50 answers about the future of work

Don’t read this in one sitting, it’s long.

Health check to David D’Souza for prompting me to think about these questions because of his 50 questions about the future of work.

Let’s do this.

  1. What roles or tasks can’t be automated?

The one’s where you require human compassion / emotional intelligence. You can digitise a counselling relationship with a clever automaton. It doesn’t mean you should. You can train a machine to recognise human emotions based on body signals – that doesn’t mean it could respond in a way which builds and enhances a relationship.

2. What roles should be automated?

Wait, did I just answer this in the previous one?

3. Financial markets, left to their own devices, aren’t good at accommodating a greater social purpose – do we need to take more of an interventionist stance to ensure greater societal benefit?

I don’t understand enough about financial markets to know whether or not they already have a social purpose built in to them or not. Also, as with all the frustratingly annoying approaches to these things come about, what are we talking about when we say social purpose? One person’s moral crusade is another’s pain in the arse campaign.

4. At what point do we stop running out of corporate scandals? How can we get more proactive at asking difficult questions of organisations as employees and consumers?

I’m curious to know if we can design organisations and leadership in a way which means you can’t make a bad decision. That is, can we design in a set of principles or standards or something other which means that no decision can ever be a bad one because of the checks and balances are in place that omit human bias.

5. Does an organisation with a social purpose have an advantage or a limitation?

It’s only an advantage if people believe in it. If the organisation’s purpose is to unashamedly make money, and you are ethically doing it, is that any worse or better than an organisation with a strong social purpose such as the work of Oxfam or Shelter?

It’s possible to still be a good person and not have to work for an organisation which has a social purpose at its heart.

6.  What work might be most impacted by changes in international border policy or digitisation making borders redundant?

I don’t think I understand that question – I don’t think you understand that question.

What work might be most impacted by digitisation making borders redundant? Is what I’m going to answer.

At what point does a country’s law and order stop being relevant compared to global law and order? Does the UK need to have it’s own law and order, when law and order pretty much means the same thing in most countries across the world? If we lived against a common set of global standards, do borders then become redundant? Is that an answer to your question?

7. Who is accountable for my wellbeing?

Primarily, the individual. But the problem we face is that there is almost too much conflicting advice. The evidence, however, points to simple answers. Your health, is a result of what you do and what you eat. If what you do and eat are positive and supportive to your health, you’ll be fine. If they’re not, you’re in trouble.

Also, you might need people around you who help you make those decisions because you’ve lost the capacity to make healthy decisions.

8. If my employer is responsible for making sure I’m not under undue stress – then am I responsible for managing my diet to ensure I’m delivering peak performance?

This questions doesn’t make sense.

You’re always responsible for your own diet. An elite athlete doesn’t rely on chance, they examine every facet of their life to be elite performers.

And your employer is responsible for making sure you’re not under endue stress. These two things aren’t exclusively related as you’ve suggested in the question.

9. Can you automate creativity – and if so will we still only feel something is creative if it is produced by a human?

Creativity can be programmed. You can programme a computer to learn different artistry and for it to create something itself. That is creativity.

Where humans excel at this, though, is to break from conformity, from norms, from boundaries, from algorithms and create something new and unexpected. A computer is only ever defined by its parameters. Even AI will be subject to parameters, thus limiting its ability to be truly creative.

10. How do we balance the concepts of diversity with the drive for cultural fit?

You keep meshing things together.

Cultural fit is an outdated concept. People still trying to recruit people who are a cultural fit, aren’t looking for diversity. One is about conformity and the other is about actively seeking new and different ideas and points of view.

11. Is the Gen X,Y,Z & millennial terminology helpful for understanding or lazy stereotyping?

It depends on what we’re talking about. If I’m looking at generational differences, it might help me to understand why one generation has an undue influence over another in voting habits. If we’re talking about human motivation then it’s lazy stereotyping.

