each other. What do you think?

So here are some questions to explore the issue:

1. Who are some great leaders that come immediately to mind and what are they remembered for?

2. What qualities in leaders do you most admire?

3. What do some of our political leaders do that you believe are inappropriate, and if you were in their shoes, what would you do differently, with what result?

4. In these times accelerating change, growing complexity and greater uncertainty, what extra-special qualities or capacities do we need in leaders? e.g. to combine leadership with maths and science skills, to create and operate complex systems effectively.

5. Thinking about how people respond to leaders, how should leaders speak to each other, about each other and to everyone else?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A new "grand bargain"?

The "grand bargain" between government and private enterprise that has helped grow some of the world's most successful democracies and economies is starting to unravel. Political economist Francis Fukuyama, author of "The end of history", argues that the world now needs a new "operating system".

Government provided the infrastructure, education, health, defence, transport, police and fire services that created the conditions in which business could flourish, and with it a large middle class of consumers.

As one leading US politician, currently running for office recently remarked, "no one ever got rich on their own."

The World Economic Forum 2012 Risk Report warns of the emergence of dystopia in the West as the middle class struggles to recover from a mountain of debt, underwater property values, reduced job opportunities, lower wages and salaries, and the inability of pensions funds to meet their commitments.

So why is the partnership in tatters?

A root cause is our collective inability to change the way society works - especially the role of government - in response to social and technological change. The rules for electing and operating governments and corporations are based on concepts that are almost two centuries and three waves of change out of date. We continue to use an operating system design for world where everything was less connected, ran more slowly, where life was far simpler than today.

Many public goods, the "free" services that governments provide, funded by our taxes, are now supplied by the private sector at a price and for a profit, often in direct competition with a government provider.

We keep on inventing new technologies that provide the old services more efficiently, for example, the internet, mobile phone and computer applications, that deliver the knowledge once provided mostly by libraries and schools, and services for which armies of clerks and sales assistants were needed.

Its no wonder government employees are digging in their heels and resisting change. And it also explain why so many are clamoring for less involvement of government in their lives. The livelihoods of civil servants are under threat from a technological revolution that has now intruded on "knowledge" and "wisdom work", in which Governments have always played a major role.

But we need to be careful we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So here is a workshop to explore the issue:

1. What are the big issues in the world today that we seem unable to solve?

2. Who should be responible for solving these problems or creating new opportunities to deal with them more successfully?

3. What's the role of government in the "new economy" that is emerging? How should government work differently to the way it works right now?

4. What existing government services do we need to KEEP that are essential or working well, what do we need to ABANDON that no longer works, and what do we feel we need to RE-INVENT?

5. What is the role of business in the emerging "new economy"? How should business work differently to the way it operates right now?

6. What is the role of not-for-profits in the emerging "new economy"? How should not-for-profits work differently to the way they operate right now?

7. What might a new "grand bargain" look like? What do we need government to do that the private sector or not-for profits can not, and the private sector and not-for-profits do that other sectors do not do as well? What is the new unique interaction between the parts? The new fabric?

Image: Sydney's Circular Quay: the underground railway, the harbour bridge, ferries and opera house, all developed and operated by government.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What sustains your organization?

When we ask people what sustains their organizations they tell us it is an income stream (money) or the people who work there, the shareholders, the leadership or the customers. Some also say it is the process of  transforming some simple lower-value things such as raw materials or steps/actions into more complex products and services. In a way it is all of these things but none of them.

Some of us have begun to study organizations as complex systems so we can help people more successfully navigate accelerating change, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

When we think of organizations this way, we soon discover it's a flow of energy through a system that  sustains the complex order. Simple interactions at a local scale help create the global order. The global order helps organize the local interactions. And if the energy flow declines or disappears - then the system collapses or disperses.

Prigogne and Stengers, whose 1984 book, Order out of Chaos, helped spark a revolution in the way we think about the world, calls these dissipative systems. Think the red spot on Jupiter (click to watch) and hurricanes (typhoons/cyclones).

Hurricanes form near the equator when warm, moist air rises, causing an area of low pressure. Cooler air flows in, which also becomes moist and rises. As the air rises it forms cloud, it starts to spin and becomes more organized. The hurricanes then travel either north or south into cooler water/air or cross over land where they lose their potency, the wind speeds drop and they become tropical depressions. Eventually they just simply "disappear".

Dissipative systems persist out on the edge, in a state of "dynamic stability", remote from thermodynamic equilibrium. Sometimes, these systems also undergo what is called a "phase transition" from one kind of order to another, like the shifts from a solid to a liquid to a gas or even a plasma.

Consider for a moment a social system as a flow of conversation. What might happen if the local rules of interaction shifted from "you must" to "what if we?" rather like the shift from solid to a liquid. How could organizations harness such a change.

