“But one aspect of the future is less certain: Will this be a world that is not only more efficient economically, but also better for the people who live in it?”
– Thomas W. Malone, The Future of Work
In his seminal book on the future of work, MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Tom Malone outlines how technology and business decentralization converges to create a “new normal” for today’s workers. For the past decade, companies such as Cisco have been on a journey to address the opportunities and challenges of globalization supporting operational and innovative business model changes that support speed, distributed decision making, and, most viscerally, an open knowledge model for the broadest range of the workforce.
Despite the recent recession, the deconstruction of the traditional media model and the rapid increase in information flows – fostered by the Web 2.0 self-publishing models – changes how much data we use on a daily basis. While information overload is a real and present danger, others are rushing to take advantage of these changes. Or as the Billy Crystal character said in When Harry Met Sally: “ I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.”
Keeping up with global value chains and the corresponding information overload appears overwhelming. Traditionally people like slow transitions: slow and planned. What is considered normal is a frame of reference where change proceeds in a predictable, orderly, and even linear fashion. The change we have seen in the past decade, the new normal, is a much more disruptive, more adaptive, rapidly changing perspective of work where terms such as employer, work group employee, partner, competitor, etc., take on new meaning, sometimes depending on the day of the week.
In the pre-information age economy – circa Adam Smith—the factors of production were hard assets: land, labor, capital. Today, intellectual and social capital plays as big a role in nature of an economic system as does hard assets. Interestingly, two major races in the world economy are being run today: the race for natural resources like oil and metals (extracted from the ground) and the race for talent (extracted from people’s education systems and work experiences).
As Cisco builds out its collaboration technology portfolio alongside our collaborative organization model, we strive to unlock the intellectual assets of our value chains, both within the corporate walls and firewalls—and across companies to our suppliers, partners, and end customers. Ultimately, we support building social intellectual capital that can be used (or lent) against an investment opportunity in business.
We focus on helping companies develop speed. If today’s new normal is disruptive and unplanned, anticipating and reacting with speed is the new competitive advantage.
All of this depends on people. It depends on a human network that adapts, evolves and works together in the face of changes and disruptions. Collaboration systems of the next decade must focus on this issue. As mentioned earlier, collaboration technology and organization constructs must aid the broadest range of workers and management to access, and not be overwhelmed by, the vast amount of information coming their way.
Most significantly, companies’ cultures must change, making them more attractive to talent and allowing a broader range of workers and partners to contribute to the bottom line no matter where they work within or outside the company. Working in the new normal means accommodating a more inclusive and integrated work community, especially in the face of the isolated information worker of today.
In my follow-on to this entry, I will focus on how technology can also help companies derive powerful and positive experiences in the new work model. The new normal can be a community, as the great American Transcendalist Henry David Thoreau noted: “I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it; and that is no more I than it is you.”
–Alan Cohen, Cisco Vice President, Enterprise and Mid-Market Solutions