The Changing Nature of Work, Technology, and the Thoughtful Leader

evolution
The Thoughtful Leader

Every generation has faced the inevitability of economic change (Coming to an office near you, 2014). Though history does not give us any indication of how the wheel devastated the prehistoric working class, we can certainly see its dynamic effects on the generations that would follow. A family of cave dwellers could now move stones that once took a village to move. Thus, prehistoric man industrialized the need to evolve into a more productive group by using the very invention that put them out of work to develop a niche that would put them right back into the food chain. The fact is that change is the engine that drives economic development, and the fuel is technology. The invention of the wheel gave life to movement in prehistoric times in the same way that the Internet has paved the way for globalization and service economies.

Technology

Breaking from my wheel analogy by a few years, I want to talk about the last 20. Computers have become a household item, in much the same way as the television. Smart phones, unheard of 20 years ago, have become “the must” have tool for the modern businessperson. Social Networks have developed in such sophisticated ways that we can even follow the lunchroom ponderings of people we previously would have never known in a lifetime (Shirky, 2012). While all of these achievements have given society a load of entertainment value, they have also given businesses new tools to use for more effective, efficient and productive operation. All of this at the expense of turning the workforce upside-down. According to Laurence Goasduff (2010), the future looks to do much more of the same, through work swarms, de-routinization of work, collective work, work sketch-ups, and the list goes on. These ideas further promise to make groups more productive, and lessen the individual workload (Goasduff, 2010).

Here Comes the Group

Here comes that word again, group. The wheel gave humanity the need to work together in ways previously impossible to create a better environment. This eventually produced more wealth, more jobs, and a better lifestyle. Although, many were certainly displaced until new jobs were created to fill the needs of an advanced society. Since invention gave our ancestors more free time and a higher wage, it also gave many the ability to create works of art to entertain the masses. I bring this up to point out that while technology eliminates jobs in one area; job creation is heightened in areas previously unheralded. Have you ever looked at art of the prehistoric variety? A little lacking at best; I amusingly suggest, the results of a generation too busy to develop such seemingly trivial pursuits. Yet, with the advent of group interaction through technological advance, Michael Angelo is able make art a viable life-supporting venture.

The Thoughtful Leader

So where does the leader fit into this crazy mix? The thoughtful leader is one that helps followers develop new skills, search new ideas and create their own wealth. I cannot speak for many industries, but using my industry as an example, I can relate to hope. In the times of our great Civil War, a new idea surfaced that threatened to derail the old traditions of funeral service. The art of embalming gave new hope to families that they would see their loved ones again, even if they were in a far off area of the country. Previously, dry ice was used to keep human remains cold and gave families a limited time to view their loved one. The food chain, so to speak, was geared toward backward technology, so when embalming became the standard those who supplied the materials necessary for funeral service were left in the past. Leaders stepped in and found new opportunities. Where once bodies were placed in iceboxes, then into wooden coffins, more ornate models were made, and materials were used that would preserve the bodies already been preserved with chemical injection. A market was created around the ability to preserve so that an industry could not only remain viable, but also grow. What once was an industry run by cabinetmakers now became open source. That is to say, many people were free to enter and use the technologies then created to create their own wealth. Today’s leaders need to help followers expand their knowledge, and in turn get back into the work stream. Open source technologies can be utilized to help workers learn new technologies and get back on their feet. The effort of groups of people can minimize the blows sustained to individuals by an ever-changing society. Leadership ensures that these new changes bring new opportunities.

References
Coming to an office near you. (2014, January 18). Retrieved from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21594298-effect-todays-technology-tomorrows-jobs-will-be-immenseand-no-country-ready
Goasduff, L. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years. Retrieved from Gartner: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513
Shirky, C. (2012, September 25). How the Internet will (one day) transform government. Retrieved from You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEN4XNth61o&feature=youtu.be

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Diana March 28, 2014, 6:38 pm

    The free market described in your industry example hits on the hallmark of sustainable competitive advantage. Our industries and markets are constantly evolving. Those who best adapt are the most successful. In many cases, the changes shift the success to new parties and players. Esteemed strategist and Harvard professor Michael Porter (http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6532&facInfo=res) has suggested that no competitive advantage is ever truly long term because of the continual changings in the environment of a firm. Porter rightly contends that the only true competitive advantage lies in the ability to anticipate and adapt quickly to change. In terms of the external environments of the firm, technological advances create great change, but leaders must also be aware of cultural, demographic, political, economic, and global factors as well. As a firm reacts to these changes, the internal environment of a firm changes as well. Leaders must be cognizant of the impact of changes on their most important asset, their people. The hyperconnectedness of today’s organizations has morphed the employee-employer relationship and work versus home dynamic. (See http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513.) The twenty-four-hour, work-anywhere employment scenario impacts the whole person in subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. Leaders should stay focused on these people issues if they hope to remain competitive, prepared, and responsive to the never-ending changes.

