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…)