In many ways we do. A team can be thought of as a dissipative system. When the players go out on the field their efforts can often be disjointed or poorly coordinated. Or they can somehow magically become better coordinated and develop a new and more powerful structure. When it does, the system taps into a flow of energy. It could be the players collective enthusiasm or new found affinity with each other, or the roar of the crowd. The system becomes sustainable at a higher level of organization and performance, until the crowd goes home!

So here are some questions to think about organizations as dissipative systems:

1. Give some example of dissipative systems, where the flow of energy through the system, sustains it. eg. hurricane.
2. Thinking of your organization as a dissipative system, what flows through your organization to sustain it? And how does this work?
3. What would happen if the flows through your organization was disrupted or stopped?
4. Thinking of your family, organization as a dissipative system, what changes in energy flow through the system might result in a phase-shift to a higher level of order?
5. How could you and your organization capitalize on a phase-transition to a new and higher level of order, closer communication and coordination?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A tragedy of the creative knowledge commons?

There's a new kind of tragedy of the commons emerging. But it's not the kind of "commons" we usually think of when too many villagers graze their cows or sheep on the public land.

This one seems to be a superficially good idea, but when you examine the concept closely, you realize it is the value of people's collective brainpower and skill that is being diminished. And our opportunities for earning a living off the resource reduced.

It's called crowd sourced innovation. It is being touted as a fabulous way for big corporations to connect with the creatives in our midst.

It works like this. Big company wants some new ideas/designs for product line. Hundreds of talented people slave away for hours or days, imagining, conceptualizing, designing and contributing (giving away) their ideas and their effort to a corporation in return for what? One of them wins the job. Several win consolation prizes. The rest of us try harder next time and in the meantime starve.

Odds 100-1

Some dole queues are really short. They are the queues where organizations can't find enough people to perform the work. There's 0.25 nurse practitioners queuing up for every job available. Email marketers are also hot, with 0.65 people applying for each job ....which means demand exceeds supply. There's 3.5 million jobs in manufacturing requiring high level maths, science and technology skills which can't be filled. Then there's the Silver Tsunami, the hundreds of thousands of skilled workers such as engineers and nurses who will be retiring in droves over the next decade. Some of them are being hired back as contractors as soon as they retire.

Odds of getting hired: absolute certainty.

Construction worker: It's a tough queue to be in at the moment, with construction in the doldrums. You wait on a dusty street corner with other manual workers for a man in a truck to pull up. The driver offers you a days work.  Here's a reasonable bet (maybe one chance in two or three) you will succeed.

Odds 3-1

Advertising: It's much worse than the handful of advertising agencies that spend a week of their time pitching  for new business. The pitch just cost your firm $4-5 million to be in the game. Which rather limits the field.

Odds: 4-1

RFPs: The Request for Proposals from government agencies for a training, consulting, workforce or economic development job often attracts dozens of potential providers. Each will slave away for several days developing a strategy in advance to win the implementation work.

Odds of 10-1

If this is the way that big corporations and government are going to avoid hiring talented young people and pay fairly for their work, then what can we expect to happen instead?

Perhaps, over time, enough of the creative people will become so tired of being ripped off  they will change the game. Maybe we can expect new highly interconnected forms of creative interactions between talents and customers to emerge. Maybe we will see close, trusted co-committed relationships for the creation of high value added "wise application of knowledge" products and services that make a difference and where the people who design/develop/implement them are really appreciated.

So here's a workshop to help us rethink a strategy for rewarding people in these rapidly change times:

1. Unemployment in the USA is running at 10 per cent. What in your opinion is the value of as many of these people getting back to work as soon as possible?
2. What might be the social/economic consequences of continuing high unemployment (until 2017 according to Government sources)?
3. What would you personally pay, from what you earn, to get someone you know back to work?
4. How should people be remunerated for their work or contribution to the economy or society?
5. How should we remunerate these unpaid workers: housewife or househusband, child minder, community volunteer, crowd sourced worker?
6. How could we resolve the mismatch between the 1 in 5 of people who leave school unable to read write or count properly, and the jobs (vocational, especially in maths, sciences and technology) that are available and remain unfilled?
7. If you were a creative type - designer, inventors, innovator - and you found that crowd sourcing innovation websites were a lottery, how would this change what you do in response to the hit-and-miss aspects?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The bigger picture

The excellent Shift Index Report produced by the Deloitte Center for the Edge, a Silicon Valley based think tank, is useful reading for anyone who wants to better understand why the world is suddenly more complex, uncertain and ambiguous.