12. What’s the point of work? To get happiness? Make a difference? Recognition? Will the point of work change and how might it do so?

See all those extra words after the first question? That’s called leading an influencing.

The point of work, as Perry Timms said, is to provide.

The point of work will not change unless there’s a fundamental shift in what human existence is for. When work becomes about fulfilling personal ambitions and aims without the need to provide, that’s when it changes to be something better.

13. How do we step away from a 9-5 working week construct together?

Some people do this willingly. Getting out of the rat race. Even you did it for a while.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the 9-5 construct. It can be exactly what people need. What’s wrong is the dogmatic practices that go with the 9-5 construct and not understanding how flexibility enhances working lives.

14. How much longer will income and wage inequality be tolerated by those on the wrong side of the stats?

For as long as there are people who misuse their power to wield influence over others. We are only facing inequality because we have built hierarchies largely based on outdated command and control thinking and based on privilege of the rich.

As above, if we completely rethink work and what we’re doing and why, so that work becomes about fulfilling personal (and social) ambitions, then inequality goes away.

15. How many more years of casual sexism in workplaces do we have before that dies a death?

We’re really only just understanding how prevalent casual sexism is. Explicit sexism, as Owen Ferguson said, is still a problem for many people. We’re a long way off this correcting itself. Best guess? 100 years.

16. If whole chunks of your life are viewable on the internet will we become more tolerating of mistakes at work?

Again with the meshing.

I can live an open life on the internet, that doesn’t mean people will be acceptant of my mistakes at work. That’s about an attitude and mindset where making mistakes is seen as a part of life that we can’t escape. Some industries have to have an impossibly high benchmark of never making mistakes – surgeons, pilots and the likes. But even there we accept that mistakes can and do happen. We can’t ever account for everything – life just has a way of presenting curveballs which we can only ever sit back and accept.

17. The image of everyone working on the beach is an attractive one – but what does this mean for introverts or people with mobility issues?

Is this where VR comes into being?

Introversion doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy being on the beach – it’s about where we seek our energy from. Even amongst a crowd of people, you can feel alone. And just because you have mobility issues, doesn’t mean you can’t make accommodations for you to enjoy the beach if that’s where you want to go.

By the way, that’s kind of a loaded ideal.

18. Do I own my daa or am I just a data point?

Both?

19. You can already automate ‘congratulations’ messages on Linkedin. How much effort can you remove from a gesture before it becomes meaningless?

I think of this the other way. With the Amazon Dash, they’ve essentially taken away the meaningless act of needing to buy toiletries and other essential items that no-one cares about. At the push of a button your problem is resolved. If that’s the case, theoretically, we’re free to then pursue other more healthy and beneficial activities.

So, if an automated congratulations message comes through, yes it’s become meaningless, but also it’s a recognition of how little many of those connections matter in and of themselves. I can choose to follow up any one of those messages where I see the genuine intention or my own intention.

20. If I can outsource work cheaply to another country is that simply the free market in action (and an easy decision) or should I care more about the wellbeing of people I already employ?

Free market.

And also, you should care about the wellbeing of people you employ. But they’re not exclusively related.

21. If work is to become more transient (the gig economy) then who takes responsibility for long term capability building of people? If I’m only with an organisation for 6 months then why would they invest in me?

We’re also just on the cusp of realising that our own learning and development and capability building was only ever in my hands. For all the succession plans and talent plans and the such like, it’s really only ever happened because of people’s ambitions – both stated and unspoken.

You can continue to invest in yourself if a company won’t.

22. The more we understand about the mind the easier it is to manipulate it. How do we build in ethical safeguards within organisations?

See answer to question 4.

23. How much do we really know about the organisations that curate the world’s information and present it back to you and how much do you need to know?

Sometimes we’re too smart for our own good. Zuckerberg created something amazing with Facebook. I doubt even he realises the true extent to which he holds data of billions of people, how to present it back and how much they need to know. It’s just too much data – when we talk big data, that’s big data right there.

