Every now and then, it’s a good idea to be curious beyond the day-to-day operational imperatives to consider what the world will look like in 30 or 40 years, and decide what we can do now to be part of that.
This month’s article gives you food for thought about the interesting topic of futurism – in researching this article, I was amazed and fascinated at what is happening out there, and have included a few of the lesser known developments in case you find them as fascinating as I do.
In a work context:
- As an organisation, you need to balance the demands of today with making time to prepare for the future
- How will you manage the demands of customers (whether they are internal or external) in the here and now, who are not thinking long term?
- With the increasing pace of uncertainty and change, how will you manage your own stress levels and support your employees, and keep yourself and them marketable?
A few examples of how our world is changing
The world is changing in ways we can’t imagine. Here are some of the developments that are already on their way:
This isn’t news, but maybe in 30 years’ time we won’t be allowed to drive our own car; maybe insurance companies will see driverless cars as safer.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
A great example of the power of AI is in the medical field: there are approximately 100 million scientific papers online. AI can read, understand and connect seemingly disparate studies, and suggest new experiments that might cure diseases.
There are lots of examples of how technology is automating more and more of what we do, in ways that seem inconceivable. As an organisation (and as an individual), how will you remain differentiated when technology replaces much of what we do today or takes us all to the same base level?
Organisations are becoming leaner, with a core group of internal expertise and resources brought in as and when they need them. This follows the film-making industry model, where there is a central team who corral external individuals to work on each project.
How can you quickly access the best external resources when you don’t keep everything in-house? (P.S. My contact details are at the end of this article! 😉 )
The office of tomorrow will continue to be more and more flexible, with people working anywhere and anytime, coming together for projects or social connection and then dispersing.
Through gene editing and immunotherapy, diseased bodies can be reprogrammed, regenerated or replaced. There are also stimulants that can boost the capacity of our brains – so those that can afford it will set themselves even further ahead. As the human body becomes better and better, teenagers and children born today have every chance of living to the age of 100 and beyond.
Health technology in the home
Almost everything about us can be monitored and responded to. For example, an ultrasonic toothbrush that analyses your saliva and recommends what you should eat for breakfast by the time you reach the kitchen.
Cities made from living, dynamic materials
It is predicted that the homes and offices of today will be obsolete within 40 years. New buildings will respond to the environment, by breathing in pollutants, cleaning wastewater, and using sunlight for energy and heat.
Global population growth
The global population could reach 10 billion within the next 50 years, so we will need cheap, green energy as well as more intensive farming in order to generate enough food for everyone.
You might be interested in this 10-minute video about global population growth by the late Hans Rosling (who had the enviable ability to make any stats seem interesting):
Addressing these challenges
If you want your organisation and yourself to continue to be competitive, you can’t bury your head in the sand. Here are some ideas that might help:
Research the trends
Don’t return all your profit to shareholders. Invest in exploring the future and watching the patterns as they unfold. See where you can carve out a new niche. Run pilot experiments so not all your eggs are stuck in the same basket (and of course, make it OK to fail so it’s safe for people to experiment, learn and iterate).
“Any useful idea needs to be ridiculous (not every ridiculous idea is useful!)”
Professor Jim Dator
Develop your company culture
Employees no longer expect a job for life. To attract the best employees, you have to create a differentiated and attractive culture where the most talented people will want to work.
Make it appealing for both an older and a younger workforce to join and stay, where they can be their most creative, productive and fulfilled selves.
Generation X (born early 1960s to early 1980s) are living longer and expect to work longer. They don’t have sufficient savings to retire at the traditional age, and anticipate a long, stimulating retirement. They want to keep making a contribution at work. They are less motivated by rapid career progression than the younger generation. If you offer them meaningful work, flexible hours, and remote working options, they are more likely to stick with your organisation.
Generation Y (born early 1980s to 2000) have different motivations. Only 11% define money as a measure of success, and only 7% work for Fortune 100 companies; they are more likely to be found in start-ups. In order to attract and retain generation Y employees, you need a start-up/entrepreneurial culture and a demonstrable way of showing your organisation’s (and their own) purpose.
There will be more about how to appeal to the different generations at work in next month’s article.
The work environment was established traditionally to maximise business imperatives such as coordination, productivity and control. Today, it demands more creativity. Teresa Amabile, professor of Entrepreneurial Management at Harvard Business School, suggests three components we should each have/develop to be our creative best:
Expertise: Knowledge, whether technical, procedural or intellectual
Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is an inner passion to solve the problem, rather than an external reward such as money
Creative thinking skills: How flexibly and imaginatively people approach problems
“Creativity gets killed much more than it gets supported.”
Focus on big ideas rather than incremental improvements
People are inspired by leaders who want to make a difference and take things to a higher level.
Mindfulness is defined as: “A quality of awareness that comes from paying attention to ourselves, others and the world around us in a certain way: with focused attention, in the present and without judgement.”
More and more research shows that stress is alleviated and productivity enhanced by practicing mindfulness. I’ve just started an eight-week mindfulness training programme, and will share my learnings when it’s completed.
9 tips for futurist leaders
These tips are inspired by the work of Graeme Codrington from TomorrowToday, with my own ideas added.
1. Let go of past formulas and ways of doing things. Recognise the importance of learning/unlearning and being adaptable
“The illiterate of the 21st-century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Alvin Toffler, futurist
2. Remember the importance of creating the right culture for your organisation
3. Don’t get buried in the operational aspect at the expense of seeing the bigger picture. As a leader, you must retain the ability to step back and survey the whole.
Ronald Heifetz offers a fantastic analogy in his ‘adaptive leadership’ model: When you are on the dancefloor, you are sucked into the operational aspect. When you are watching from the balcony, you are surveying the whole. So, every now and then, leave the dancefloor and go and stand on the balcony.
“Perspective is the guide and the gateway, and without it, nothing can be done well.”
Leonardo da Vinci
4. Continually ask questions, especially those that get to the heart of the situation. A good question is: “Is there a better way?”
5. Practice leadership agility (for more on this, please see the links below)
6. Nurture diversity in all its guises, including how people think, with their different approaches and opinions
7. Challenge the ‘impossible’ – where there’s a will, there’s a way
8. Set ‘quests’ to bring your strategy to life. Focus on purpose not profit, and collaboration not competition, so you can make the world a better place
“Remarkable organisations are built on a secret: They are on a quest to make the world a better place.”
9. Tell your story. Explain the purpose of what you are trying to achieve (this links to my recent article about sharing your Why not the What)
“Track your small wins to motivate big accomplishments.”
Whether you are a leader or individual contributor, here is a summary of six things to focus on:
- Make time to look into the future – if nothing else, it’s interesting!
- Be purpose-driven not profit-driven
- Consider what you can do to create a great organisational culture
- Get ‘on the balcony’
- Ask great questions more often, and talk less often. Practice leadership agility
- Make time to connect with people who think differently to you, especially those with natural curiosity and a collaborative mindset
This topic links to previous articles including:
- How to motivate employees today
- Leadership agility Part 1 & Part 2
- Culture and why it matters
- Being your best self
- Start with why
- How and why to collaborate effectively
- Psychological safety and team effectiveness
- Why you should celebrate your failures
Managing generations X, Y and Z.
Because of the pace of change, employees – especially generation Y – always have an eye out for their next job. This is nothing new, but it will accelerate. Even 20 years ago, McKinsey reported that people could have 10 or 15 jobs in their career. In future, it won’t be unusual for someone to have as many as 30 jobs throughout their lifetime. How do you motivate and retain the best of the best, and let another organisation get the rest?