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5 Predictions on the Future of Work…

July 21, 2010, Ben Willis -

1. Innovation becomes Dial-tone

Innovation in the workplace will no longer be a differentiator for organizations, it will become part of the DNA of every surviving organization.   This may not seem like a new prediction, but it is.

Business thought-leaders have long touted the importance of innovation as a way to establish competitive differentiation. In response to this business imperative, many organizations have delivered important innovations and many wise CEOs have been successful at moving their organizations into a cycle of innovation at strategic points in the organization’s development to “achieve” innovation.   But not as many organizations have succeeded at — or, indeed, even attempted — institutionalizing innovation and making the actual process of innovation a differentiator.  For too many, innovation is a event, not a process.   And increasingly they will find themselves competing with companies like Amazon, Apple and Google where innovation has been built into the DNA of the organization, made part of the day-to-day process.

Prediction: Smart organizations will embrace tools, processes and philosophies that institutionalize innovation; organizations that do not will fail.

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2. Social Philosophies Transform Business Processes… and Businesses

Social Software is not interesting. Facebook is not interesting.  Saba Social is not interesting.

That comment may come as a surprise coming from an evangelist for Social Software, but it is true.  However, it is also true that Social Software has the power to completely transform most organizations in the coming years.  Both of these statements are true because what matters most about Social Software is not the software, but rather the philosophies that underlie the software, and those ideas are new and important.

Wikipedia is not about allowing people to publish thesaurus entries.  It is about letting them do that without any prior reviews or approvals.    It is about allowing that contribution happen in an easy, open and very transparent way and then tapping into the intelligence of the community to ensure that the content is not only correct, but that it gets better over time.   So, considering the previous innovation example, many of the organizations that have institutionalized innovation have embraced bottom-up models that allow ideas to be captured and openly shared so they can be surfaced quickly and, more importantly, so they can be improved upon as they “bubble up” through the organization.

To quote Dion Hinchcliffe, Social Software products like Saba Social are important because they are “…innovative new software applications that hand more control to users than ever before: control over content, organization, structure, and even processes.  Simple software models that embrace the intrinsic power of networks.”

Prediction: Smart organizations will embrace these new tools and philosophies not as stand-alone notions that are separate from day-to-day operations, but rather as tools and philosophies that must be built into every process in the organization.

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3. Death of the PC. Traditional Human-Computer Interfaces are Abandoned.

It goes without saying that today’s workforce is increasingly Mobile.  The Blackberry became every professional’s best friend by un-tethering us from our email in-box and allowing us to be productive on the go.   We became a Mobile workforce that was always-on and always connected.   The only limitation, it seemed, was the device itself… not big enough or powerful enough for “real work” like web-browsing or document editing.   Enter the Tablet PC, the NetBook, the iPhone and Smart Phones that are getting smarter-and-smarter even as they shrink in size and cost.   And now, the iPad, which threatens to change the game all together, possibly across hardware and software, so organizations would be smart to keep an eye on these shifts to identify early opportunities.

Soon, we will all have Mobile devices that deliver everything we have come to expect from our PCs.   In fact, we will have Mobile devices that not only match PC capabilities, but actually improve upon the PC experience in many important ways:  mobility, location-awareness and natural human-computer interaction models. These powerful Mobile devices will change how we work and play in profound ways.

Prediction: just as the home phone is increasingly abandoned for the Mobile phone, the PC will soon be abandoned all together in favor of the Mobile device.  In the process, traditional Human-Computer Interfaces like keyboards will be abandoned in favor of the more natural models being introduced by Apple and many others.

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4. Communication Becomes Real-time

Like Moore’s Law, the pace of communication has been accelerating at an amazing pace in recent years.   It was not too long ago, historically speaking, that communications were sent via the Pony Express.  Much more recently, actual mail was the best option, including “interoffice mail” and the office memo.  The introduction of E-mail accelerated communications such that speed of mail and memos became absolutely glacial and absolutely untenable for a productive workforce.   Next came Instant Messaging and, more recently, Text Messaging, further increasing the pace of communication.  Unfortunately, with each new channel, the size of the message has been truncated to a Tweet and the interaction has been de-personalized, leaving a lot to be desired from these forms of communication and with many feeling there is still no substitute for the age-old meeting.

Prediction: as the pace of work and communication continues to accelerate, technologies that either embrace and enable the power will take center-stage.  New ideas, like Google Wave will converge with existing technologies, like presence and real-time engines like Saba Centra and work and communication will happen in real-time.

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5. It’s Not All about Work

Look no further than TOMS shoes.   Your next generation of workers does not want a career.   They don’t even want a job.  They want a calling, they want to feel like they are part of an organization that is making a difference in the world.  They want to be part of a “noble cause”.

Prediction: the next generation of workers shape their environment through their buying habits and career choices in profound ways.  The workplace, and organization, of tomorrow is a very different place.