As our markets and technologies get more complex, we need new models to get work done. For instance, we know that creative work can yield more innovation, yet our workplaces usually stifle creativity. Many of our practices are still premised on work being simple or complicated. Simple systems are easily knowable, whereas complicated systems, while not simple, are still knowable through analysis. These can be easily managed. However, complex systems are not fully knowable, though they can be partially understood through interaction with them. This is antithetical to many workplace control protocols.
Every day, jobs and work are getting automated and outsourced. If companies want to remain competitive in the global market, they need to focus on complex and creative work. Much of complex work is in exception-handling and when exceptions are the rule, rigid rules must become the exception.
We have to understand complex adaptive systems and develop work structures that let us focus our efforts on learning as we work in order to continuously develop next practices. In a knowledge-intensive and creative workplace the role of leadership becomes supportive and inspirational rather than directive. Artificial boundaries that limit collaboration and communication only serve to drag projects, and companies, down and create opportunities for more agile competitors.
A new mindset toward work is required. Frameworks like hyper-connected pattern-seeking or networked unmanagement can promote new perspectives on what valued work really should be. This can be fostered in a culture of perpetual Beta. Perpetual Beta means we accept never getting to the final release of our work, and that our learning will never stop. Organizations need to realize they will never reach some future point where everything stabilizes and they don’t need to learn or do anything new.
In additional to a new mindset, workers need autonomy. But many are not ready for it. We are trained early in life to look to authority for direction in learning and work. The idea that there is a right answer or an expert with the right answer begins in our schools. Too often, the message from the workplace continues to be that good employees wait for their managers to tell them what to do. This is counter-productive in dealing with complexity and working in perpetual Beta. It also destroys creativity. When we move away from a linear “design it first, then build it” mindset, we can then engage everyone in critical and systems thinking. Workers must be passionate, adaptive, innovative, and collaborative. Autonomy is the just beginning.
Fostering autonomy starts by looking at work differently. For example, dropping the notion of being paid for time is one way to start this change. An hourly wage implies that people are interchangeable. But no two minds are the same. Being paid for time fosters neither autonomy nor agility. There are many other human resource practices should be questioned and dropped, such as job competencies, or one-size-fits all training programs.
The new networked workplace requires both collaboration and cooperation. Complex problems cannot be solved alone. Tacit knowledge flows in networks through social learning. Learner autonomy is a foundation for effective social learning. It is the lubricant for a more agile organization. Agility becomes a necessity as we deal with increasing complexity. In order to develop the necessary emergent practices to handle complexity we therefore need to cultivate the diversity and autonomy of each worker. We also must foster richer and deeper connections which can be built through meaningful conversations. This is social learning in the workplace.
Change and complexity are becoming the norm in our work. We already see this with increasing numbers of freelancers and contractors. Any work where complexity is not the norm will be of diminishing value. Embracing complexity, and even chaos, is where the future of work lies.
As traditional core activities get automated or outsourced, almost all high value work will be done at the outer edge of organizations. At the fuzzy edge of the organization life is complex and even chaotic. On this periphery, where things are less homogenous, there is more diversity and more opportunities for innovation. Individuals, project teams and organizations have to move operations to the edge to continue learning and developing. In this century a greater percentage of workers will be moving to the edge. The core will be managed by very few internal staff. What does this mean for management? No matter what model one prefers, it will have to be more open, networked and cooperative. Are you ready to move to the edge?