This week I am reviewing my posts from 2015 and putting some of the core ideas together. Here are some thoughts on how the increasing automation of knowledge work can be addressed by a new approach to organizational leadership.
Any work that is routine will be automated. Jobs that only do routine work will disappear. Valued work, enhanced by our increased connectivity, will be based more on creativity than intelligence. The future of human work will require tacit knowledge and informal learning, and will create intangible value that cannot easily be turned into commodities. The future of work will be complex and this will be even more obvious in the next five years, as robots and software keep doing more complicated work. Just as people had to become literate to work in the 20th century workplace, now they will have to be creative, empathetic, and human: doing what machines cannot do.
Thinking for ourselves is the foundation of a new way of working. This requires an understanding of the whole environment in which we work. Artificial structures like jobs remove our ability to see the whole system. As we learn to think for ourselves, we must also connect with others. We are only as smart as our knowledge networks. But we do not need someone to manage our connections. The simple guideline of self-direction, often enabled by network technologies, can create beautifully complex relationships amongst interconnected people. This is already happening outside the organization. We need to bring it inside. For the first time, we have the technology for democracy at work. The writer, Gwynne Dyer, has observed that, “Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem”. This problem no longer exists.
Anything less than working on creating a better system for people is not leadership. It may be self-aggrandizement, vanity, or even custodial work, but it is not leadership. Good leaders prepare for their departure. All that is left when they depart are the structures and systems they have helped put in place. The measure of a leader is his or her legacy. If they get a performance review, it should be given years after they leave.
Those in leadership and management positions today must find ways to nurture creativity and critical thinking. Management must set the initial example of transparency and working out loud. In addition, self-governance is required at all levels. When there is no one to defer work to, everyone sets an example through their actions. In this environment everyone is learning and everyone is teaching by example. As a result, work gets done very quickly. From this foundation, today’s organizations can prepare for a new world of work. Machines will continue to replace jobs but people can create new work roles that are creative and social, beyond the reach of automation.