The Future of Working: Dystopia or Utopia?

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Philip Foster. You can learn more about him and his work below.

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Recently I read an article from The Verge by Rich McCormick (2016) regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The focus of this article was a picture of Mark Zuckerberg walking past attendees who are wearing Samsung’s new Gear Virtual Reality headsets. Rich states that the image,

“…looks like concept art for a new dystopian sci-fi film. A billionaire superman with a rictus grin, striding straight past human drones, tethered to machines and blinded to reality by blinking plastic masks.”

Normally I would chuckle and move on, however this picture represents deeper insights about the future of our workforce and leadership. In fact, last year my colleague Dr. Jeff Suderman and I published a similar scenario in our paper “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios.” In our article we presented four scenarios which depict how we might engage human capital by the year 2050. Two of these scenarios explored the possible dehumanizing effects or impact of technology in the future workplace.

One scenario focused on something we called Bio-Circuitry Leadership. It was represented by an image found in the movie Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers were partnered with armored body suits. We imagined a scenario in which there would be “minimal separation between humankind and machinery/technology and very often, humans must adapt to the needs of technology instead of technology being adapted to meet our needs” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).  In this scenario, organizations and their leaders become “a complex blend of the best of both worlds: machines and humanity. The era of bio-circuitry leadership means that organizations have leveraged people and technology into a seamless system. It is difficult to distinguish between who people are and what they do because of how effectively human capacity is enhanced and blended with technology” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

The second scenario presented a contrasting view and was titled Automaton Leadership. “By definition, an automaton is a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being. As a result of the relentless progression of technology, human capital will be shaped into a group of robot-like devices to accomplish the betterment of our world” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). As this scenario unfolds we find a world in which the “economic collapses of the early twenty-first century coupled with a decreasing full-time workforce led to a wide acceptance of technologies in everyday life” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). Under this scenario we imagined a world in which individuals of working age “…apply for and are fitted with docking harnesses which permit them to connect directly into the work grid. The Internet of everything now includes humans themselves. Individuals strap themselves into a work pod and the docking harness connects their entire body into the Internet” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). In this world the lines between “reality and virtual are merged as individuals spend most of their waking time connecting to the network” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

Dr. Suderman and I recognize that our storylines are no more than best guesses about how our future will unfold.  However, the usefulness of scenarios about the future is not how accurate the stories turn out to be, but rather, how they help us shape the possibilities of the future. Twenty years ago few of us knew or even thought about the impact a smart phone would have on our lives. Today, we find mobile technologies impacting everyday decisions such as grocery shopping, taxi services and hotel accommodations. The seemingly innocuous introduction of ubiquitous technology has shaped a new economy right before our very eyes.

The idea of a future workforce strapped into some kind of technology may not be as farfetched as we would like it to be. In fact, most of us are already invisibly tethered to our smart devices. Laugh if you will, but the picture of Mark Zuckerberg and the audience of drones could very well be a glimpse into what is to come.

 

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Philip FosterDr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at philip@maximumchange.com.

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman, E-mail: jeff@jeffsuderman.com.

References

Image Source: (McCormick 2016).

McCormick, Rich (2016). This image of Mark Zuckerberg says so much about our future. The Verge. Retrieved on February 21, 2016 from http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/22/11087890/mark-zuckerberg-mwc-picture-future-samsung

Suderman, J.L., &Foster, P.A. (2015). “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios. A Case for relevant 2050 leadership – preparing for change.” Building Leadership Bridges. Sage Publishing.

 

 

A Zuckerberg Sized Conundrum: Assessing a Leaders Motive

If you pay attention to pop culture you will have noticed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla, recently gave birth to their first child (a daughter named Max). Along with this life-changing event, Mark and Priscilla also decided to announce another momentous decision – the donation of approximately 99% of their wealth to a charity.

Sort of.

This is where the story gets interesting and complex. The donation was not given to the place we expect donations to go – a charity – something with official government status and a bevy of regulations and guidelines to keep ensure ethical operations. Instead, they created another company by which to accomplish their noble goals of improving global education, health and community development. This technically means that this charitable gift is free from any of the guidelines that we typically consider – well, charitable!

As you have likely noticed, the media has jumped all over this issue and turned it into something that feels scandalous. I’m sure you also have your own opinion about the Zuckerberg’s decision (and I trust it is informed by more than your Facebook feed!).

Wherever you stand on this unusual event, I believe there is an important principle at work. At the heart of this issue is one of the most important matters of leadership. It is called motive. If Aretha Franklin believes that love boils down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T then leadership boils down to M-O-T-I-V-E. Most of the media stories about the Zuckerberg’s are simply guessing at the motive behind this decision.

So how does one measure motive? Initially, by our words. But more importantly, over time, our motive is measured by our actions. This is why I believe that most of the diatribe about this donation is premature. Over time, Mark and Priscilla’s actions will reveal the true motives of this decision. It will be shown through choices about how they establish accountability, who they place on their board, how they prioritize efforts and how they manage operating costs.

A leader’s motive can be stated but their true measure is best discovered in practice. Mother Theresa is appreciated because she told us that we need to love the poor. Mother Theresa is loved and honored because she spent her life doing it. Her actions revealed her motive.

The Zuckerberg conundrum should also make us look at ourselves and ask some hard questions. While it may be easier to point your finger and judge others, what are you doing with your money that isn’t simply for your own good? During this Christmas season, a time for giving, where are your gifts directed? Are you using a charity to channel your giving or are you donating directly to your own priorities (as the Zuckerberg’s did).

So Mark and Priscilla, I laud your donation gesture. It is a wise first step to wealth management. I strongly believe that wealth is entrusted to us rather than bestowed upon us. However, time will tell whether this non-traditional approach is effective. Because, over time, the motives of our leaders will become clear. And in the same way, yours will too!


 

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman an educator, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He regularly donates to charity but has not yet set up his own company to do this. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman