“The future is arriving as a rising flood of converging new technologies: with new competitors, new regulations and new expectations. In an era where so many organisations fold and die, we question how to future proof to ensure success and organisational agility.”
As we draw to the end of a year of tumultuous change, what have we learnt about change and the qualities needed to prepare for and manage it? The Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing new technologies and opportunities, heralding jobs that don’t yet exist to solve problems we don’t yet know are problems.
“Acceptable” as a benchmark for performance is a core requirement for most people, but for its leaders and for a crew of essential specialists, the benchmark of the future is much higher. Every organisation needs a significant core of people with capacity to navigate and embrace the future. The processes of developing talent internally, understanding what emerging roles require, recruiting and selecting people (either internally or externally), are critical for adaptability and organisational agility.
There are myriad structures, habits and cultural challenges for organisations gearing to thrive in the future, but the starting point is to ask who you have on the team, and who you’re ready to bring in. Fitting the team is one thing but finding the core of people able to lead it into adaptive excellence is a new challenge.
The competencies needed by leaders and key technical people navigating this future include a blend of complex problem-solving, critical thinking, sense-making, environmental scanning, creativity, judgement and cognitive flexibility. Curiosity, initiative and persistence are rocketing to top of the list of 21st century competencies. In addition, people will need gifts in the realms of emotional and social intelligence to be able to collaborate across cultures and disciplines. They’ll also be required to work well with people, abilities to negotiate and empathy to understand what customers want. More than anything they’ll have to manage people in ways that unlock inspiration and allow people to give their best work (Davies, Fidler and Gorbis, 2020).
My first glimpse of the future was on honeymoon in 1994, looking at the streets of London from the top of a double-decker red bus. In the jam-locked traffic, a man cycled past, pedalling away with one hand to his head. He held what seemed like a plastic brick to his ear; yammering away.
Today with 7.81 billon people on the planet there are 5.22 billion unique mobile subscribers. 66.83% of all people in the world own mobile devices (Turner, 2020). Having begun as underpowered landline alternatives, mobiles have fundamentally changed how the human world communicates, plays, thinks, banks, seeks advice, seeks health, loves and hates.
The first industrial revolution was about harnessing steam to drive machines at speeds faster than horses or ships’ sails. The second was about using electricity to mass-produce cars, power homes and schools, manufacture steel and anything else. The third industrial revolution began in the 1960s with the movement towards digitisation and the emergence of computers. Our lives are driven by new services we never wanted or needed but now can’t live without.
We shop, listen to music, read, meet and experience emotion differently, and this is only the start. We’re in the early stages of another phase of change, but this one, the fourth industrial revolution, might be different. It is potentially massive, driven not by a single new technology, but by a convergence of technologies.
Imagine what might happen when artificial intelligence, spectacularly large datasets, robotics, and a new class of computers that streak beyond all previous limitations of storage and speed integrate; when biological and technological systems integrate, when virtual reality becomes more sophisticated and when even more, yet unimagined technologies become interwoven and commonplace (Diamandis and Kotler, 2020).
These possibilities don’t only live in our imaginations, they are already being constructed. If you look at virtually any aspect of organisational life it will probably be transformed over the next decade. The good news, says Hirschi (2018), is that despite the enormity of the potential change, many aspects of careers are likely to remain as we know them for a few years to come. It will not be a tsunami of change in most cases, but rather a series of gradual tidal waves. While many, particularly routinized jobs, will be phased out, many new jobs are being created, particularly in applications of mathematics, computer science, architecture and engineering (IFTF Future Work Skills 2020 Report). Many aspects of an organisation’s ability to flex, adapt and thrive in the future will require new levels of nimble thinking and decision making from executives over the next decade.
We are all aware of organisations that have failed in recent times, perhaps because of the Covid-19 lockdown, but perhaps also because of failures to be agile even before 2020. Nothing dulls innovation as much as complacency and failure to see the impact of how the world is changing.
Each decision in every organisation for the next decades, will be made and actioned by their key people. We’ve always known that getting the right people on board is important, but now it’s more critical than ever.
Davies, A., Fidler, D. and Gorbis, M., 2020. Future Work Skills. [online] Iftf.org. Available at: <https://www.iftf.org/uploads/media/SR-1382A_UPRI_future_work_skills_sm.pdf> [Accessed 4 October 2020].
Diamandis, P. and Kotler, S., 2020. The Future Is Faster Than You Think. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hirschi, A., 2018. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Issues and Implications for Career Research and Practice. The Career Development Quarterly, 66(3), pp.192-204.
Institute of the Future, Future Work Skills 2020 for the University of Phoenix Research Institute
Turner, A., 2020. 1 Billion More Phones Than People In The World!. [online] BankMyCell. Available at: <https://www.bankmycell.com/blog/how-many-phones-are-in-the-world> [Accessed 30 September 2020]. and
Zagoudis, J., 2020. Mobile Device App Viewing In Radiology. [online] Imaging Technology News. Available at: <https://www.itnonline.com/article/mobile-device-app-viewing-radiology> [Accessed 30 September 2020].