Sixty-one years ago, when the first issue of Management magazine was produced, Sydney Holland was Prime Minister; our troops were serving in Malaysia and Korea; our prosperity seemed guaranteed as Britain’s food basket and our cricket team was dismissed for an almost unbelievable 26 runs in the second test against England in 1955. So, in another 60 years where will New Zealand be? What sort of leaders will it need and what sort of businesses and teams will they be leading?
There is a big future waiting out there. We just don’t, as yet, know what shape it will take. But there are plenty of organisations, futurists and thinkers offering different scenarios on the future of work, of leadership and of our society.
In 2014 PWC produced The future of work: A journey to 2022 where 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US give their views on the future of work and what it means for them. Some 66 percent saw the future of work as a world full of possibility and believed they will be successful with 53 percent thinking technological breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next five to 10 years as will resource scarcity and climate change; shifts in global economic power; demographic shifts and rapid urbanisation.
“What cuts across these developments are the push and pull of individualism versus collectivism and corporate integration versus business fragmentation. The competition between these forces is creating what we’ve identified as three scenarios (‘worlds’) for the future of work,” says the PWC study. These are:
- Large corporates turning into mini-states and taking on a prominent role in society.
- Specialisation creating the rise of collaborative networks.
- The social and environmental agenda forcing fundamental changes to business strategy.
- PWC partner Scott Mitchell told Management that New Zealand leaders, looking forward need to consider:
- Ability to lead and manage in organisations with less rigid, traditional organisational hierarchies.
- The need to develop more multifaceted employee value propositions, including flexibility, CSR and work-life balance.
- The ability to harness the impact of big data and analytics in all aspects of running the business.
Leadership futurist, Cheryl Doig, the director of Think Beyond says if you are going to look 60 years out by then we might well have seen a merge of humanity and technology, which could even happen in the next 20 years. And our leaders in both business and government are going to need to be outward thinking, flexible and creative.
She told Management exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics and synthetic biology, are one of the key drivers of change of the nature of work and on what sort of leaders will be needed.
This sort of exponential growth curve means the pace of change becomes more rapid and things start to converge and reconfigure. She pointed to the Singularity University (which co-incidentally took part in the SingularityU New Zealand Summit in Christchurch in mid- November) which has a mission to “educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”.
Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk caution about the dark side of AI and Doig says leadership in this new age needs to understand both the possibilities the technology brings and the dark side of it and can’t ignore the challenges.
As technology increases and learns from us, there is always the danger for leaders of the “filter bubble” meaning as you research an issue, the technology can, and already does, filter the responses you see.
“It’s important for leaders to understand that technology has implications of reducing their understanding of the wider world.”
Part of leadership is ensuring you get a wide world view, she says, pointing to “resistance reading” or reading materials opposed to your own thinking.
“With the increasing complexity and rapidity of change, leaders are often in a grey space, where there are multiple options rather than one certain pathway.” She sees that in the future the ability to manage polarities and look at multiple ideas will be important and this is cognitively more demanding.
She also sees the ability to collaborate as key to the future and skills such as creativity and empathy as being important for leaders.
As technology increases its capability and becomes cheaper and as automation increases, this means that to be human is the only special thing we have, says Doig.
But she points to Ross Intelligence and its robot lawyer that helps human lawyers with research which is not just pulling data, it’s synthesising data and learning.
And as machine learning increases, it may get to the point where there is less distinction between what machines and humans do.
“While there are some dangers with this there are also many opportunities. For me, the future space is looking at all the possibilities and working toward the preferred future.” And that is why people, and leaders in particular, have to have an outward-looking mind.
Business and Government, she says, often work in a linear manner but the future is becoming non-linear which means more flexibility and creativity is needed from leaders.
But a heartening note from a recent McKinsey & Co report Where Machines Could Replace Humans and Where they Can’t (yet) which says that “the hardest activities to automate with currently available technologies are those that involve managing and developing people (9 percent automation potential) or that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work (18 percent).”