Adaptation Advantage: Leading in a Post Pandemic World
When Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley wrote The Adaptation Advantage (April 2020, Wiley) they did not realize how prescient their advice and predictions would become when the coronavirus global pandemic required an immediate and dramatic shift in work, learning, and leading. Overnight companies remapped supply chains, pivoted product lines, and transformed to distributed work-from-home organization. Entire university and school systems adopted virtual delivery exclusively, something many said they would never do. This new normal, or normal of now, requires a focus on culture, purpose, trust, psychological safety as we embark on the largest social experiment in human history. The virus has accelerated our future of work, expedited our human transformation to digital creating, and placed an even greater burden on leaders to inspire and motivate human potential. Even when the virus subsides, many of our new ways of working will remain and we will be the better for this forced transformation.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A New Leadership Imperative
We are shifting away from the “efficiency” cultures that defined the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions – those driven by the use of electricity and mass production, and computerization and automation of physical labor, respectively – towards a learning culture that will dominate the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Fourth will involve the merging of biological, cyber, and physical systems with underpinning artificial intelligence. In the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions, workers were reduced to depersonalized units of productivity with managers and leaders focused on driving optimal efficiency. This resulted in profound worker disengagement. As technology tools advance to offer greater efficiencies, within the shift from the Third to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we now need managers and leaders who inspire and cultivate human potential. Almost every research study on diversity (racial, cultural, gender, age) shows that greater diversity yields greater innovation, engagement, and financial returns. In this talk we will examine the shifting needs of leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, specifically through the lens of our systems of education, talent attraction, and promotion.
The Future Company: Culture and Capacity
The organization of work and focused goals have long been measured by the outputs – i.e. brands, products, services, and business models. These units of value created became our very own North Star. Accelerated change driven by exponential growth in technology as well as a hyper-connected and interdependent global economy has dramatically reduced the lifespan of a product, service, or business model. In this reality, we can no longer focus on the outputs, or the exhaust, and but should instead focus on the inputs: culture and capacity. Culture is the external expression of the brand and the internal operating systems of how the organization creates value. Capacity is the organization’s ability to respond to challenges. Waves of digital transformation and exponentially growing technological capability will demand continuous expansion of capacity. The companies that endure and thrive will be those that can clearly articulate and nurture their culture while continuously expanding their capacity.
The Robot Proof Myth: The Future of Work is Human
There is no killer app that will endure. A technical, single disciplinary skills list for creating a future-proof workforce does not exist. Using our factory pipeline to work where we merely substitute STEM, or any other skills, to create a robot-proof workforce is faulty logic. For example, Upwork is an online platform for freelance work with 12 million registered freelancers and five million registered clients. In early 2019, Upwork released its list of the 20 fastest growing skills – 75 percent of those skills were new to the index in the fourth quarter of 2018. From this, we can see that our old model of codifying and transferring existing skills and predetermined knowledge used to create a deployable workforce once worked in industrial revolutions but falls apart with this speed of change. Advancing technological capabilities will soon be able to achieve anything mentally routine or predictable – perhaps more than half of all current human work tasks. In this reality, the solution is both learning and adapting with a focus on uniquely human, nontechnical skills that enable more meaningful work through augmentation of computerized technologies. The future of work is human. Once we stop lunging at single disciplinary skill sets while and in fear of being replaced by technology, we can focus on developing our uniquely human skills and leverage rising technological capabilities to unleash the potential of humanity.
Leadership, Diversity, and the Identity Crisis
The only thing developing faster than technology is culture. The questions “Who are you?” “What do you do for a living?” and “Where are you from?” are becoming unmoored and less dependable tethers to our core identity. Demographics and social norms are rapidly shifting worldwide, and our once reliable occupational identities, once spanning multiple generations, must now endure a much longer career arc due to increased human longevity. In the developed world, we spend more than 50 percent of our time and attention online creating connections and community in areas different from our physical location. These shifts create friction and, for some, an identity crisis. Leadership through this crisis requires acknowledging and empathizing with individuals navigating these shifts to help them build the resilient and adaptive identities necessary to learn and thrive in the future of work. The future of work requires learning and adaptation, which is not possible if the identity is not resilient.