By Prabhath P April 2003 Lounging on a deck chair, with the salty tang of the sea and warm sunshine. Vacation, did you say? Or a mobile office? Tomorrow’s telecommunication systems may just make that possible Rapidly accelerating technological changes are transforming beyond recognition the workplace and the way we work. The techno quakes that shake our society occur so fast that the very nature of change has changed. If we do not run to meet the future, the future will run us down. The vital question is how to turn these rapid changes into an advantage instead of being swept away by it. Daniel Burrus, top techno-forecaster and futurist, finds four great rivers of change flooding the planet—technological innovation, globalization, decentralization of power and authority and global demographic changes. Burrus identifies 20 core technological areas ranging from genetic engineering and digital electronics to artificial intelligence and 24 technological tools born out of these core areas that will shape the future. Some of these tools such as multi-media computers, digital cellular phones, electronic data interchange, desktop videoconferencing, direct broadcast satellite communications, broadband wireless communications, ultra-intelligent electronic agents, biometric identification systems and instant translation of world languages as we speak on the phone, could shrink the world so much that everybody will be able to network and engage in real time communication with everyone else—cutting across the barriers of geographical locations and time zones. According to Microsoft creator Bill Gates, the ‘road ahead’ is the ever-expanding Internet. Paper money is disappearing fast and currency is turning into ‘flickering digital information’ that crisscrosses the world through the Net. If we keep this up, time is not far when business will be conducted at the speed of thought. Noted futurist Alvin Toffler alerted the world about the Third Wave of global change ushering in the information age. Going by the indications, this wave has been knocking at our shores ever since we entered the communication age with the Internet explosion. Gates believes that devices such as wallet PCs in connection with Global Positioning System will enable anyone, anywhere, to be tracked and located. In an increasingly mobile society, this will help companies and traveling employees keep in touch. Most people will be working from home, often for companies located at remote geographical areas or telecommuting to virtual offices that exist only in cyber space. When we manage to implant chips directly in the brain with the help of nanotechnology, enabling brain-to-brain electronic communication, and when the Internet shape shifts into an extended electronic nervous system, the office might become a part of our consciousness. Such changes will revolutionize how we live, work and play. In his books, The Third Wave and Power Shift, Alvin Toffler outlines a map of tomorrow’s work regimen. Flattening of hierarchies caused by technology-driven democratization of the workplace is one of the most revolutionary changes that will fuel the future. “Submissive rule-observers, who merely follow instructions to the letter, are not good workers,” Toffler quotes Teruya Nagao, professor of information and knowledge sciences at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. Employees who ask questions and challenge assumptions will be the assets in future organizations. According to Alvin Toffler, the future work scenario may see high powered wife-husband teams much in demand who will be hired to leverage the emotionally bonded sense of shared purpose and motivation And the process seems to have already begun. According to Toffler, an employee is no longer dispensable and interchangeable with others as in the industrial era. When a creative knowledge worker with a variety of unique skills leaves, it is harder and costlier for employers to find another one with matching skills or train a new person. This increases the clout and bargaining power of employees. The ‘prosumer’ ethic in which production for self-consumption is prominent will further decentralize the work culture. This will transform the nature of future firms. Toffler predicts ‘flex-firms’ and ‘fam-firms’. Flex-firms will be organized as counter bureaucratic and neural or nervous system-like networks. In such companies, information will flow freely, and job functions may overlap or keep fluctuating. Toffler says that with the advent of the home-office and the entry of highly qualified women into the workforce, even large firms may be inclined to hire collaborative couples to run profit centers within a company, triggering a proliferation of fam-firms. In fact, according to Toffler, the future work scenario may see high powered wife-husband teams much in demand who will be hired to leverage the emotionally bonded sense of shared purpose and motivation. With the advent of flexi time, nine-to-five jobs will be rendered obsolete. Unconventional work styles such as parallel and serial careers will be the norm With the advent of flexi time, nine-to-five jobs will be rendered obsolete. Unconventional work styles such as parallel and serial careers where people pursue multiple careers or change careers several times in a lifetime will be the norm. Companies will have to cope with increasing employee turnover since employees of the future are likely to be more keen on realizing their own goals. The new generation, well-versed with latest technologies, will take the lead and old-timers will find their expertise increasingly outdated unless they make a conscious effort at keeping pace with technological advances. This change will also open the doors for women to come into the workforce in full strength and rise to eminence in various professions. The reintegration of feminine values into the new work culture will make it more holistic. Individuals and organizations can ride these tidal waves of change safely only if they adopt radically new strategies. Accumulation of knowledge is no longer enough. It is the Fourth Wave of ‘creativity intensification’ that will drive the Communication Age. In the new millennium, past success could be the worst enemy of both employees and companies. Sitting on laurels will be meaningless because strategies that brought success in the past may not work anymore. So, the ability to unlearn old habits and ‘learning to learn’ continuously will be one of the most prized competencies. Another radical change in the work place would be job adaptability. Since the nature of jobs keeps changing with new technological tools, when the job a person has been trained for becomes obsolete, retraining to meet new challenges will be the only way. Acquiring new interests and skills throughout life will be imperative for survival in the future. Super learning is a new methodology that is being used by employers all over the world to help their employees face the future. In super learning, mind-music tapes that synchronies the hemispheres of the brain, mind machines and meditation are used. This helps people grasp and master knowledge faster without the traditional struggle associated with learning. Burrus urges everybody to ‘see the big picture because technology alters reality’. He categorizes people as computers and innovators. Computers follow set patterns of thinking, resist change, collect data and merely react to techno trends as threats and stick to the command and control style at the workplace which stifles creativity. Innovators, on the other hand, cultivate a creative-mindset, predict and even create trends, adapt and master change and empower people for positive action. Instead of the traditional method of using technology to cut the work force and save money, the future work culture demands integration of strategy, technology and people. Networking with all and developing collaborative interactions by capitalizing on emotional competencies rather than just IQ, will be the successful strategy of future innovators. Four keys to success in the unfolding technological future will be—integration, flexibility, communication and orchestration. Many people find the prospect of waking up to a new and unpredictable world, where change is the only constant and uncertainty the only certainty, frightening if not ominous. Some feel that change is spiraling out of control and will ultimately destroy the human race. The solution, in Burrus’s view, is to accept the change and direct it positively: “The winds of change are not as important as how you set your sail. It is possible to navigate uncharted waters even through dense fog if you know where you want to go and use the correct navigational tools,” he says. We cannot wish away the existence of these tools and their implications. If we do not use them for good, the collective shadow of humanity might end up misusing them. Because, technology can be liberating only in the hands of a civilization whose level of consciousness also evolves to keep pace with it.
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