    Reply
    • Jay March 29, 2014, 3:02 pm

      You bring up some good points in your response. Certainly, competitive advantage is fleeting as time and technology take their toll on the face of the business mountain. I would ask, what do you think allows a company to maintain a competitive advantage through this atmosphere of change? I realize that being quick to pick up on changes as they happen is part of this scenario, as you rightly point out. Yet, I ask, is it money that allows businesses to keep up? Is it a leader that takes risks consistently? There are many factors that come into play as the business playing field changes. You mention the people, and rightly so; people make a business run, but how do we get people to get on board with change? Google has done a great job of facilitating change and staying on top through competitive advantage(Woods, 2006). They do it through constant creation and employee empowerment (Woods, 2006). I find this to be fascinating.

      Thank you for the reply,
      Jay Prewitt

      References

      Woods, D. (2006, January 16). Introducing google concept. Retrieved from Ezine Articles: http://ezinearticles.com/?Introducing-Google-Concept&id=129641

      Reply
  • Britt Watwood March 29, 2014, 12:13 pm

    I have used the historical angle myself. A brief history of mankind shows that we first began to gather in clans about 200,000 years ago (social), move about the planet about 70,000 years ago (mobility), leave evidence via cave drawing of our culture about 40,000 years ago (visualization and storytelling), and leave evidence of gaming about 8,000 years ago. Today’s iPad encompasses the entire history of humanity with its affordances for social, mobile, visual, storytelling and gaming – in one device.

    I like Diana’s closing comment – “…Leaders should stay focused on these people issues if they hope to remain competitive, prepared, and responsive to the never-ending changes.”

    The technology will continue to change at increasingly rapid paces…but how we deal with the people side will be the real leadership issue.

    Reply
    • Jay March 29, 2014, 3:14 pm

      So true. Wal-Mart use to have a slogan, “Our People Make the Difference”(Wal-Mart application, 2009). It certainly makes sense that a good leader keep people at the forefront of their concern. I am always fascinated how many years it took humanity to reach the point of industrialization, and how few it took to get where we are today. You point out this fascination most aptly with the iPad example. Encouraging people to reach their potential is a good place to start.

      Thank you,
      Jay Prewitt

      References

      Wal-Mart application. (2009). Retrieved from University of Arizona: http://mis.eller.arizona.edu/docs/career/2010/Walmart%20Application.pdf

      Reply
  • Annette Loos March 30, 2014, 2:35 am

    Wow! I never thought about how technology changed the funeral home industry. This was a very interesting read and makes you wonder what is next! I don’t think there is one industry that technology has not changed it. I laugh because in speaking with a friend of mine who is a police officer he told me how even prostitutes have become more high tech. With the technology they can now get those devices to go on their phones where they can take a credit card! How is that for technology!

    Reply
    • Jay March 30, 2014, 5:28 pm

      Technology truly affects us all. In California, I understand that they have drive-thru visitations in the evening when the mortuary is closed. The funeral home sets up the body in a window, similar to a bank teller window, and there is an electronic sign-in for guests, as well as a button to push so that you can open the curtains to view the deceased. If drive through prostitution takes hold, technology has gone to far.

      Thank you,
      Jay Prewitt

      Reply
  • Joseph Williams March 30, 2014, 4:54 pm

    I enjoyed your evolutionary perspective to the changing economic climate and how technology and innovation play a great role. I have some counter points that your post got me thinking about though. I agree totally that this evolution of technology changes and forces us to adapt to ever evolving world. You made the statement about how cavemen who once collectively moved stones could move them individually through the use of the wheel and that same progression happens today. Something I think we are forgetting though is that the jobs of cutting the stone out in the first place and the skill to place it with care and precision still are vital.

    I fear that as time progresses and we continually rely on easier modes of communication etc. the skills that provide the infrastructure itself will be reemphasized. What good is the internet if there are no workers to maintain the poles that carry it to our houses? So while we can champion the advancements being made, I firmly believe we need to embrace the classic work that allows us accomplish this. I can easily assume that we all overlook these ‘blue-collar’ positions when considering the expanding technology we are discussing.

    Reply
    • Jay March 30, 2014, 5:45 pm

      Certainly the blue-collar worker is a champion in their own right. Yet, the blue-collar worker is still guided by the technology of the age in which they are living. The stone cutter no doubt used the latest technological advances available at the time. The pole-setter no doubt uses a backhoe or some other advanced machine that makes his job easier. The farmer still plants, but his hands are on a lever rather than a seed. The packer still packs, but with the aid of a conveyor that brings the product to them as they put in in the box. The gravedigger still digs, but the shovel is rarely touched. It is not so much forgetting about the hard work and effort of these great workers, but the advancement of technology that makes these workers more productive, prolific and dynamic. The Internet allows the blue-collar worker to find easier passage, but it does not take away from the need for the worker. It may take away from the need of so many, but hopefully they will find place in new and improved areas of the workforce. This can happen in much the same way as displaced farm hands found work in the industrial world. As an embalmer, I am thankful for the modern technologies that make my job easier, but as you point out, they still need me to function.

      Good thoughts,
      Jay Prewitt

      Reply

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