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Four things to prepare you for the future of work

A famous architect was once asked what type of architect he is, he answered: “ I am an artist.”

On my 40th birthday a few months  ago, I asked myself the same question: “what am I?” “What do I want people to call me on my tombstone when I rest in peace?”

The world is changing rapidly and this has transformed the way the global workforce is sourced, organised and managed. Knowledge, trade, technology, capital and goods are more globally connected than ever before. As The Institute of the Future identifies: as the medical advances allow us to live longer, the nature of work and learning will change as well; we will work longer, change jobs more often, requiring lifelong learning, unlearning and relearning. For us, as the changes become the norm of our life and will continue to be accelerated in the future, how do we operate in this new environment? What asset do we need to build to be competitive in the global market? And how do we align our mobility, passion and purpose with the creativity and skills we acquire along the way?

What does the work mean in the future?

According to Aaron Hurst, we are moving from the Information Economy to the Purpose Economy. He states that this is a natural evolution, which is taking us from the first levels of human organization, the hoe-and-plow Agricultural Economy, through the smokestacks of the Industrial Economy, to the data farms of the Information Economy, and now to the human-centric Purpose Economy. Each of these economies have been built on top of the proceeding and represent evolutions more than revolutions.

With the old industrial age, our happiness is assumed to be tightly bound with the growth of our GDP, which means, we could simply focus on the work of money making, and happiness would follow naturally. However, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer brought a surprising research through intenstive analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies through their book “The Progress Principle”, they explained “of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important – by far – is simply making progress at meaningful work.” It is no longer the money, the incentives, the status or the title which makes us happiest, “our desire to have more is replaced by the desire to be more.” (Metaskills)

The founding father of Permaculture – Masanobu Fukuoka once said in his book The One-Straw Revolution: “ I do not particularly like the word ‘work.’ Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time… a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.”

Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

So, if in the purpose economy, the work is based on our desire to be more rather than to have more, and doing what needs to be done. How do we prepare ourselves for this?

In order to answer these questions, I have done quite a lot of research, deep reflections and even began to do daily meditation. I was hoping some of the old and new wisdom could guide me. For the sake of simplicity, I have summarized my research findings into 4R. And it turns out understanding yourself is the start of everything.

1, Recognize: “ Identify the meaningfulness that is related to you and connect with the source of your own happiness. “

We are all familiar with the pyramid called the “Hierarchy of Needs” by psychologist Abraham Maslow. (yet someone might argue we might have even basic’er need than food and shelf). The term self-actualization is related to what the joyful fulfillment of one’s potential, or the pursuit of higher-order goals. In the industrial age, our human creativity has been put into the drawer in order to pursue efficiency and productivity. The Industrial age has managed to “take most of the joy out of work, the humanity out of business, and the beauty out of everyday life”. Yet it also “built the self-esteem layer of the pyramid, to which we can now add the soul-enriching pinnacle of self-actualization.”

So ask yourself: what makes you alive? Not “what does the world need?” Because what makes you alive is what the world needs!

2, Reflect: Are you a creative? What is your unique value to the world?

In the MetaSkills by Maty Neumeier “We have an unfounded fear that machines will someday start thinking like humans. What we should really fear is that humans have already started thinking like machines.”

I have been asked many time during my talk “what happens if the robot steals of our job?” I usually ask back, “What happens the Chinese steal our jobs?” This was a question being raised up often years ago in the western world, look what happens now? Western world has given up their massive manufacturing work and moved up to a higher level of work which involves knowledge, skills and creativity, and believe or not? Chinese is going to do the same. (I am also aware of the fact that the manufacturing is now coming back to the west with a different kind of notion and format).

“Employers in the future don’t want employee to be robots. They have robots. What they want are people who think for themselves, use their imagination, communicate well and can work in teams, and who can adapt to continuous change.”

Creative work are way beyond the narrow definition of “creative industry”, it appears in all kind of sectors and all kind of business, such us scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, new business ideas, product invention, even organizational leadership.

Creative workers by definition is problem solvers, they solve significant problems or satisfy significant needs in a Imaginative, non-routine, experimental and autonomous way. It can be imitated and followed but the core can never be copied. Since this work is fairly original, maybe even unique, the cost is high and so is the value.

There is a good book to help you to start with this reflection, called “Business Model U” by Tim Clark.

Basically it applies the Business Model Canvas on individuals to define their personal business model. In fact, it provides more tools than just Business Model Canvas to help you reflect on who you are, your key personality and creativity. Such as What problem am I trying to solve for this world? Who are people I would like to help? What kind of value do I provide to solve the problem for the people I help?

In fact, dream jobs are more often created than found, so they are rarely attainable through conventional searches. Creating one requires strong self-knowledge.

3, Reframe: Turn every crisis into an opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn toward your goal.

Richard Brandson once said “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” I think the most important thinking pattern for the future of work is “design thinking”.

For me, the essence of design thinking comparing to business thinking is that “we embrace every problem and challenge with the gift of not knowing.” Not knowing used to be something to be ashamed of or even a taboo, but it has turned to become the most normal thing in our workplace in the future while the knowledge is being updated with the speed of light. While the problems we are facing are becoming super complex, not knowing allows us to sense the world with different mindsets and deep empathy, it enables us to work through a problem without being limited to an assumed answer. We don’t take a “no” for “no”, we ask “Why not?” and “What if?” to envision the new possibility and a better future. Once we grasp something, we make it happen in baby steps, learn from the mistakes along the way.

This is the process of business innovation, it is also a process of going from “who we are” to “who we could be”.

4, Respond: Replace the expectation with plan and actions with a choice consistent with your goals and your personal values.

In my case, I know that I am a tireless learner who are also aspired to help others to learn and make changes to their life and the world. I am doing a lot of ad-hoc in-company innovation training as my horizon one, all my work as a curator of CAMP and mentor of all kinds of startup incubators are my horizon two work, both are preparing me to learn the skills and build my network and personal eco-system toward my vision – being a good educator, which is my horizon three. That is how I am calling myself now and in the future.

I guess all what I am trying to say is, “if we assume the change is the norm of our life, the best thing we could do is to be grounded like a tree, build our inner clarity and confidence, open up to anything unknown, tune in, and learn to dance in the rain … “

I would like to end this with a quote of Bruce Lee the Kungfu master:

“Not being tense but ready.

Not thinking but dreaming.

Not being set but flexible.

Liberation from the uneasy sense of confinement.

It is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”

Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

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