If Tom Petty wrote a song about the the future workplace it might be called Freestyling,
“now I’m free…freestyling.”
In Average is Over, Tyler Cowen compares freestyle chess to how people might work in the future.
Freestyle chess is a type of chess where players use computers and other people to support their decisions in making chess moves. Freestyle chess teams are the most difficult to beat.
Collaborating with people and using tools to get the job done – sound familiar?
Complicated vs Complex Work
Harold Jarche writes frequently about how automation is replacing routine work in complicated environments. If tasks can be automated, they will be.
If humans are adding no value to tasks, they won’t be part of this work and we should expect the rate of automation to get even faster because we are in the second half of the chess board.
This doesn’t mean all work will be replaced by automation (machines), it means that people will add the most value to work in complex environments.
A simple example of complicated vs complex work is sending a rocket to the moon (complicated) and raising a child (complex). Take a moment to think about the differences of both of these tasks.
As Harold says “the future is complex, implicit and intangible.”
In the future, people who will be most successful in complex environments will be those that can work well with smart machines. There are other factors but in this post I’m focusing on working with smart machines.
Cowen says that, “If you and your skills are a complement to the computer, your wage and labor market prospects are likely to be cheery. If your skills do not complement the computer, you may want to address that mismatch.”
Merriam-Webster defines freestyle as “a competition (such as a swimming race) in which the competitors are allowed to use different styles or methods.” There is freestyle skiing, dancing, rapping, swimming, etc.
I think were also seeing “freestyle working” and this trend will continue.
Complex environments are ripe for freestyle work. In freestyle, there are no repeatable processes. It’s an open and emergent environment.
If something can be repeated or figured out, it will be automated and become complicated or simple work.
Cowen says that people who have the skill set to master freestyle chess will be the type of people most valued in the coming workplace and makes a few key points:
- Human and computer teams are the best teams
- The person working with the smart machine doesn’t have to be an expert in the task
- Knowing one’s limit is more important that it used to be
Those that train with and learn from machines will overcome machine deficiencies. Smart machines often provide us with suggestions but we must decide if we should accept or override these suggestions. Cowen uses GPS as an example that most people can relate to in their daily lives.
Have you ever used GPS and not driven in the direction suggested because it was either not possible or you know that it’s the wrong way? Below is a funny example of this from Michael Scott.
Bring Your Own Everything (BYOE)
BYOE makes freestyle work easier and may expedite the trend. People are coming to the workplace with their own tools and networks helping them solve problems and create opportunities. They still have to follow basic workplace rules (similar to following chess rules) but there is more flexibility and less control for how people work.
What Do You Think?
- Will the future of work be more freestyle?
- What are some examples of freestyle in the workplace?
- What are roles where human skills complement (add value to) machines today?
The future of learning, – it’s what I think about. What can I do today to help others use learning as a lever for a bigger goal (e.g., get a job or promotion, do their job better, build confidence, help others, etc)?
And the future of learning is more about the future of work than it is about learning. Harold Jarche’s recent post shares this same thought. There are changes in the way we learn because the way we work is changing.
So, how is work changing and how will we learn best in this environment? If you haven’t given this much thought, here are a few resources to begin learning about why work is changing. I will add more as I continue to learn myself.
Why is Work Changing
A Phase Change in the Economy?
Steve Denning’s summary article offers an explanation -Joe Stiglitz (and others) think we’re going through a economic phase change.
According to Stiglitz, the banking crisis of 1933 didn’t cause the Great Depression. The financial meltdown reflected a phase change in the economy from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy. The financial meltdown of 1933 was the consequence not the cause of the Great Depression. The joblessness of the times was a sign of the economic phase change already well under way.
Instead the needed transition is from a factory economy to the Creative Economy.
- The Creative Economy is one in which both manufacturing and services play a role.
- It is an economy in which the driving force is innovation.
- It is an economy in which organizations are nimble and agile and continually offering new value to customers and delivering it sooner.
- The Creative Economy is an economy in which firms focus not on short-term financial returns but rather on creating long-term customer value based on trust. It is described in Chapter 3 of Richard Florida’s classic book, The Rise of the Creative Class (2003).
Most big firms still have a factory mindset oriented to economies of scale. They are focused principally on maximizing short-term shareholder value. They are not organized for continuous innovation. This way of managing is unable to mobilize the full creative talents of their employees.
An Economy That’s Going Back to Where We Started?
Greg Satell offers insights into why work is changing. He describes how we have transitioned through economic phases from the craft economy to the hacker economy and in a funny way, back to the craft economy.
Many people assume that evolution is about the survival of the fittest. It’s not. What really drives evolution is adaptation to changing environments.
An Economy Where Everyone Needs to be a Player?
Bill Drayton and Valeria Budinich say that the agricultural revolution set up a pattern that still exists today. They believe there is a a worldwide change in the skills everyone needs to succeed, in the nature of organizations, and in how businesses must be led.
We are transitioning from a world in which a small elite runs everything to a world in which everyone needs to be a player. Don’t take our word for it. Look around you. Which organizations, cities, and institutions are leading the pack? Where are the smart and capable people migrating? Bill Drayton
Is it a Rise of Highly Dynamic & Complex Markets?
Another word for doing is “tinkering.” Tinkering means you can’t wait until all conditions are perfect to begin and you don’t know what you’re going to get. You use your curiosity and begin exploring by doing.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
Kids are great examples of tinkering. Here’s an inspiring story of Caine Monroy (a 9-year old) who built a cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store.
Gever Tulley is the founder of the Tinkering School – he teaches life lessons through tinkering.
I’ve written before about Tinkering with John Seely Brown and here’s another video where he talks about tinkering as a mode of knowledge production.
What’s holding you back from doing what you want to do or learn?
- Take the first step and just begin (try)
- Use your curiosity and passion to keep you going
- Don’t worry about getting it right, there is no right answer
- Put yourself out there, connect with others, ask for help
- What’s holding you up?