John Hagel on The Future of Work

By John Hagel at Singularity University Summits

John Hagel has nearly 35 years experience as a management consultant, author, speaker and entrepreneur and has helped companies improve their performance by effectively applying new generations of technology to reshape business strategies. He currently serves as co-chairman of the Silicon Valley-based Deloitte Center for the Edge, which conducts original research into emerging business opportunities that should be on the CEO agenda.

34 minutes 8 seconds

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The following is a summary of the video by Enlivening Edge Magazine:

The fear that technology will take away jobs is justified.

However, this could be used as an opportunity to redefine “work,” to restore our humanity.

Work has been defined in the model of “scalable efficiency:” tasks tightly defined in advance, standardized way to do them, all tasks tightly integrated. Machines do all that better than people do.

What work can only humans perform? Work that requires curiosity, creativity, imagination, emotional and social intelligence.  Such work doesn’t fit and is discouraged in scalable efficiency social model.

Automation provides us the opportunity to nurture and expand that work so more of us can use it as a way to earn a living.

There are two strongly held objections to this new approach.

One is that not all people are capable of being creative and imaginative. Most want to do what told and be secure.

Check out a playground. What happens to us is institutions starting with schools designed for factory workers. We are all capable. Emerging world is becoming craftspeople, creative and unique. Coaches. Composers of experiences of enjoyable life.

Second objection is that there is limited demand for those kinds of work. In fact, there is an insatiable demand by all to achieve potential and have more impact. As technology and access replace ownership, there will be more disposable income for potential and impact.

It would be a challenging or painful transition though, from the old scalable efficiency model.

Today’s institutions need to reframe innovation.

Why do we have institutions? The old model is in all today. New rationale for forming institutions is needed: scalable learning.

Not compatible at all with the old model. Failure is a no-no in scalable efficiency; predictable and reliable is demanded. Learning demands failure. In scalable efficiency there is no room to experiment, improvise, innovate, learn where nothing is tight.

In scalable learning, we learn in our work environment.

Learning, to create value in exponential world, creates new knowledge through action in the workplace dealing with unexpected situations. Not a supported approach yet.

There is a third even newer model. Organizational transformation, where everything changes. But the immune system of the old current system rejects transformation as taking too much time and money.

“Scaling edges” is new kind of organizational transformation approach. Find a modest part of of an organization where there is a growing edge. There are exponential forces at play; edge can scale to become new core of institution.

Focus the transformation through scaling that edge.

Do not push into core, pull from core into the edge til it is the new core of the institution. Reduces fight from immune system.

Technology taking jobs catalyzes reimagining work and restoring our humanity. We can find work humans should be doing, vs turning us into machines. Achieve potential, express individuality, more impact.

Humans can work together enabling us to learn faster and achieve more potential.

Experience an increasing-returns curve, create more value together.


Need a senior manager to protect the scalable edge and not bring it back to core where it will be killed.

Role of leaders and board: focus on long-term 10-20 years, zoom in 6-12 months, decide on 2-3 things to accelerate to destination. Impact-driven actions short-term. Long-term can identify the edge that is still appearing minor today with potential to become new core. Short-term: start that edge initiative!

A scalable-efficiency-model world leader has answers to all questions. A scalable-learning-model world leader has the best questions!

Featured Image/graphic link added by Enlivening Edge Magazine.