There are two significant bumps in the index. One occurs at start of the 21st century. The other bump towards the end of the first decade, which the authors interpret as "the recessions in 2001 and 2008" which "particularly moved the needle, representing much greater pressures on firms, consumers, and talent during those times."

But what if the index is measuring only some of the factors contributing to the accelerating change we are experiencing? What if there are other factors in play which may have a more powerful impact on society than the three indices and 25 metrics the Centre for the Edge used to measure the forces of long-term change in terms of the impact on firms, markets and people. And what might these other factors be?

Here's an explanation of the Shift Index. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

For markets the index tracks competitive intensity, labor productivity and stock price volatility. For firms it takes into account asset profitability, the return on assets performance gap, the firm topple rate and the shareholder value gap. The aspects of people change are consumer power, brand disloyalty, returns to talent and executive turnover.

The flow index factors in market flows, virtual flows and amplifiers. The virtual flows are shifts in Internet knowledge, wireless activity and internet activity. The physical flow component is made up of the migration of people to creative cities, travel volume and the movement of capital. The flow amplifiers are worker passion and social media activity.

The foundation index looks at changes in technology performance, with a focus on computing, digital storage and bandwidth. It also considers infrastructure penetration in terms of internet users and wireless subscriptions. On the public policy front it factors in economic freedom.

According to our Complexity Theory Model of Socio-technological change each wave of change is about one-fifth shorter than the one before, as many more people become involved in knowledge creation and ever more powerful tools are invented which ratchet up productivity, including knowledge creation productivity.

And according to this model, one of the blips The Edge identified should be the start of the shift from an Information Age world to a Knowledge Age world, and the second blip, the start of the shift from Knowledge Age to Wisdom Age way of performing work, engaging with others, or incorporating new, more powerful theories into products.

The model predicts these changes:

a) tools, technologies and methods automate the work of the previous paradigm and add a higher skill component to earlier periods e.g. currently the work of teachers is being displaced by on-line learning. Internet knowledge repositories and search tools are displacing the work of librarians. Middle-management work is being displaced by group decision support systems, simulators and rich new decision/learning methods from fields outside the world of business.

b) earlier classes of work decline as a percentage of the workforce composition. The latest new class of jobs emerging are "wise-application of knowledge" jobs which may be hard to distinguish from knowledge jobs (but include roles such as certified ethical hacker and global governance director), in the same way that many Knowledge jobs (librarian, teller, teacher) have been hard to separate from Information jobs (clerk, secretary)

b) just before the transition point, the system becomes more volatile, before settling down again to a new pattern of activity, as indicated in this figure from a paper, Beyond the Frontiers of Project Management, by Manfred Saynisch, a thought leader in the field of complex project management.

c) a greater proportion of people become involved in the process of new knowledge creation, which further accelerates the rate at which new technologies, methods etc. are developed and implemented.

d) more stages of socio-technological development remain "in churn", thereby increasing the complexity and volatility of the system.

e) after the fourth bifurcation, the system has many more states of stability (but more critical and hard to tune into). The lines on the logistic curve are dynamically stable states, the shaded areas are chaotic regions.

So here are some questions for any and every organization to consider:

1. What are the big shifts that are taking place in your world, and how are they different to 10, 50, 100 and 200 years ago?
2. In your experience, how is the rate of change changing for you? Gives examples, for example product development cycles are now....x years long compared to y years long in 19XX.
3. Who and how many people in your organization system are involved in the process of knowledge creation, sense making and strategy formulation and how does this compare to 10, 50, 100 and 200 years ago?
4. What kind of change is happening to products and services? How fast are they changing, how many fields/disciplines are products/services dependent upon compared with 10, 20, 100 or 200 years ago. e.g. a motor car mechanic now meeds a knowledge of computers as well as mechanics to be able to perform his/her job.
5. What has happened to relationships? Compare relationships of 10, 50, 100 and 200 years ago and the technologies that influenced them e.g. the letter, the phone, the internet, the jet aircraft.
6. What has happened to infrastructure systems (complexity, connectivity) over the past 10, 50, 100 and 200 years? Think about roads, telecommunications, rail, air, buildings, government, financial transactions).
7. Considering all these trends, what do you think are the factors driving greater complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Man-made tsunamis the new challenge

Back in the days when the world around us changed ever so slowly it was the nasty surprises that nature delivered which caught us off guard.

Although we have built cushions into 21st century living that shield many of us from the most diabolical of what nature has to offer, the hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, floods, plagues and volcanic eruptions have not gone away, and every so often, a bigger event than we expected wreaks havoc.

As a result of our efforts to smooth out nature's bumps, we have created a new kind of tsunami, that every so often washes through civilization and leaves a trail of destruction. Millions out of work, struggling to feed themselves and their families.

