Sorry for the recent low levels of blog activity. In addition to the usual summer doldrums, I've been wrapping up a bunch of projects and tooling up for a busy fall season of writing and speaking.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been focused on revising and extending the text of Listening to the Future: Insights from the New World of Work, a collection of white papers that I co-wrote with Dan Rasmus at Microsoft, previously issued as a special-order edition from Wiley. Now Wiley plans to issue a trade edition with about 50% new content, including a series of new papers on the "new world of business" that are only just going through final review and approval. The retail edition is scheduled to ship around November 1, which is right around the corner, publishing-wise, so Dan and I are scrambling to whip the manuscript into shape.
Here's a quick preview from my draft of the introduction (likely to undergo substantial alteration as Dan and I hash through it), which gives a flavor of the theme and direction of the rest of the book.
People Make the Future
Earlier stages of the information age saw the implementation
of large-scale enterprise systems to gather system data and automate business
processes. While these kinds of systems still deliver value, we believe that
the majority of benefits have already been realized and further refinements of
their capabilities will provide only marginal gains. The real action in
enterprise computing is now happening at the micro level, in the routine tasks
that information workers perform dozens of times per day, which have never been
cost-effective to automate through the development of “big IT” solutions.
Today, the most powerful dynamics driving the transformation of work and
business are at the intersection of people and technology: the systems that
connect people to information, processes and one another. These are areas where
end-user demand, grass-roots adoption and the wide availability of
consumer-grade applications of unproven quality and business value collide with
the imperatives of business and IT to provide consistent, secure processes and
high levels of measurable productivity. This is also where new work-related
technologies and practices rub up against the established workstyles and values
of workers and managers, or challenge the prevailing organizational culture.
The influence of social computing and mass collaboration is
already making its way into enterprise from the consumer marketplace. This is having
a turbulent effect on work practices and culture as work becomes more
collaborative and transparent, and the expectations of sophisticated “digital
natives” clash with more traditional approaches to work. Blogs, wikis, instant
messaging, interactive multimedia, subscription-based content, remote and
mobile computing, social networks, content filtering, mashups, and all the
other accoutrements of the Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 toolset are redistributing
power from centralized hierarchies to the network, changing the way decisions
are made, and affecting every process in the workplace.
These types of technologies are fundamentally different from
previous waves of ICT in that they depend intimately on human knowledge and
human participation. Introducing a user-created content repository or a
collaborative extranet for partners is not like re-tooling an assembly line. To
get the most out of the next wave of ICT investments, organizations need to
look much more closely at the relationship between people, process and
information and make sure they have all the bases covered – not just the
application capabilities or the infrastructure. Unless you surround the
introduction of the technology with a whole variety of adaptations to the
management structure and culture, the technology alone is unlikely to generate
the expected benefits for the organization.
Because people are at the center of the next wave of
technologies, the attitudes and values that people bring with them into the
workforce from their outside lives, their national backgrounds, their
generational experience, the consumer culture, and all the other complexities
of the modern world have the potential to deeply affect their performance as
workers and managers. The complexities of the new world of work and business
therefore encompass all the complexities of the world at large. Our holistic
approach to mapping out a set of futures and a set of questions for
organizations may seem unusual, but we feel it is the only way to get a clear
picture of the challenges ahead.