#FutureWork [Pt 5]: Fragments of the Future

An occasional series of essays exploring potential futures and contexts of work.

The trouble with predicting the future is that we do so from within the glare of today: it’s easy to focus on the brightest lights, the promise of automation, the prevalence of AI and Machine Learning, the glimpses of social responsibility and ethical business, discussions of a ‘new normal’, a carbon neutral future, a gender equal workplace with organisations that are both diverse and inclusive, lifelong education within more fluid career models, mindful leadership, and so on and so forth. Everything we read in the papers or the hysteria of social media. The things that promise to save us, and the things we are told to fear.

These things are all real, and indeed may well be part of our future, but many of them are normalised concepts and extensions of existing frameworks of power, authority, finance, and control: for example, automation within existing supply chains, AI powered decision making within existing organisations, diversity and inclusion within existing teams, and servant leadership within existing hierarchies.

This view of the future is comforting, or alarming, in equal measure, but what if the future is fragmented, or what if the future fragments our conceptions of today?

Here are some examples of that future: dystopian, utopian, or possibly hanging in the balance.

Currencies: a future of work that moves beyond nationally held financial currencies, into global networks of social currencies (quantified reputation, trust, gratitude, pride etc) and democratised blockchain currencies, beyond the influence of central regulation, or Organisational control. Possibly currencies of opportunity that trade invested energy (insight, challenge, problem solving) against future value, or that trade engagement against future opportunity, beyond closed networks or even Organisational boundaries.

Organisations: a future where Organisations (in the post industrial and scientifically managed sense that we understand them today) either regress to more Guild like structures of expertise, or more ‘Performance’ types structures of experience provision, or more ‘enabling’ type structures of health, finance, or education that rely less on the assets or infrastructure that they own, so much as the radical connectivity of the services that they offer. Organisations that enable outcomes more so than selling products or services.

Society: what about the potential to move beyond a division of ‘Rural’ and ‘Urban’ (beyond the radical urbanisation of the last 50 years) into a third class of ‘Collaboration’: potentially spaces that are neither individually owned, nor formally controlled, but can rather be purposed and repurposed by social groups according to need. The ultimate disaggregation of infrastructure and effectiveness, and moving beyond ‘office’ and ‘home’, into more fluid structures of residency, innovation, productivity, and effect.

Ownership: more fluid models of ownership and sharing, that essentially break down barriers of permanence and price. Cars are already moving in this direction, but what about clothes, houses, even furniture. More circular models of manufacturing and recycling, but also of ownership and access. Hence potentially a breakdown of more embedded social structures of wealth and class, or maybe just their redefinition?

Community: probably more radically connected and ultimately politically powerful communities that exist beyond the geographically local, or formally mandated. Impacting back into formal national and political systems, possibly alongside the notion of multiple citizenship and digital citizenship, even potentially moving to more fluid models of global citizenship and ultimately taxation or subscription models alongside that which deliver security and representation beyond nations.

Accountability: instead of models of corporate responsibility and accountability held between PR drives and the legal redress of the Courts, perhaps models that are held in accountability through either external validation (arbiters of responsibility) or even social currencies of accountability and trade (‘good neighbour tokens or blockchains’).

Social Goods: perhaps a redefinition of the ownership of social goods or natural IP, that moves wealth into more distributed, and possibly community based structures. So less plundering by multi-nationals so much as global networks of recognised value, and multi generational visibility of commonly held social goods, such as DNA or sequestered carbon.

Celebrity: maybe an evolution the current space, where ‘celebrity’ is becoming a billion dollar career path, into more extreme examples: celebrities as countries, citizenship of celebrity, celebrity education, celebrity currency, all of which are to some extent emergent or visible today. Couple this with artificial celebrities, alongside auto generated movies, on demand artwork, and culture by computer, and you fragment perceptions of value, identity, beauty, and so on.
These are fragments of ideas, but the point is that change, when it happens, can happen faster than we realise.

Every week interact with Organisations that describe their long term vision as simple, or even naive, shadows of today. Too often they seek to hold onto too much of a legacy, at a time when we will likely see the reward of agility and fluidity more so than mass and longevity.

The potential is there for Organisations to adapt, but if they rely on recycled visions of simplistic futures that are described through the lenses that we hold onto today, we may remain comfortable, whilst the landscape burns around us.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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