The Future of work - June 2022 report

Navigating the future of work requires a very agile mind, for the challenges and changes that AI, automation and the Metaverse will bring, are just the tip of the iceberg. Yet the real problem remains in the bandwidth of thinking of those who think they are well placed to understand the problem, however only look through a very restricted lens of what is heading towards us from over the horizon of the next few years. They use old paradigms of thinking to try to assert a rather rigid self-serving view onto a very dynamic landscape.

Within our research, we talk to a wide number of individuals, and select views that either inspire or bring serious questions forward as to what the future may hold for people — questions brought forward usually by large gaps in the thinking and arguments that are presented to us.

There is a difference between those on the ground, working with people in the talent acquisition and management arena, and those who consider themselves to have a more global and experienced view. However, there is also unity in one area — that there is a divergence in the work place, of those who are prepared to embrace change and develop to meet the needs of a ‘new world order’ so to speak, and those who simply cannot see beyond their current world view, their current projected perspective realities.

Talking to Agnes, 45, a train driver in the London Underground, the prevailing opinion is — the affect of AI will not be seen in a train driver’s lifetime. It’s too far away, and nothing to consider. There is a considerable amount of old thinking within the rail community, focused on protecting jobs at all costs, when in technological terms the battle for running the underground is all but lost. There is a naivety about the inevitability of change, and rather than looking to see what is coming along the tracks, there is a collective desire to stay within the dark tunnel of restrictive thinking.

The problem is the BOX, the view a person spends their time in most of their life, caused by the work environment. If the box of your reality is limited to within a space, a time and a community you rarely look beyond, then the fourth and fifth industrial revolutions are possibly not in your reality.

It’s a dangerous place to reside when you don’t look ahead; yet bringing new insight to create a new fork in the track to save the day, is met with resistance and the desire not to look into the dark. Consequently, a group perspective reality can be formed that discounts the issues at hand, causing individuals to live without foresight, just tunnel vision.

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Contrast this with Dov, 66, a devotee of Klaus Schwab from Geneva — “the great reset is here, and you will own nothing and be happy about it” — following the line of guilt for the damage caused by generations who did not care about the environment. Climate change is the driver behind Dov’s thinking, combined with the new world order. The view is one of division — a view whereby many will unfortunately suffer the changes that society will face, because the thinking has to change, to become more responsible for the welfare of the planet and pay for the crimes we have perpetrated upon it as a society.

The feeling behind the conversation is one of superiority, of almost a religious belief in the doctrine of a new global leadership requirement, propagated by the onset of a new breed of leaders in the world, born of a 90’s established Schwab school of leadership, that smacks of a new age of neo fascism, elitism and division, wrapped up with totalitarian traits.

There is an arrogance behind the dialogue and an editing of words by Dov, in order to not be too radical in view, yet there is also a reluctance to accept any form of ignorance in any subject; as the surface structure of conversation is not open to new depths or challenges. It’s a bit like asking a priest why is God a man, the answer is often an arrogant one — “because he is”. It’s a very flat projection of reality, that doesn’t sit well with the listener, who is deemed slightly ignorant for ever asking the question.

The question of what will humans do when all current process orientated jobs — like lawyers, accountants, medical and IT — are replaced with AI, is met with a non-sensical stab at a response; that sick people will be moved from hospital to home and cared for by robots who will require human technicians; why human technicians rather than AI is the next question; one that doesn’t get an answer. For those who cannot see beyond their own paradigms of understanding, however far up the food chain and part of the Davos crowd they may be, the arrogance of ignorance is palpable and equally as dangerous as the tunnel vision of Agnes the train driver.

The canned answer to the problem of the future of work, is — “there will always be work”. But the question of “what work?” is never answered. The concept of humans being replaced by AI is not part of the projection, as humans will always be needed to run things — even though AI is vastly superior; the focus is more that some humans are inevitably going to be less than others. Division is coming, and it’s not going to pretty for many many people. But it is going to be good for the few, is the feeling here.

The concept of division is not something we can get away from. We have always had the rich and the poor, yet now we have new divisions that are rising with the fall of the old guard of society. Those who see themselves as better than others, simply because they think they are; those who are more technologically adept so they can become the new power elite; and those who are more inclined to see the potential in all people.

Tanja, 34, a Human Resources manger within a German telecoms company, is surprisingly one of a new breed of people who have a wisdom beyond their years, revealed in her case, out of a misfortune that turned into new insight, through being incapacitated by an accident for a period — she could not speak, only think. She was forced off the corporate hamster wheel of daily routine and process, and began to reflect on who she was, why she did the things she did, and what was her purpose.

This form of thinking has been surfacing for quite a while now in the work place, it’s early days, but it’s a view that is expansive and objective, founded on a deepening sense of introspection that reveals new insights and paths into the future. Career changes that move towards a social impact and responsibility, are for the first time in our history beginning to change the way we view the future of work.

Tanja’s job is to look at the talent base and enhance the work force. Here AI is both a friend and a foe, in that algorithms in talent selection, have for some period selected only those with the right CV structure, but not necessarily the innovation and divergent thinking that companies need to be agile enough to embrace and profit from change.

There has been a brain drain into convergent left brain recruitment, that has left companies with staff without ideas or flexibility. The divergent thinkers, the creative minds that didn’t fit the AI’s CV profile, have not been put forward. Yet now the problem has been identified, AI can be used to find those who have flexible minds. These are the minds of the future who can move with change rather than sandbag their positions, yet within organisations like Tanja’s telecom company employing tens of thousands of at risk people, the challenge is to either reallocate staff or let them go, as technology inevitably replaces roles.

The recruitment cry is now for soft skills of critical thinking, creative problem solving, empathetic understanding and co-creative abilities. The need is for innovation, creative and agile thinking, and it’s a question of investing into new staff or upgrading the old. And here we meet the same issue, where those who can learn to think bigger and more expansively, will fare far better than those who resit change.

In the more strategic picture, whilst some may want to live as equals, some don’t — and some revel in the idea that they are better than others. Yet for people like Tanja, there is a sense of hope and expectation, a yet to be revealed potential within the workforce, of people who will take the lead and begin to create a new kind of workspace, a new kind of working, one that is far away from our current paradigms of understanding.

The future requires a quantum shift in the way we think, the way we view ourselves and the meaning of our lives. For a very long time we have been unconscious to the consequences of our actions, working within institutions and corporations that did not care about the social or ecological impact of their actions. Profits came over people, and now somehow it’s the people who were always kept in the dark, whose fault it is that we now have problems.

Yet with the AI revolution, everything will change beyond our current comprehension, and in terms of mental and physical health, it’s only those early adopters who desire to develop the essential levels of agile thinking necessary, who are likely to play a lead part in the future of work; helping others embrace change and so heal a possible division in society that could be a threat to us all.

Council For Human Development. Providing advanced mental retraining and consultancy services on the future of work.

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