Tesco, on the other hand, create amazingly targeted use of their customer data.

24.  Is happiness a legitimate business and economic outcome?

No.

Happiness is only ever a transient affair. It is fleeting and too difficult to grasp hold of. But you can experience enjoyment. You can experience deep satisfaction in your work. You can experience a sense of support and trust with those you work with. You can feel sense of community and social good. When those things happen, we’re all better for it – productivity wise, economically and personally.

25. What is the best way for groups to create influence and make a difference in a digital age?

By having genuine open debate. Same as it always has been. Digital tools just give us a way to get out voices heard in a different way.

26. Why do organisational IT solutions still tend to be more expensive yet less useful than consumer solutions?

Because most companies still think they’re going to get attacked by bad people, and this happens on a regular basis. They have things to protect.

When we have design organisations and companies to focus on communal good, societal benefit, where IP doesn’t matter and no-one’s making a profit off anyone else, that’s when we won’t care about IT solutions and their expense.

27. Does the age of automation mean that a universal basic payment to all is required?

No. Universal basic payment is a beautiful ideal. We can do that.

28. When we do save time where does it go? For all the automation and efficiency I don’t hear many people saying they have more time to relax.

What we’re finding is that people don’t know how to make the best use of their time. For all the time On-Demand TV has saved me from going to Blockbusters, I still don’t use that 1/2 hour any more productively. We do with time what we place on the value of our lives.

29. What aspects of our behaviour is it appropriate to legislate for? Is restricting access to company communications after hours unnecessarily interfering or saving us from ourselves?

Different questions. Meshing. You and me need to talk about this approach to questions.

We legislate for those parts of behaviour where law and order are in question.

30. Will you ever want a consoling hug from a robot?

I dunno. Maybe. I remember back in A Level Psychology reading about this 11yr old girl who had never known human interaction. She couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t feed or wash herself, and knew nothing of human compassion. If a robot were her carer, would she know the difference?

31. Why are so many organisations already designed and led as though the workers are robots?

Because some group of people started a myth that emotions are bad for business and you can whip people to perform. So they did. The rest, is history.

32. What does not having to leave your home to work, socialise or shop do to fitness levels over time?

Kind of depends on what your life is like generally? If you have children, you’re kind of forced to be physically active. If you value physical health, you’ll find time to be physically fit and healthy. If you don’t, you’ll just be more unfit than most and most likely die early.

33. What are the chances the world left by this generation will be better than the one left to us?

By nearly all accounts, the world is a better place today than it was 20 years ago / 30 years ago / 40 years ago / 1000 years ago. It’s an upward trend. Sure, we’re facing some particular challenges of our time, but humans have consistently found a way to make life better for their future generations. We just do that because we’re kind of awesome like that.

34. Do children entering school need to read or write – or will those be surplus skills by the team they leave school?

We all need to read. That’s how we learn.

Writing in the future will look differently. My kids can use a keyboard just as well as they can write by hand. Soon enough, they just won’t need to do that. I’m ok with that.

35. What are the issues that we are sleepwalking towards now that we will regret not taking action on sooner? (thanks to Siobhan Sheridan at the NSPCC for this)

Immediately? Digital inclusion. Too many people just unaware of how the interwebs can help life be better in so many ways.

Later? Our overall health. We’re discovering unknown ways that people aren’t being healthy – not because new illnesses are arising, but because health is being compounded by so many things. Too many opinions and not enough evidence for what makes life better.

36. What are the opportunities that we will regret taking?

Wow. There’s a question.

We all have our own ambitions and motivations. As all the self-help writers will acclaim, it’s your own self-limiting beliefs and opportunities that you’ll always have regret for.

37. How much of our enhanced technical capability will be channeled into solving societal problems and how much into increasing profits?

Are you looking for like an exact figure here?

Some people and companies are doing this bringing together already. Others don’t know how to. Other’s are probably trying to figure it out. Some will be happy making profits for their own personal gain.

