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CHAPTER I - Introduction

We are living in the glorious future, in the steel-and-electric epoch predicted by futurists and fictionists, an age shaped by the forces of computerization and robotics, enlightenment and diversity. By now, certainly, these forces should be making a profound difference in the way that individuals spend their time and make their livelihoods, and big changes in the organizations that employ them. And they are—but not in the way we may have imagined just a few years ago.

Rather than a white-collar utopia, society finds itself living in a “whitewater world.” This term, coined by John Seely Brown and Ann Pendleton-Jullian, describes a reality that is rapidly changing, hyper-connected and radically contingent. To navigate this world, corporations, talent officers and workers themselves must (according to Seely Brown) read the currents and disturbances around them, interpret the flows for what they reveal about what lies beneath the surface, and leverage those disturbances and flows for amplified action.

At the 2018 Roundtable on Institutional Innovation, participants sought to identify the currents that will shape the future of work. This includes approaches to creating opportunities for continuous learning and supporting workers in the development of new skills, knowledge and capabilities. Perhaps most importantly in this whitewater world, participants searched for improvements that can be made to the organizations we influence—with the goal of building ships less like an ocean liner, and more agile like a kayak.

The following report begins with a survey of the current trends in the automation of work, and an exploration of the challenges and opportunities that are on the horizon. Then, the report proposes the way forward derived from in-depth discussions—conversations in which the group humbly attempts to reinvent:

  • Education
  • Business structures
  • Models of employment
  • Leadership philosophies

The ability to shape the Future of Work 2.0 rests upon society’s willingness to create a wholly new work environment, one that can harness the potential of a new kind of worker.

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