Going rogue, the new normal
About: Will jobs and employment decrease significantly because of AI, automation and corporate consolidations, or will new technologies and new industries offer more employment opportunities? What will become the new normal in a world where man and machines have a new relationship? Among points covered: peoples’ fears, fundamental organizational changes, moving from career to task, and learning how to learn in order to stay afloat and relevant in our new workworld.
The great resignation, the future of work, hybrid workplaces, the new normal. Call it what you will, it is a reality. Things are changing as they have been for many years, but we are now waking up and seeing with new eyes what we have unwillingly or willingly ignored in the past.
Going rogue is a creative act. Your survival might depend on it.
In “Going Rogue is the New Normal” which I wrote in 2016, I said: “Going rogue is a creative act: survival might depend on it.”
That is more than ever true today.
New fears coming to the surface
As people begin to rethink their work lives and lives in general, they are awakening to a new view of themselves and of the future. This in turn raises questions about what they really want from work. And even more from their lives. It forces people to look at organizations in a new light. To see our governments and institutions differently. To wonder what the role of education. To think about the job world our children will live in. And it brings fears to the surface as I learned firsthand when interviewing people for my book The Gig Mindset Advantage.
“An inner fear, an inner monologue.”
Individuals have concerns. This is true whenever major shifts happen in jobs and workplaces. Several years ago, I talked with a senior director for a company providing technology solutions for the education market. We discussed the personal challenges people experience when change happens. He refers to it as “an inner fear, an inner monologue.” The company changed their sales strategy from selling products and features to outcome selling—selling to vertical markets where a key part of the sales process is negotiating outcomes with executives. This differs significantly from selling features to IT directors. According to the director, not all salespeople felt comfortable. They think “I might not be as successful selling as I used to be.”
That inner fear, that inner monologue, can sometimes be very loud. That is a personal challenge.
A technology specialist in the aerospace industry told me he believes people are so used to working within constraints that ingrained habits and reflexes are hard to change. He’s spent a lot of time observing people in his organization and discovered something important:
Actually, what we realized is that in an organization like ours, there is a significant amount of freedom. It’s just that people don’t believe there is. People fear the insecurity, or the instability, of what you call the gig mindset. They’ve got used to having a box around what they do and leaving the responsibility with the manager.
From a chief development and communications officer at a not-for-profit organization: Going digital was much more than a cultural change. For his organization, it became personal:
Not only did we have to change the culture but we had to deal with fear. It was really important for us to get to the root of that, to understand everybody’s different perspective, especially the fear of “I won’t be able to learn this”.
A virtuous circle of creativity
The Future 2043 survey question asked if jobs and employment will decrease significantly because of AI, automation and corporate consolidations, or will new technologies and new industries offer more employment opportunities?“In the short term, jobs will evolve, but like musical chairs, we will eventually run out of chairs (jobs).” Ireland
“Nothing is certain, however my opinion is ‘ man is the Lord and machine is the servant’.” Nigeria
“AI and automation may adversely impact job opportunities in the short run. But will new technologies trigger a virtuous circle of innovation and creativity? Will that help create new market spaces and value creation opportunities? I should most definitely think so.” India
“New technologies/industries will offer new employment opportunities that make up for those jobs that disappear. We will probably have a shift in the types of jobs, maybe with a greater demand for roles that require creativity and critical thinking.” Sweden
Busy in the Entropy Mill
In “Busy” Oman El Akkad creates an entropy mill where people do made-up work producing random numbers since the great oil crash which destroyed a third of jobs. “As stipulated in the Great Recovery Act, any company that uses random numbers must purchase them from an entropy mill . Academics , cryptographers , drug – makers , anyone whose business demands mathematically pure uncertainty . Every bank in the country is a customer, as is every casino.”
The entropy mill in the story used to be a mega-mall before the great oil crash. El Akkad describes the shopping mall like those we know today, but that no longer exist. The entropy mill was part of the “make-work” program, part of the Great Recovery Act. And now, there are entropy mills in big cities around the world.
Work and play“Perhaps we will need to redefine what work and play and the boundaries between them in a post AI world.” Netherlands
(The current wave of technology)… “may, for the first time, move us towards societies that don’t require 90% of adults to have a job. It will be a long trend, but overall, fewer jobs will be needed.” USA
Full unemployment? Education and entertainment will fill the void, according to Arthur C. Clarke.
He also said he believed that education and entertainment should be synonymous.
The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.” “That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.
…Education will become the largest single industry and entertainment a close second-or mankind would die of utter boredom in a workless world.
