Digital disruption, global reach, and the changing workplace affect us all, and at all levels - individual, team, organisation, and community. Gihan Perera is a futurist, conference speaker, author and consultant who gives business leaders a glimpse into what's ahead - and how they can become fit for the future.
The youngest Millennials (also know as Gen Ys), and their younger sibling Gen Z, expect more from their workplace.
Most workplaces still carry over baggage from 200 years ago, when offices were invented. But people are becoming much more entrepreneurial. You no longer need to be in an office. You can work remotely while still being part of a creative and productive team. Distributed work will become the norm, not the exception, with more offsite workers – such as freelancers and telecommuters. The best people for the job will do the work – and they might be anywhere in the world.
The future of work, especially for knowledge workers, will be about seamlessly blending work and personal life, using digital technology such as cloud computing and augmented reality rather than the traditional office working structure.
That will require both the physical infrastructure necessary to allow remote working as well as a significant shift in thinking from leaders and managers. In fact, that shift is the biggest barrier (if done wrong) and the biggest enabler (if done right). This will be one of our biggest challenges – the new management styles needed to operate and supervise work in fast-changing environments.
This short article is an extract from a larger article “Dead End Job”, from the latest issue of Edith magazine, from Edith Cowan University (ECU). The full article is available on the ECU Web site.
Great leaders aren’t afraid to stand for something that matters to them, even if it means being unpopular. They have a strong personal brand based on what they stand for, and built on two things: their expertise (what they know) and their network (who they know). That personal brand drives their decision-making, attracts the best followers, and makes a mark in their world.
In this episode, we’ll look at a six-step process for building your personal brand:
Claim Your Expertise: To establish your authority, put a stake in the ground and stand for something. Even if you’re not sure of your expertise yet, accept whatever feels right now. For some people, this is a lifelong journey, so start the journey anyway.
Build a Network of Connections: Build a strong network, both offline and online, and both internal and external. Start with LinkedIn, Twitter and your industry forums.
Consume High-Quality Material: Instead of feeling overwhelmed by information overload, see it as an opportunity to learn from many sources. The key now is to learn from trusted sources in your network, rather than relying only on mass media or broad Google searches.
Comment with Value: Commenting online is easy, but most people just make shallow comments. Instead, make meaningful comments that add value to the conversation already taking place.
Curate Other People’s Material: Sift through all the material that comes your way, and carefully choose what to share with your network. One of my clients, Kirsten Hodgson, describes it as “doing their reading for them”.
Create Original Material: Finally, you can publish your own ideas, stories, examples, research, and insights.
Last year, when speaking at a real estate conference in Brisbane, I had the chance to test out a virtual reality headset from RealEstate.com. This technology allows property buyers and tenants to view and inspect a property even if they are on the other side of the world.
More recently, I had the chance to use virtual reality to step inside the Globe Theatre in London. This is not the modern Globe, but the Globe as it was in Shakespeare’s time, 400 years ago.
These simple examples demonstrate the power of virtual reality, or “VR” – one of the most life-changing technologies we’ll see in the next few years.
What is Virtual Reality?
In brief, with virtual reality (VR), you enter a digital world and move around in it. That digital world might be a model of:
something real (like the property I inspected)
the past (like the Globe Theatre, the world of dinosaurs, or some other historical event)
the future (such as plans for a city redevelopment)
something completely imaginary (such as a Harry Potter world)
That world itself isn’t real, but virtual reality makes your experience of it very real!
This is different from Augmented Reality (AR)
As an aside, there’s a related technology called augmented reality (AR), which bring parts of a digital world into the real world. For example, the popular Pokémon Go app used AR to project the fictional Pokémon world onto physical locations, turning a card game into a real-world game.
Here’s a diagram showing the difference:
You can see the difference clearly by contrasting the kind of devices used for AR and VR:
On the left (picture courtesy Royal Opera House Covent Garden) is an early version of Google Glass, which gives the wearer additional information about whatever he’s looking at. The device gives him a clear view of the world, but augments it with information from Google.
