The thought of work.

Developing your people for the roles of tomorrow

Once upon a time, in most organisations, a few people would meet, maybe weekly or daily, and spend an hour or so “planning the work”, so that everyone else could clock in then spend all their time “working the plan”.

There were a few whose job it was to think, and a lot whose job it was to do. But then came machines.

And to be honest, not much changed. Machines might have made people more productive, but the language and culture of work, the expectations we held for most of the working population remained the same. A little time for thinking is fine, but then get on with doing. Plan the work then work the plan. Head down, crack on.

Even as automation flowed through systems and organisations, and robots took over most of our factories and distribution centres, the new jobs that arose still worked within those paradigms; the separation of planning and doing, of thinking and working.

And for most jobs in most businesses, that’s still the expectation. It’s a flawed and outdated expectation, but nevertheless it persists, in the way that unquestioned assumptions, received wisdom, and handed-down habits, invariably tend to do.

Here’s the flaw: as more routine tasks get automated, which they continue to be, and more complex tasks get picked up by machine learning and new forms of AI, which we’re already seeing, more and more of the work we want our people to do will be in two broad spheres: creative and conceptual thinking; and interacting with other people.

Both of these are likely to remain “people domains” because as humans, we can imagine, infer, empathise and connect with other humans in a way that technology can’t, and may never be able to do. And because these are not tasks you can “plan” then “act”, or “think” then “do” – they are iterative, fluid processes of thinking and acting, of discovery and rethinking.

Or at least they should be.

Nobody likes listening so someone read a sales script or tell you the computer says “no”. The depressing pointlessness of talking to someone who, even if they’re interested in your problem, doesn’t have the authority to resolve it.

Almost every example you can come up with of management and customer service failure, is because organisations neither allow nor incentivise their people to think creatively in the moment, nor do they hire or train people who can.

How much innovation and opportunity are we passing up because most of the minds within our businesses are structurally and culturally constrained to prioritise doing over thinking?

Right now, we are on the cusp of the AI age. Over the next decade, more and more of the things that most of your people spend their working hours doing now, the things that set you apart from the competition and make you successful, will be done with the click of a mouse, or more likely the tick of an algorithm that’s available to anyone.

So, if you want a successful business in ten years’ time, the question you might want to ask yourself, is this: how will you develop and nurture those perennial human skills of creative and conceptual thinking, of intuition, connection, and relationship building, throughout your organisation, to keep customers coming back to you time and again?

In short, how will you develop your people, your culture, and your expectations around the nature of work itself, to meet the human needs of tomorrow?