The Job Savior
Chen Qiufan writes about a future world where people are losing jobs and companies lettings hundreds or more workers go resulting in major structural unemployment, there is a new type of company – job reallocation. They promise to find new jobs for people through testing individuals, studying vocational and economic shifts, and making matches. This is especially interesting to companies in services and manufacturing who were obliged to decrease personnel because of automation. The government tried UBI, universal basic income, but, for multiple reasons it did not work because people were still in despair with no sense of purpose in their lives.
Watering flowers in the desert
My favorite line in The Job Savior: “It’s no secret that we can’t keep up with AI. No matter how hard we try, it’s like watering flowers in a desert.”
The Shamrock Organization
The term “shamrock organization” was created by the Irish author and management philosopher Charles Handy. The shamrock, a national emblem of Ireland, is a clover-like plant with three leaves that represent three groups of workers in Handy’s metaphor.
Charles Handy’s “shamrock organization”, defined over three decades ago, is still a useful concept today, perhaps even more so than when he defined it. . He described organizations as having three types of workers. Each type exists today, even more clearly than in the past, and shows different patterns and trends.
- The first leaf is the core of essential managers and full-time workers, which Handy refers to as the professional core. They represent the organization in that they own the knowledge that distinguishes the organization from others. They think in terms of careers and are paid based on organizational performance.
- The second leaf is what Handy calls the contractual fringe. It is made up of self-employed people, including freelancers, and other organizations (usually smaller than the contracting client), offering specific talent, expertise, or services. They are paid by fees rather than by time, based on deliverables, on a project-by-project basis.
- The third leaf is a flexible, contingent workforce—part time or temporary—who perform routine jobs as needed according to seasonal demand. They are usually paid by the hour, day, or week. They think in terms of jobs, not careers, and often expect no more than reasonable pay and work conditions.
Handy adds a fourth group, worth mentioning in passing though not directly related to our topic: the customer. There are many examples of customers doing work that was previously done by employees: bagging their groceries, filling their cars with gas, using ATMs to bank, and buying furniture, then renting a vehicle through the company to drive home and assemble what they bought. Much of this is done in the name of customer convenience and lower prices.
Reference The Age of Unreason, 1989, Harvard Business School Press
I listed Handy as one of the gig mindset pioneers in my book The Gig Mindset Advantage and described The Age of Unreason as “a forward-looking book of its time, discussing discontinuous change, the disappearance of lifelong jobs, and the need for upside-down thinking.” p.216
My predictions: the 2043 shamrock organization, a different shape
Looking around us today, in 2023, we observe clues as to how these roles are currently evolving. I believe that each one will move to an extreme over the next 20 years.
Leaf 1: In 20 years the core, will be practically non-existent.
The core is not as secure as in the past. These people are expected to show full loyalty to their organization. They tend to focus more on the organization, moving up, than on their own career paths and skills development. Companies are downsizing, restructuring, merging, acquiring, or being acquired. The internal job landscape is constantly shifting, including at the top of the hierarchy, as organizations exit or enter markets reactively or proactively in their competitive landscape. I believe the core will get so small it is nearly non-existent.
Another possibility is that the organization becomes fractured into smaller entities, and the role of the “top” will be primarily holding things together, making sure the smaller parts of the larger organization are moving in the right direction and contributing in meaningful ways to the big picture.
Leaf 2. In 20 years, this leaf will be by far the largest.
Much, although not all, of the work these people do requires a human perspective. AI can help but will not replace. Work conditions will be dependent on the people themselves, although local legislation that classifies them as freelancers or employees will determine their status and degree of control .
This segment of workers will have grown rapidly for three primary reasons:
- organizations are downsizing in real or feared hard economic times,
- people discovered freedoms and the chance to make personal work choices thanks to the pandemic lockdown,
- and organization often need highly specialized people they do not have on staff but can find in the outside world.
People in this leaf need to
- take control of their training, up-skill regularly, develop new skills,
- be able to manage their own administration,
- be an active networker to interact with other people who will keep them on the edge, aware of the world outside their own current situation.
Leaf 3. Part of this leaf will have grown – the personal touch jobs. The other part – routine jobs – will have diminished, because of AI.
Work conditions are usually not optimal. Workers in this group will have less security in the long term. There are two groups from a macro viewpoint: the first group is made up of jobs that are personal, that need a human touch, and the second part is composed of jobs that are routine, mechanical and can be done faster by machines over seen by a few people.
The membership organization
Charles Handy is a continuous thinker, evolving his thinking over time and into the future.
