Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Nature of Work

I'm beginning to think that the very nature of work is changing. With folks like Marshall Goldsmith, Dan Pink, Seth Godin, and Srikumar Rao addressing this issue in somewhat different ways, it seems that we might be at the beginning of a movement.

We used to define what people do based on what box they occupied on the organizational chart.

We used to even define who people could talk to based on what box they occupied.

No more. Today's organizations are flatter and less bureaucratic, because they have to be. A consultant with an Internet connection can outperform most employees, and, truth be told, most consulting firms. And she can be quicker and cheaper while doing it, while having a lot of fun.

People of all ranks are looking for more than a paycheck at work. They are looking for fulfillment and expression, not stress and corporate hierarchy. They are focusing on the process of work more than the result. They are working, more and more, because they enjoy it.

The firm of the future may be like your body is today, a loose confederation of sorts. Your cells are constantly changing and a year from now, not much of you will actually be the same material as it is today. And you (whatever that means) are not even aware of this change because it is so seamless. You get everything you need and you get everything done that you need to do, even while the stuff of you completely turns over several times in the process. And firms are beginning to find that they can get things done with lots of different people who come, do their thing, and leave.

There are some big companies that are starting to get used to this idea. But the industries that are driven by process and procurement, and doing things because that is the way they have always been done, are destined to die. Faster and more creative firms will thrive because they actually focus on work and innovation. They get things done. They push the boundaries rather than refine their processes. If you are not a consultant yet, just wait. Because as the bigger firms die off, what's going to happen to the folks that work at those firms? What's going to happen to you and me?

As Dan Pink points out in A Whole New Mind, you better start using the right hemisphere of your brain, because if you don't, what you do can be outsourced or programmed or both. And that means you are replaceable.

I've written a lot about why I think the opposite is true. That each of us brings something unique to the world that doesn't fit into a box and shouldn't be made to. The question is whether we have the courage to declare that.

What will the future bring? I don't know. No one does. And that's a beautiful thing.


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