On the right is the Oculus virtual reality headset, which blocks out the viewer’s real world and tricks her senses to believing she is in a completely made-up world.
What’s so great about VR?
For decades – centuries, even – we have been trying to create the same effect as VR:
Authors use the written word to transport readers into virtual worlds.
Photographers use still pictures.
Actors and producers use film and stage.
As a kid, you might have had a “Viewmaster” device – as we did – and marvelled at its ability to show still pictures in three dimensions.
Yes, we’ve been using “virtual reality” for as long as we’ve been telling stories. Watch this video for a quick journey through the history of virtual reality:
So, if we’ve been doing it for centuries, why all the buzz about it now?
Until now, our technology has been limited, and it has required users to use their imagination to “fill in the blanks”. Now, we have the technology to create an experience that’s almost indistinguishable from reality.
What does it mean?
VR has the potential to change every business, every industry, and every one of our experiences.
Here’s a quick slide show of “10 Everyday Things Virtual Reality Will Change”:
At TED.com, Nonny de la Peña talks about how VR can enhance the experience of news stories – creating a new, more immersive, kind of journalism and reporting:
Also at TED.com, storyteller Chris Milk describes how VR creates greater connection between storytellers and their audiences:
Taking another example: In education, students could:
Attend lectures from home, as if they were in the lecture theatre
Interact with other students – all in the same VR classroom
Bypass lectures altogether and engage in the material in a VR world (e.g. visting mediaeval England, experiencing a space flight, or taking a “Fantastic Vogage” journey through the bloodstream)
Harvard University has announced it will teach its most popular online course, An Introduction to Computer Science, in VR. Here’s the promo for it, which itself you can watch in VR if you wish:
How to get started
If you have never experienced VR, start by getting Google’s free VR device, Google Cardboard.
You can download the free template and build it yourself, or pay a small fee to order it from a local supplier.
Follow the instructions to fold the cardboard a few times, and in a few minutes you’ll the basic headset. Download the Google Cardboard app to your smartphone, pop the phone into the headset, and now you have a VR headset!
If you have never experienced VR, I highly recommend you do this! It’s hard to describe VR to somebody who hasn’t experienced it, and when you do experience it, you will immediately grasp its power and potential.
We’re not yet at the stage where ordinary users can create VR environments as easily as they can take a photo or shoot a video. But remember how recently that technology was only available to experts? It won’t be long before you can create VR experiences in your personal and professional life.
Even if you don’t have the technology, you can become fit for the future by imagining where it might be used in your business, industry and life. Simply consider anything involving people (yes, that’s a huge range of activities!), and imagine VR in that scenario.
This book is a fascinating glimpse into the future of expertise. It looks at the traditional professions (such as law, accounting, and medicine) and widens the field by adding others such as divinity, journalism, and management consulting.
The father-and-son team of Richard and Daniel Susskind group them together because they all have these four features:
They have specialist knowledge
Their membership is based on credentials and qualifications
Their activities are regulated
They are bound by a common set of values
These are the things that have protected these professionals (and the public) in the past. But these strengths are also their greatest weaknesses. In our fast, flat and free world:
Knowledge is easily accessible, so specialist knowledge matters less
You don’t need credentials or qualifications to succeed
Regulation and controls restrict progress, and professionals face competition from providers outside the regulated regime
Consumers don’t necessarily value the common values of the profession anymore
All this means the professions are under attack, and the Susskinds map out the battlefields in clear and convincing detail.
A large section of the book is called “Theory”, but don’t let that put you off. It’s really talking about the various influences and technologies that put pressure on the professions – such as Big Data, robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things.
The following section, “Implications”, applies those influences to the professions, and explains how they play out in the real world for those professionals.
Even if your business doesn’t fall into the “professionals” category, this book is a canary in the coal mine for what’s ahead. And if your business does fall into that category, it’s a must-read!
I’m speaking at the FPA (Financial Planning Association of Australia) national conference this week about The Future of Leadership, and we’ll be looking at the skills for the future workforce.
