It’s a Social, Social World. Now What?

How many smart phones, tablets and such devices do you carry? For you, is being connected pretty much the same thing as being awake?

In a session at the Aspen Ideas Festival called “It’s a Social, Social World,” panelists debated whether hyperconnectivity is the best thing that’s happened to human society in 500 years, or a scary new form of addiction, or – perhaps most likely – a phenomenon that advances human capabilities and attacks human vulnerabilities at the same time.

Certainly, the benefits are extraordinary. Vivian Schiller, chief digital officer for NBC News, asserted that “social media is the greatest boon to journalism since the printing press” — a powerful means for reporting the news, verifying the news and interacting with the reader. And “it’s easier to shoot down false information than ever before.”

In a Burmese refugee camp, Emily Jacobi, executive director of Digital Democracy, observed a correlation between Internet access and self-identification as activists. Social media expands our connection to the world outside and arms us with new tools to change that world. (more…)

The Future of Work

In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Peter Jackson, Chief Scientist for Thomson Reuters, MIT’s Andrew McAfee and John Seely Brown [JSB] from the Deloitte Center for the Edge explored the impact of technology on the workspace and global workforce.

The face of work is changing rapidly, not only due to globalization but also because companies are becoming more data-driven and analytic, as ever-more immense amounts of information become available along with new tools to make sense of it all. At the same time, Web 2.0 technologies are making work and the workspace more collaborative.

The potential for increasing productivity is immense, and the panelists debated what these trends will mean for employment levels. For McAfee, “this is the one area where I’m pessimistic. The flip side of our incredible gains in productivity is that fewer jobs are needed.” JSB felt more hopeful, pointing out that in a relatively stable world you run out of new things to do and scalable efficiency comes into play. In a constantly changing world, not so much.

In either case, it will be essential for workers to constantly learn new skills, not just to keep up with their jobs but perhaps to reinvent their jobs and themselves many times during the course of a career. So, as JSB put it, how do we transform the workscape into a learning scape? How can we structure the partnerships within an organization to learn?

If, as Nelson Mandela observed, the job of a leader is to find the spark of genius in each person – the good news is that we now have the social tools to enable that. Unfortunately, many corporate leaders are still reticent to deploy them despite the fact that myriad corporate mission statements talk about “empowerment” and “people being the company’s greatest asset.” Claiming that the company’s top priority is its people but failing to develop them is what JSB calls the Dilbert Paradox. “If you believe your own mission statement,” McAfee challenged business leaders, “then you must deploy the tools that let your people interact with their colleagues.”

“The marriage of virtual and physical is the key,” according to Jackson. It’s about using the virtual to amplify the power of connections in the physical world. That’s essential for the growing mobility of ideas and jobs. Critical also, according to McAfee, because of “greater geographic mobility, which is hard because humans are sticky. People need to flow where the economic activity is, so they need to become good at hopscotching.” (more…)