Last month innovation strategist Heather McGowan gave an interesting talk at the Amplify Festival on "the future of work." I've had the pleasure of working with Heather in the past when launching the Strategic Design MBA program at Philadelphia University. Here, I've captured some of Heather's top of mind on what needs to be in place for the ways we will need to work.
Heather, just to provide some context, what's the impetus of your thoughts on "the future of work"?
The world of work has changed dramatically, and higher education is not prepared and not preparing graduates to navigate. In the last decade I have focused increasingly on the future of work and on how higher education has to prepare workers. I have since advised college/university presidents and corporate leaders on how to prepare for and adjust to these new realities.
So what is the Amplify Festival and how did you come to be part of it?
The Amplify Festival, now in its 10th year, is a weeklong event created and sponsored by AMP Limited, a leading financial service provider in Australia and New Zealand, as a learning event for their employees, but it's also open to the public. Its founder and executive producer Annalie Killian created the Amplify Festival because she believes "in today's rapidly changing world, learning must be part of work."
This year the theme was Rethink Everything. Annalie and her team selected 32 speakers from around the world and chose topics like the future of work, the future of money, and reimagining the economy (videos of the talks can be seen here). I was impressed with how they weaved together topics to offer a synthesis of the shifting landscape of life and work. Annalie approached me to be a speaker after reading some of my blogs. I was selected to synthesize, conceptualize, and visualize the impact of accelerated change on the economy, jobs, skills, and education.
Why did you choose the topic of the "future of work"?
I became interested in accelerated change and the future of work years ago as I noticed the rising collaborative economy coupled with graduate unemployment and underemployment and an overall shift away from the old-economy paradigm of preparing graduates to be experts in single-career trajectories to one of engagements that require rapid cycles of learning and the leveraging of that learning.
It's safe to say that a worker's value is no longer primarily or exclusively about what she knows but rather the speed at which she can learn and apply it--this is a dramatic and unsettling shift for many. But this shift actually fits quite well with some domains such as design, the social sciences, and entrepreneurship where one is taught fundamental tools and methods of inquiry and exploration, analysis, synthesis, and interpretation.
What are the top takeaway ideas you want to leave people with?
You simply cannot stop learning. As Ruth Finkelstein of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center says, "One dose of education that you get in the first 20 years of your life simply couldn't be adequate for the next 90 years."In some respects, your resume is irrelevant in that you will not be hired or engaged based upon what you have done but rather what you can do.
This is a startling reality for many individuals. I think books like Dorie Clark's Reinventing You and Reid Hoffman's The Start-Up of You both hit a chord, because there are a lot of people out there scrambling to retool their skills to fit with rapidly changing hiring and work environments. Those educated with the old-economy expectations are understandably frustrated. Also, companies will increasingly rethink the essential roles they pay workers to fit into or take on, having fewer long-term "marriages" and focusing more on discrete skills and outcomes as they both hire and outsource. This becomes complicated as companies that have expanded their outsourcing to minimize spending are concerned with outsourcing their IP. I'm developing views of the types of work roles or engagements that move well beyond the two existing stark categories of full-time employees and vendors or freelancers.
What do you think we are taking for granted or overlooking in our "current state" that we need to be more mindful of?
A lot comes down to how we define talent, focus skills and learning, and structure compensation and protections. But I'm certain of one thing: Jobs, as we knew them, are over! Learning is now--it has to be-- irrefutably lifelong.
Design thinking, meaning the methods of inquiry to employ empathy to discover new human needs and divergent thinking to propose a variety of solutions, is found in some design professions as well as in some social sciences. This coupled with an entrepreneurial outlook are the new, essential core skills. All of this points to a human resource capability that is far more strategic than transactional with a likely emergence of chief learning officers responsible for the company's growing knowledge base and strategic agility.
Further, we need new categories for labor that go beyond the binary buckets of employee and contingent worker--we need a new social contract to offer protections to the rising freelance populations. Companies in the collaborative economy, like Uber and Airbnb, are scaling very quickly as individuals can find employment and income from each other briskly, but they are doing so without typical protections provided by business for illness, disability, and health care, and are devoid of sharing of massive amounts of equity in the collaborative economy. For those fortunate enough, however, to have the talent, motivation, skills, and organization, there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur because the barriers to creation, distribution, and even capital have largely been removed.
I'm a big proponent of making creativity more central to the way we strategize. What is the role of creativity in the models you are building out?
Creativity is essential to creating new value. I am a big fan of Sir Ken Robinson, who has been looking at the devastating impacts of education focused only on the left brain. School administrators have removed music and the arts from the curricula to focus entirely on subjects of certainty, learning that we can test and prove. Ironically, in reaction to this, PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores in the United States have been dropping each time we add more standardized tests to the curriculum. With the rise of the robots as a supplement or replacement to accomplishing work tasks, anything mentally or physically routine or predictable will be automated.
Unless we shift dramatically back toward inclusion of creative pursuits, we are educating our people to compete with robots and not training and developing those skills that humans have generally performed better or to the exclusion of robots, such as pattern recognition.
I don't think it is a coincidence that some of our most innovative entrepreneurs today, including the founders of Wikipedia, Google, and Amazon, all were educated in Montessori schools, where students are taught to explore, inquire, and create. Within higher education, our first conferred degree was the philosophy major with an explicit focus on the pursuit of knowledge. Later, due to our need to build compulsory education, the education degree became the largest major. Today it is business. Business degrees, with the focus on "business administration," are about 20 percent of the undergraduate and graduate degrees conferred. It is unclear what value these degrees will have long-term. A focus on certainty over creativity is coming at our peril.
All great points! Any closing thoughts?
We need to broaden our vision and focus. Focusing only on what is or rather has to be accomplished in the near term through the work force today is very, very limited. Industry disruption cycles are happening faster and faster. As such, this accelerated change is requiring that we adopt the 70-20-10 perspective famously used by Google. What next and what if may be even more important than what is.
You can follow Heather on Twitter: @heathermcgowan