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2060 : The Future of Work

Posted by Denise on 19 June 2011 | 0 Comments

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"It's life Jim, but not as we know it"...

Recently I took part in a ‘Frame the Future’ workshop run by Nelson City Council (NCC) about what the region in which I live, Nelson/Tasman in New Zealand, would look like in 2060.  It was interesting, and challenging, to try and step into the shoes of people who would be living and working here.  A range of vision statements started to emerge; ‘big city opportunities with small village values’, ‘seamless living between work and personal’, ‘a people  and environment centered community’.  Common, themes  of self-reliance, culture, environmental impact, recreation and equity emerged.

For some people thinking 50 years out  doesn’t register on their radar… they won’t be here, why think about it, not my problem?   For others  it is legacy thinking,  purposeful thinking around the world that we build for  generations to come;  children, grand-children, great grand-children.

The same challenge and questions exist for business leaders.  They too have legacy roles .  What will business  look like in 2060?  How will what I do now impact on the business that I leave behind?  What is the pace of change that I need to consider?  That’s a tough question.    I’m a fan of the 'Did You Know'  YouTube clips.  I use them in my change training as a reality check for people around the speed and pace of change;  a reminder of what is happening ‘right here, right now’.

Generally, for strategic planning purposes most businesses look out, what, a max. of  5 years   in advance?   That can be tough enough, anticipating how  changing drivers (economic, political, technical & societal)  will impact on your business and how you conduct business.

Workforce and workplace questions emerge; what does this mean for  how  we  lead and manage people?;  what will 2020 or 2025 work arrangements and environment look like?; what are the skills, knowledge and diversity mix that we need?;  how do we better collaborate to achieve more with less?.  It’s a mix of what we know, and don’t know (but hypothesize) , that influences the path we lay down.  If we look at some of the ‘Future Vision’ statements that emerged from the  NCC workshops there are some clear starting points around technology, the way we think about work and strong, connected, community values.  A mix of futurist plus back to basics thinking.

So what do we know about what’s changing?  An article I read recently by Amina Khan on the work of theoretical physicist  Michio Kaku gives  some insight.  In Kaku's  book Physics of the Future, Kaku suggests that computer power doubles every 18 months; the internet will be everywhere, including in your contact lenses – when you blink, you’ll go online.  When you see somebody, it will display their image and biography – if they speak to you in another language, it will translate to English.  You’ll go to a doctor several  times a day – when you go to the toilet.  In the case of pancreatic cancer, which apparently takes about 20 years to grow in the body, chips in toilets will look at proteins emitted from cancer colonies of just 100 cancer cells decades before a  tumour actually forms.   The article  suggests that the word ‘tumour’ will disappear from our language.

We know we have a shrinking and ageing workforce.  Statistics New Zealand suggests  that the number of workers will decline slowly to slightly less in 2101 than in 1999.  The working-age population will take on an older profile.  For example, those aged 40-64 years will make up 52 percent of all working-age people by 2051, compared with 44 percent in 1999.  One in five New Zealanders will be aged 65+ by 2031, compared with one in eight in 2009.

Our world, how we live and work will be significantly different, and it will be driven by technological growth.  We will be working smarter, faster and remotely.  Sustainability, the buzz word  of the past few years, will be  part of our DNA  around how we manage our resources, in every sense of the word,  and our footprint.

Reducing carbon footprint means that virtual business will be the norm and business travel will become obsolete.  Perhaps a fur-lined handcuff work perk?   Hmmm… that means we need to think differently about how we build and maintain those crucial business relationships.  What does this mean for international travel?  For the explorers amongst us, will it mean that travel will be the playground for the wealthy, or will it have adapted to be accessible for all?

So, closer to home, what will Nelson/Tasman look like in 2060?  Go to  Nelson City Council website  to find out.  I’m proud and fortunate  to be part of such a progressive society!

In my vision of 2060 an anti-ageing solution will be available on store shelves, which will challenge the opener I use in my Time Management workshops… “Time management is a myth.  If we had any control over  time I’d still be 18 and 120lbs!”.  Yeah, right!

As  Spock would say “it’s life Jim, but not as we know it”. 

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