The new work

All work today can be reduced to just four basic types of jobs, according to Lou Adler. His company identified four prototypical jobs after developing thousands of job descriptions over the years.

Everything starts with an idea. This is the first of the four jobs – the Thinkers. Builders convert these ideas into reality. This the second job. Improvers make this reality better. This is the third job. Producers do the work over and over again, delivering quality goods and services to the company’s customers in a repeatable manner. This is the fourth job. And then the process begins again with new ideas and new ways of doing business being developed as the old ones become stale.

While I am not a fan of job competencies, I think this article can tell us something about the future of work in general. For instance, Gary Hamel identified obedience, diligence, and intellect as industrial/information economy competencies. Today, initiative, creativity, and passion are essential skills for what Hamel describes as the Creative Economy. I view this new creative economy as a property of the Network Era which is bringing about the rise of knowledge artisans. So I began to map Hamel’s essential work competencies against Adler’s job types.

Another factor in the changing nature of work is the changing perception of value. In the creative economy, more value is coming from intangible assets than tangible ones. For example, the S&P stock index in 2009 was 81% intangible assets, up from 17% in 1975. I recently discussed intangibles and organizational dynamics with Jay Deragon, as part of the Smarter Companies initiative. As the Smarter Companies website explains:

Despite its enormous importance today, most businesspeople lack the basic knowledge and tools needed to optimize intangible capital. This leads to blocked learning, suboptimal performance, stifled innovation and stagnant growth.

Learning to better deal with intangibles is the next challenge for today’s organizations and workers. I developed the following graphic to describe the four job types in relation to 1) work competencies and 2) economic value. It appears that an economy that creates more intangible value will require a greater percentage of Thinkers and Builders.

jobs value competenciesAs we move into a post-job economy, the difference between labour and talent will become more distinct. Producers and Improvers will continue to get automated, at the speed of Moore’s law. Those lacking enough ‘Talent’ competencies may get marginalized. I think there will be increasing pressure to become ‘Thinkers + Builders’, similar to what  Cory Doctorow describes as Makers in his fictional book about the near future.

What is relatively certain is that ‘Labour’ competencies, which most education and training still focuses on, will have diminishing value. How individuals can improve their Thinking and Building competence should be the focus of anyone’s professional development plan. How organizations can support Thinking and Building should be the focus of Organizational Development and Human Resources departments. While Producing and Improving will not go away, they are not where most economic value will be generated in the Network Era.

As with all models, this one simplifies reality, but it may be useful for thinking about the future of work.

15 Responses to “The new work”

  1. Daniel

    Dear Harold, good afternoon.
    My name’s Daniel, and I’m from Brazil. I’ve just found your website, and found it very useful for me, because I’m taking a Master Degree on Learning Organization at a University here in Brazil. Your article was very instructive, and straight to the point. I liked the way you discussed on the theme “The new work”. I’ll follow your blog daily. I’ve created a blog myself, and I hope you don’t mind if I translate some of your articles into Portuguese and post them in my blog. I think it would be a great partnership.
    Yours Faithfully

  2. Jim brooks

    Don’t undervalue the producers and improvers. Without them, the process has no depth. With all attention on thinkers and builders, who implements and refines? Rome may have been built on an idea, but it took tons and tons of concrete.

  3. Daniel

    Hi again Harold,
    Thanks for warning me about the copyright. Actually I’m aware of it, and I always state authorship to any article I post in my blog and papers. Sorry about the word “parternship” I referred to in the previous reply, I didn’t mean an “official” parternship, I meant that translating some of your articles into Portuguese I would be spreading and sharing your ideas with a great number of Portuguese speaking people that can’t read English, but are interested in this field of knowledge. To avoid any misunderstanding I’m used to put the link to the original text in the end, so the translation can be checked and people can get to know the author.
    So, don’t worry about any misuse of your texts. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from your experience shared in your blog.
    Thanks a lot.

  4. Dave Gray

    I’m not sure how useful this construct is. For example consider a software developer. Is she a thinker, builder, improver or producer? Probably all of the above. An author is responsible for both the ideas and their implementation. What about a support person in a call center? Historically we might say he runs a repeatable process, but increasingly we want him to show creativity and initiative working within constraints, and to help us improve the system. A soldier? Used to be that the job was about following orders, but increasingly it requires creativity and initiative as well as execution.

    I took a look at the Adler article and have a hard time seeing it as anything I could find useful in recruiting or hiring.


    • Harold

      Adam Johnson left this comment on G+

      “I think that companies/people who can stay as close to a thinking/building loop as possible will make themselves extremely valuable – a matter of being able to think at a meta level, be creative in forming some product and then using the lessons from creation to renew that cycle.”

      Dave, I think the construct may be more useful for looking at the organization. For example, are most of your people focused on Thinking/Building or Producing/Improving? Companies with a focus on Talent versus Labour competencies may be able to adapt faster. As I state in the post, I think organizations should help people develop more Talent competencies. It’s good for individuals and organizations.

  5. Lía

    Interesting conversation, thanks!
    I think that it will be important that all the people on the organisation could think/feel/see themselves with the possibility to act these roles, and that the organisation can give to them the opportunity to live and evolve in a diverse and self-regulated way.
    We (yet) divide/fracture the reality in order to describe the object. I think, our work is to see this post as systemic thinkers and invite “all” the people at work to transform (this is the hard task) their habit to identify themselves with that kind of job-categories and start to open to other ways “to be worker”.

  6. actu du web

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I
    provide credit and sources back to your site? My
    blog site is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would certainly benefit from a lot of
    the information you provide here. Please let me know if this
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  7. Alexander Hayes

    Hi Harold,

    This thread of comments (and requests for reuse) is an interesting juxtaposition with your article:)

    It shows that content creators and thinkers are highly prized and you sit firmly in that rare bracket and breed.

    • Harold

      I’m used to people re-using my work, Alex, often without attribution, but that is the price of working on the Net. I am (still) hoping that in the long run, sharing is the best policy 😉


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