He sees the next evolution of organizations into what he calls a federal organization where the central structure is responsible for defining long term strategy, and the other structures define their own short-term decisions, plans and actions.
He then takes this concept further into the membership organization.
Here we no longer talk about leaders and workers but rather specialists with different skills and knowledge, Jobs for life no longer exist so there needs to be another reason for people to be motivated in such an organization. The underlying principle of Handy’s membership organizations is subsidiarity, meaning that entities have the right to make all decisions other than those that can only be made at a central or “higher” level.
The members of this group have rights and wide scopes for action but the center is “in charge of the future”. The center has to be on constant communication with the other parts of the organization, and emphasize the importance of learning.
Will leaf 2 – the gig worker model stabilize?
Will the gig worker economy expand to a point where full time salaried jobs are rare?
Some places are legislating to give gig workers more protection. Other places, under the influence of organizations that base their strategy on hiring gig workers with few guarantees, are leaving “a free market” open to freedom, according to them, and stress and insecurity according to the workers.
Gig workers in “white collar” work take advantage of shared offices or co-working locations, and use online talent markets to find projects and work.
Today, in 2023, there is a lot of uncertainty and discussion about whether AI will be a useful tool for greater, faster production for these workers, or will it replace them, or nearly so.“I would imagine society (people) will re-imagine an economy that everyone is employed and contributing – not through institutional business but through individual productivity.” United States
From career to task
In The Vanishing American Corporation, author Gerald Davis describes the economy that has emerged as corporations disappear as the “platform economy” or the Uberized” economy.
For people who doubt that corporations are really disappearing, here’s quote from Davis early in the book:
“In fact, the number of public corporations has collapsed in recent years. In 2012 the US had less than half as many public corporations as it did in 1997. As we will see, this is not simply due to consolidation and mergers. Westinghouse, ITT, Eastman Kodak, Circuit City, Blockbuster, Borders, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, and many other household names are gone (or mere stubs of their former selves), and they are not coming back.”
As full time lifetime employment disappears in our era of income inequality and social unrest, Davis describes how we are moving from the career, to the job and finally to the task. Interestingly, this is somewhat similar to Handy’s three leaves: the core (career-oriented), the contractual fringe (job specialists) and the contingent workers (routine tasks), However the job and tasks merge in some cases where specialist jobs can be broken down into a series of tasks, some of which are routine.
“In the past, it has been predicted several times that less employment will result from technical development. This has always been compensated by the emergence of new professions. However, higher qualifications are regularly required. Qualification takes time and is not possible for everyone. So, I expect a reduction, at least for a transitional period.” Germany
“Jobs will be displaced, and employees will need to be reskilled for the new workforce. However, the number of jobs will remain essentially the same, it is the skills required for these new jobs that will change.” United States
“The overall numbers will probably not be affected , but there will be a bigger differentiation between qualified and unqualified people. In other words IA may replace qualified people as per current criteria, and raise the bar for what qualified means.” Brazil
“Nevertheless this situation might cause temporary rise of unemployment until the education system would be able to adapt to the new paradigm and “produce” people with necessary skills. It is very similar to industrial revolution in the 19th century.” Czech Republic
“For a limited amount of time, jobs will be lost as people hang onto what they knew. Over time, people will find new roles in the new verticals created from the technologies that have become “normal” and people will fill roles not yet defined and imagined.” United States
A new work ethic
In AI2041, co-author Lee Kai-Fu talks about our need to redefine the work ethic. He says we need a new social contract that defines responsibilities for citizens, corporations and governments. He provides a list of examples:
“Many elements already exist in different countries. Take, for example, the “gifted and talented” education programs in Korea, primary education in Scandinavia, university innovations (like massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and Minerva Schools) in the United States, the culture of craftsmanship in Switzerland, service excellence in Japan, the vibrant tradition of volunteering in Canada, caring for elders in China, and “gross national happiness” from Bhutan. We need to share our experiences and plot a way forward globally, where new technologies are balanced by new socioeconomic institutions.”