38. How do you get a mortgage in the ‘Gig Economy’?

I didn’t even know you couldn’t if you were in the gig economy.

39. Does the Sharing Economy really share – or does it just collect a smaller margin from a larger volume of workers that are dependent? If we called it the Snaring Economy would it be such a popular concept?

One of those times a question just goes right by you and you move on to the next one.

40. When Prof Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and others describe AI as a potentially extinction level threat why do people think they are overstating it? When did we start thinking we had a better grasp on big issues than Stephen Hawking?

People need to feel in control. When someone like Stephen Hawking is clearly so smart, those who don’t want to lose that control lash out in all sorts of ways – one of those being willful ignorance. We can’t escape that.

41. How confident are you really that the Financial Services industry is now running as it should – and what are the knock on risks given the fragility of the world economy?

Before I undestood how devastating it was for the Financial Services to fuck things up, I didn’t care about what they were doing. We’re no better at making this better. We’re slow to learn and quick to get back to making profits.

42. How can we help design roles and organisations that make the most of people?

By understanding humans are messy and complex and all things wonderful and brilliant. There’s no difference in getting the best out of a Creative Director to getting the best out of an Accountant or a Street Cleaner. We give the best of what we think we can. Organisations have a part to play in that where they help those roles be amazing. Unfortunately, that utopia also demands we have unlimited resources.

43. What are the implications of the current level of gender imbalance within the tech sector over the next decade?

Why the focus on the tech sector? There’s gender imbalance in lots of industries and sectors. As President Obama said in an interview recently, until governments start actively supporting and promoting a range of industries and sectors, we’ll always have natural movement in the more prominent areas. We’re facing challenges within tech because it was never articulate that women could do it too, until they did and now all those smart men have to deal with more than just being better than other men. It’s complicated stuff.

44. Much of the technology we utilise on a day to day basis would struggle to meet most people’s definition of an ethical supply chain. When do we start making different purchasing decisions?

Hmm.

45. What are the best sources of information on the changing world of work and how can we ensure the independent voices are heard when organisations with the biggest budgets will be looking to exploit this space?

You know, quite of a few of us respondents aren’t happy with this whole multiple questions thing.

Our academics are producing all sorts of brilliant work on the changing world of work. Not just those from universities, but those companies with research budgets too. We’re learning more and more about how to design workplaces in so many different ways, and as Julie Drybrough said recently in her blog, it’s all about relationships.

Independent voices get heard because of the value of their content. Dell completely surprised traditional PC retailers because they allowed customers to talk to them directly about their product without having to buy an off-the-shelf solution. They produced something of value. No matter how big your budget, that will still happen. Facebook didn’t know they needed Instagram or WhatsApp or Oculus Rift until they bought them.

46. People frequently talk about wanting more equality and higher living standards for others – yet how many people would give up, for instance, 25% of their salary in order to improve the living standards of others?

This could happen, if there were systems of fairness, open and transparency built in to how that works. If people become suspicious if their 25% is actually helping others improve their living standards, that’s when you question why it happens.

This is a good question.

47. How will we filter content effectively in the future and how open to abuse is that filtering process?

Wait, I’m meant to filter content?

48. How do the business role models of the future act?

Much like they do today and much like they did in the past. Some are humanitarians, some are philanderers, some are philanthropists and some are greedy.

49. People cry when their pets die. What will be the first piece of technology that you cry over the loss of?

I’ve never had a pet so I’ve never cried over one. No, that’s a lie. We had 4 fish. They died. I didn’t cry.

If I had a loss of limb, and tech enabled me to function fully again, and I lost it? I’d probably cry over that.

50. If you had one contribution to make to making things just a little better over the next decade what would it be?

To have this kind of ongoing open and healthy dialogue.

Thanks, David for these questions. Some were tougher than others to answer. I probably should have spaced my time to respond. I hope they add to where others may have offered different responses.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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