Information, organisations and flow: Musings on the future of work

There is no point thinking hard about information unless it is placed in the context it operates in. While I am primarily interested in markets, (yes it’s Cluetrain time again), and while I see greater and greater disaggregation in the size and shape of market participants, the “firm” is still here, and employs many of the people who are reading this.

I believe it is instructive to look at the future of the firm, and of work in general, when seeking to understand and respond to the information needs of tomorrow.

As usual, I’d like to pay homage to those that have influenced me in this. Tom Malone and his The Future of Work (Sean and I had the privilege of listening to him at Supernova last year). John Roberts and his The Modern Firm. Ricardo Semler with Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend. Steven Johnson’s Emergence. Lots of Drucker. Some Richard Scase and some Michael Power. More than you would believe from Carlota Perez. From Ken Ohmae. And regular stuff from Esther and Release 1.0.

And, of course, the opportunity to try a lot of the stuff out in a live environment; the patience and tolerance of my employers, the enthusiasm and occasional resigned acceptance of my colleagues.

So here are my seven points, the backdrop against which I’m trying to define how information needs to work.

1. The war for talent will get worse

We are in the midst of a war for talent. Whether it’s the educational system worldwide (but particularly in the West), whether it’s caused by greater human mobility, whether it’s the impact of changing demographics, and whether it’s the impact of 3 billion people getting connected to the world economy, Houston, we have a problem. So we need to know how best to attract, retain, develop and enhance talent. First get good people.

2. There are finite solutions to this problem

  • Using new models to access resources: opensource, outsource, partner.
  • Using new models to attract and retain resources: respond to consumerisation, leverage the learning of the next generation
  • Using new models to use existing resources: collaboration tools

3. Any solution, isolated or hybrid, will need to meet the expectations of today’s youth

  • Not tied to working from one place (so much so I can foresee a time where home address is not a field on an application for employment) Provision of mobility support
  • Not tied to working for one company (which is another reason for building platform-independent software, the firm will not control the device for much longer) Better handling of permissioning and authentication and privacy and data protection
  • Not tied to working at a specific time (I thought punching cards in and out was old hat, but sometimes you wouldn’t believe it) Offline and online, synchronous and asynchronous
  • An engagement with information that extends their consumer experience (web-based, single sign-on, tagged not hierarchied and foldered, always on, quick response, accessible from anywhere)

4. The solution must support group activity

Tools to promote and facilitate multiperson activity are mandatory rather than nice-to-have

5. The work-life balance issue matters

But differently from prior expectations. It’s not this is work, this is life, let’s keep the two distinct and separate. It is this is work and life at the same time, changing rapidly from one to the other. This is a big enough point for me to return to later.

6. What the remnant of the firm “stands for” matters

It is this, a firm’s core values, that will attract the youth in the first place. And soft issues like corporate social responsibility, attitude to trade and poverty, integrity of behaviour and offer set, support for diversity, assistance in support for further academic activity, all this will matter more and more. A company’s organisation structure reflects its communications structure, as I blogged earlier from Conway. But I can go further and say that a company communications structure reflects its culture and values. And maybe, just maybe, a company’s applications architecture does the same. If not today, soon. Again, a blog for later. Command and control versus distrubuted and empowered, emergent and agile versus established and plodding, horizontal soft strata rather than vertical silos.

7. And we somehow have to do all this in the face of increasing post-facto regulation, of regulatory conflict between locations and sectors, of more litigiousness and higher risk aversion.

Oh frabjous day.

What’s this got to do with information? Everything. Markets are conversations. Markets are made out of people. And people will disaggregate and reaggregate in space and time and “employment”.

More later. As usual comments welcome. And yes, I know I haven’t mentioned the role of dealing with bad DRM to solve all this.

Let me know what you think

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