Page 355 in AI 2041
The new work world“The word “employment” is outdated. Just like “jobs”. They are metrics of the Industrial Age that have less value in the 21st century. If we think “meaningful work”, then there will be new opportunities. People doing meaningful work in roles that are still unknown, unknowable, and unimaginable today.” Canada
“In the long run I hope that this will enable the Human to finally increase soft skills and work on the very important stuff.” France
“It will give us more time to care for those in need.” Denmark
Fewer meaningless jobs
“I expect growth to be stronger, and we will also pay more attention to jobs in which humans are essential. These jobs will be better valued.” Netherlands
A new truth
“I feel that Ai will offer more possibilities, however a shift in competencies is need. It will result in new kinds of jobs. So, education needs to adapt, what you learn in school on how to make use of tools, ask the right question (prompting), interpretation, critical thinking, adaptive skills (being able to shift easily from what is true now to a new truth).” Netherlands
“It does highlight the need for constant learning and the need for multi-disciplinarity in order to adapt and retain relevance in the future. One concern, as highlighted in a response to one of the earlier questions, is that those who depend on AI could end up outsourcing knowledge and inhibiting their own ability to learn. That will impact their own long-term relevance from a work perspective.” United States
“The potential for great employment disruption in traditional corporate knowledge work, will be mediated by the shift to a Net-Zero economy. Governments and governmental alliances will have established some level of oversight capability. AI takes immense compute power, and unfettered use of AI will be regulated within Net-Zero frameworks.” United States
“The impact of AI on jobs in long run should be neutral. Some will be left behind but more will learn new skills and find new positions created by AI.” China
“We will see a shift in several job roles but not a job reduction.” South Africa
“(Employment will increase) .. but conditions will remain precarious.” Indonesia
Job growth areas
Jobs that requiring social skills, empathy and handling unexpected situations will not be displaced by AI. Kai-Fu Lee has a four-quadrant chart in AI 2041 placing jobs on two scales: social to asocial and routine to creative. The social-creative quadrant lists job he feels will not be replaceable by AI. He has placed 11 jobs on the creative half, and 16 on the routine half. That’s not surprising because many future jobs that will exist on the creative side have not yet been invented.
We need to provide training for the jobs that will last, and get more people ready to fill them.“AI and automation may adversely impact job opportunities in the short run. But will new technologies trigger a virtuous circle of innovation and creativity? Will that help create new market spaces and value creation opportunities? I should most definitely think so.” India
“New jobs will appear but for the few that can master technology. Care jobs and artistic performances will also increase. Operational mechanical jobs tend to disappear.” Brazil
“The conversation may need to revolve around whether the ‘lifestyle’ improvements that come from the utilization of AI and other forms of automation are actually good for the planet and people.” Australia
“Health is potentially going to have the biggest shakeup with diagnosis and ongoing management of conditions ideally improving. Again the more experienced/educated people will benefit.”
“Part of the innovation will have to happen because we have no choice (think climate change), other innovation will happen because we want and can (going to Mars, re-invent the healthcare system with AI and blockchain, quantum computers, education in the meta verse, ..).” United States
“I believe the personal services sector will continue to expand. My son for example can make more money as a bar tender than he could in a mid range technology sector job.” United States
Taking the next train
Dany De Grave has an unusual perspective about how the work world has changed. It id realistic and, in my opinion, reassuring for many. He calls it “taking the next train”. If you miss one, there’s always another one. (Dany’s profile on LinkedIn)
“We are transitioning out of education->job->retirement to education->job->education->job etc. That means that in contrast to today, your life will no longer be determined by your environment and what you do early on in life but rather throughout your life. Missing the train early on in life (no diploma, bad job, life issues) will no longer mean that forever your life will be an extension of those early events. No, there will be continuously new opportunities to jump on a new train, something extremely rare today. just because of all the new technologies and businesses that will be created.”
He goes on:
“It will be possible to intentionally (or not) miss the train without being punished for life. No longer needed for women to decide when to have a baby and worry about how that would impact their career. Have the baby when it suits you and take the next train. Go on a sabbatical and take the next train. Discover the world for a year and take the next train. Educate yourself on the next wave and be ready for the next train. Everything is there to make it a wonderful life for everyone. We’ll see what human nature and greed make of it.”
To think about
Will we be in a world where jobs are made up just to keep us busy? If so, why do we need to be busy to be fulfilled?
Now organizational shapes will offer opportunities for people who are able to take control of their professional futures. The previous safety we felt inside organizations, working our way up the ladder, is gone. We now need to find new ways to stay in the game. We need to seek out opportunities to continue to learn while working. Our professional lives will no longer depend on our educational degrees, but more on our mindset and skills. The new workworld can lead to improvements such as more meaningful work and more personal service jobs. Or, it may lead many of us to a workworld of precariousness.
Dany de Grave, whom I quoted in this article, sums things up well:
“Everything is there to make it a wonderful life for everyone. We’ll see what human nature and greed make of it.”