The man-made Tsunamis occur at the transition from one socio-technological age to another, when people and organizations don't realize they need to adapt to the new social, market and economic conditions in order to be successful.

It's the start of a new kind of economy - the Wisdom Economy.

The US Department of Labor (2001) shows that big dislocations occurred during the 20th Century in the 1930s which was the Great Depression where one in three were out of work, and again in the 1980s. We are in the middle of another big upset labelled the GFC or global financial crisis which began in 2008.

These epochs are well known to us. The Industrial Age (1700-1940), the Information Age (1940-1990) and the Knowledge Age (1990-2005). The timing of these dislocations broadly coincides with major shifts in the power of the knowledge we create, how we embed that knowledge in more complex and powerful tools, and the way we organize work.

We know from our history books that farm workers and artisans migrated to the cities in droves when their jobs were automated by machines. They found work in the factories that destroyed their old jobs, but miraculously created many more of the new.

Not only did we survive the extinction of clerical and secretarial work by computers and the automation of knowledge or professional work by expert and control system, but we also managed to upgrade the work, so that unskilled jobs now represent only a small fraction of what's available. It is now becoming more difficult to find adequately trained workers for the new jobs that are being created, especially maths and science trained vocational workers.

The really big dislocations occur just where we would expect, at the intersection between socio-technological paradigms. Each new wave is about one-fifth the length of its' predecessor, a constant which is the reciprocal of the Feigenbaum delta, 4.6669*.

We tend to think these dislocations are caused by some one's financial greed, but there appears to be a more likely culprit. All of us.

Our efforts to create a better life for ourselves and our children create a demand for smarter and better tools, products, services and methods. We then use these tools to create more  knowledge, which we turn into even better products and services to improve our lives. More and better trained people are needed to design and operate these more complex and powerful tools, which speeds up the rate at which we create new knowledge, and the rate at which everything changes.

The waves of change, from Industrial Age onwards, follow this pattern of knowledge use:

* knowledge transmission - experts tell you all you need to know.
* knowledge re-purposing - you get to work out what to do with an expert's knowledge
* knowledge co-creation - you play a role in creating new knowledge so you and your  organization can adapt more quickly to change
* the wise application of knowledge - everyone plays a role in creating new knowledge and applying it wisely by using tools with the wise application of knowledge" or "initial conditions" built in, like "Intel inside".

So paradoxically, our collective desire to reduce the uncertainties in life, creates more uncertainties.

The big question for society is can we continue to adapt to change, or are we sowing the seeds of our own ultimate destruction as a society? And what if those who can't keep up with the change (or don't want to), let the rest of us know they have had enough and forcibly drive us all back to a time when change was slower.

It is tempting to head back to the past when our world changed more slowly. Let's assume a generation is 20 years, about the time it takes for your kids to have your grandchildren. That's about 5 every 100 years, 50 every 1000 years, 500 every 10,000 years.

Since the big migration out of Africa, Hunter Gatherer society remain relatively unchanged for 2,000 generations. Sons and daughters were able to learn all they needed to know about life from their parents, who learned what they knew from their parents with hardly any variation for 40,000 years.

Our Agricultural Age ancestors lived in a world that stayed much the same for 400 generations or 8,000 years, plenty of time to settle down into a regular and reliable pattern.

For the next three stages of society, it is a totally different story. No sooner had the farmers left their farms and started work in factories, their world was turned upside down. Just 5-6 generations to get used to the concept of factory work, before the next 5-6 generations headed towards an Information Age world.

The Information Age came and went in three generations. The Knowledge Age is disappearing from view after one.

So here is a workshop to explore these ideas about the emerging Wisdom Economy:

1. Think back to some of your first memories of the world around you. What kinds of tools (products, services, methods and ways of learning) existed when you first arrived on the planet?

2. Think back over your life. What are some of the changes in technology that you personally have experienced?

3. Choose a technology with which you are familiar e.g. music players and describe the kinds of changes that have occurred.

4. Thinking about how knowledge is incorporated into the products and services that have changed during your lifetime, what shifts have taken place?

5. Give examples of each of the following kinds of knowledge processing (transmission of expert knowledge, repurposing of expert knowledge, co-creation of knowledge, wise application of knowledge)

6. Give an example of a group of people in society who have chosen to remain at an earlier stage of knowledge processing (transmission, repurposing, co-creation) How are they different to the leading edge of society?

7. What might be some of the consequences for human society of accelerating change/accelerating knowledge creation?

8. Describe a product or service for the Wisdom Economy with "the wise application of knowledge" inside"?

9. What might be the economic, social and political consequences of some people being unable/unprepared to adapt (i.e be educated to a higher level) to the societal change, and/or participate in the new kinds of "wise application of knowledge" jobs?