One of the key skills identified by the Institute for the Future is “transdisciplinarity”, which is about applying ideas, skills and expertise across different disciplines and industries. For example, historian and political pundit Allan Lichtman was one of the few experts who correctly predicted Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, using a system he developed that’s loosely based not on politics, but geophysics!
But what does transdisciplinarity mean for YOU?
As a leader or manager, you’re already applying your skills (and your team’s skills) to your current project, current business, and current industry. It might not seem obvious – or useful – to look wider.
But it is! If you can see things that are happening outside your current focus and imagine how they can affect you, you become much more valuable as a leader – and help future-proof your organisation. If you can take it a step further and connect multiple things, you become even more valuable.
Here’s an example …
Let’s stick with the financial planning example, and look at some of the technology that might affect it:
So, following the diagram above, you can imagine this scenario in the near future:
Artificial Intelligence software will collect big data and use predictive analytics to design customised financial plans (This is what the industry calls “robo-advice”).
Clients use gamification (like Pokémon Go did) to motivate and reward them for keeping to their plan.
They use virtual reality to create and “step into” future scenarios.
When making decisions in daily life, augmented reality software helps them stay on track with their plan and goals.
And then you can imagine a tiny bit further down the track:
Genetic mapping before birth can guide the planning process even more precisely.
All of this technology is available now – it’s just not connected up that way yet. Some of it (like Big Data) is already infiltrating the world of financial advice, so it’s already making waves. But the rest isn’t far behind!
This is not just about financial planners, of course. The same principles apply to every team, every business, and every industry.
How can you improve your transdisciplinarity?
This is a skill you can develop both for yourself and your team. It’s simple – and easy – but you do need to commit to it:
Scan: Encourage your team members to look out for new trends and new technology, especially from outside your industry.
Connect: As a team, think of ways to connect them to your business and your industry. The connections might not be obvious at first, but keep looking!
Embrace: If possible, actually adopt these ideas and start using them!
If you truly want to be fit for the future, learn to be a “transdisciplinarian”!
In this excellent podcast, Jacob Morgan interviews key business leaders – including CEOs, CHROs, Learning & Development managers, and business owners – about the future of work. His interviews cover a broad range of topics about work and the workplace, including automation, employee engagement, talent management, e-learning systems, and more.
If you’re at all interested in how the workplace is changing, I highly recommend this podcast.
Many managers admit they don’t know how to manage and lead virtual teams effectively — particularly when it comes to trust, communication, managing deadlines, and achieving consensus in decision-making. Even worse, there are some common myths about virtual teams, which can cause friction within the team or even seriously damage its performance.
You can watch the recording here:
The five myths:
Myth #1: It’s too difficult to build trust Reality: It’s not more difficult; it’s just different.
Myth #2: It’s too difficult to build synergy Reality: Synergy is intentional, not incidental.
Myth #3: Team members feel too isolated and detached Reality: Some personalities thrive under remote work arrangements.
Myth #4: Interpersonal skills aren’t important Reality: If anything, interpersonal skills are even more important.
Myth #5: You can’t measure and reward performance Reality: Sometimes you can do it even better.
After the webinar, I asked participants “What was the most useful thing you learned today?” Here are some of their answers:
“The opportunities are out there so make the most of them”
“It was all useful and I enjoyed the webinar (although in this case not applicable to me)”
“reminder of how to include others in virtual activities”
“That moving away from a physical office is not as scary as I thought”
“Collaboration tools and debunking the myths”
“Debunking of the 5 myths”
The Future Proof Webinar Series
The Future Proof webinar series will keep you in touch with our future - what's ahead, what it means for us, and how to stay ahead of the game.
In each webinar, I'll cover an important topic about the future - for example, the shift of power to Asia, the changing workplace, healthcare technology, the shift to customer-centric business, big data, and more. This is not just theory; I'll also give you practical examples and ideas for you to future-proof your organisation, teams, and career.