Years ago I read a book by a futurist named Faith Popcorn. That was the author’s name, not the book, though I could understand any confusion. Grammatically, I should have said that “is” the author’s name, not “was.” I presume it’s still her name? I’m guessing that it hasn’t always been her name. Things change. I think the book was called ‘Clicking’ and it was about things changing.
The book was published in 1998, the same year my son was born. I was enthralled at the prospect of the trend spotting and changing world outlined in the book and how to prepare for them. I was less enthralled by the early years of raising a child and I wasn’t changing the world nearly as often as I was changing nappies. (Although, they both needed changing for much the same reason.) Gweneth Paltrow won an Oscar in 1998 which, if nothing else, proves that anything is possible so there is cause for optimism. And the whole ‘raising a child’ thing distracted me from the top song and album of the year being by BoyZone and the BeeGees. The BeeGees – in 1998! Damn it New Zealand, c’mon.
To be honest, I haven’t gone back and read the book. I was just reminded of it by the topic of this month’s issue – the working world in 2016. Not wanting to ruin the magic of magazine publishing but this article’s deadline for the February issue was last December. So, in a way, I had to wear my ‘futurist’ hat. Although, if I was genuinely a futurist, I’ve had known two years ago that hats and beards would make a huge comeback and I’m both hatless and beardless. Trendiness-aside, I’m OK with that. One trend I do recall, even now, from Popcorn (not her real name) was ‘cocooning.’ Even before the internet really kicked in and the terrorism / media combo made everyone scared of their shadows, she projected that people would go out less often. Bigger houses, wider TVs, home delivery of food, and so forth were clues. Almost two decades on, we have to give her a big tick on that one.
What I liked about her style was / is that she then outlined her thoughts around the implications. I see she now runs a web service, no doubt prognosticating on the implications of drones, big data and printing our own food and pancreases. (Is that the plural of pancreas? I never thought I’d need to juggle multiple pancreases.)
I like movies set in the not too distant future. Bladerunner had a hyper-present Asian culture and some pretty bleak climatic consequences. Minority Report has Tom Cruise running from the authorities, only to have a sentient vending machine scan his retina without him opting in and suggest he purchase his favourite beverage whilst at the same time reporting him to the cops. Elysium had Matt Damon working a terrible job manufacturing the robot security guards that would oppress him and protect the pampered elite living in the clouds.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘The Tipping Point’ wrote about ‘Coolhunters’ – marketing people whose job it was to trawl the streets and clubs to observe the hippest people, what they were drinking, wearing and doing, then projecting that into the next big thing on a scale. That’s a real thing and now big data makes it all the more rapid and accurate.
So, how does all this relate to the world of work in 2016? We’re past the 2015 date Marty McFly and Doc went forward to in ‘Back To The Future.’ Technically, we do have hoverboards but they’re $15,000 and they only work while over a sheet of copper. They do come with a sheet of copper but it’s only a metre long, so if you’re into remaining motionless about four inches about the ground, this may be next year’s Christmas gift for you. (Assuming you’re into Christmas or allowed to even say that word at work. You might have one of those “Season’s Greetings” situations. Or should the apostrophe in seasons go after the s if we’re incorporating every culture’s shindigs and shenanigans, then we’re probably in for more than one season of festivity. Frankly, I’m also OK with that. Better than hats and beards.)
Work 2016 – look for big data or a lite kiwi version of it impacting recruitment. Think Tinder but for workers. (If you want to hire me, you have to at least buy me dinner first.) Look for greater entrepreneurship amongst young people. It’s dangerous for society to have swarms of directionless under-employed youth without structure. That’s how gangs, terrorists and acting schools recruit. Look for European Governments initially to finally tackle that problem creatively, provoked by the refugee and terrorism situations. Eventually we’ll try some of those ideas that we were probably doing before 1984 anyway. Look for new jobs that you cannot believe exist. Faith Popcorn is spotting a trend for hot sauce sommeliers in restaurants. (Syrians could do that?) Look for whatever the next ridiculous fashion trend that supercedes hats and beards.
I MC’d several HR conferences recently, here and in Singapore. One of the reasons conferences occur is to pick up on trends and, certainly, technology features predominantly amongst trends. Phrases get thrown around like ‘big data’ and everyone goes “ooh” or “grr”. I’m a fan of irony and nothing tickles me more than a presenter on a technology topic who includes a link to an online video in their presentation and then expresses incredulous surprise when it either doesn’t connect at all, or streams erratically. They’re genuinely astonished that the conference venue doesn’t have broadband as good as their high tech headquarters where they tested everything. I so applaud their optimism but c’mon, download it, edit it and embed it. If you can’t get that right, what faith can we have in your product?
Many of these videos are from futurists and fans of the movie ‘Minority Report’. It’s like a drinking game at HR conferences – every time you see a scene in a presenter’s video where someone pinches or swipes the air in front of their face and a holographic ‘screen’ opens and floats there and they tap it or throw it to a wall, you have to skull your drink. Fortunately, at conferences it’s just water with way too much ice. This presents risks of its own but at least intoxication isn’t one of them.
Chickens and eggs, horses and carts – one of those represents the relationships between HR practices and HR technology. For example, one of the speakers quoted a prediction that, within a few years, professional firms will have on average a 50-50 blended workforce. So, half your people will not be employees but may be contractors or some variation on that theme. This floating, flexible, just-in-time talent pool may or may not be located on your premises. Is this trend occuring because mobile technology enables it or is mobile technology being developed to profit from the trend. I think it’s chickens and eggs.
Another process that’s not necessarily all about technology but technology is making it so much more do-able and everyone is increasingly familiar with it because of online activity is rating. The international speakers at the Singapore conference talked a lot about rating. One example was semi-formal ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) ‘pulse checks’ from employees using an app or an intranet link instead of, or in addition to, infrequent and more in-depth engagement surveys. Another example was online forums where people can rate their boss like they’d rate a book on Amazon or rate a restaurant on Yelp. Starting at a job might be more navigatable if you had as part of your orientation and induction an app called ‘Job Advisor’ akin to ‘Trip Advisor’. If you won’t stay at anything less than a four star hotel, why would you even contemplate working for anything less than a four star boss? (Five stars is the best. Unless it’s a planetarium, in which case five stars is terrible).
Needless to say, there were mixed feelings about such rating systems. That’s not to throw shade at the technology. The issues seemed to be more about how the ratings were conducted, privacy, and human nature.
Singapore was full of rating. The moment you legally entered the country through immigration, a tablet on a post was your first impression. Glowing pink and yellow, it offered a five point likert scale to assess the experience you just had with immigration. Five cartoon faces ranging from very smiley to very non smiley. Again, I admire the optimism but the person I was rating (and who had the authority to detain me for forty eight hours) was only one metre behind me! I gave them a pretty smiley but not very smile face and scurried on my way. The next such panel I encountered was on my way out of the toilet. The screen had the same likert scale of smiley faces but also had a photo of someone I assume was the person responsible for the state of the toilets. (Either that or employee of the month). It was actually a great toilet experience and I would have absolutely given them the highest rating but if there’s one touch screen I’m not touching, it’s there. Maybe if they had a foot operated survey? I feel the same way about the door handles and the taps.
The thing with technology is that it’s a tool. Someone makes it and hopes there’s a need or someone observes there is a need and creates a tool to solve a problem, meet a challenge or fill a gap. You want to avoid the former.
An obvious feature about conferences is the expo section where vendors pitch their wares and many are tech outfits promoting the latest shiny thing. By all means pop your business card in the bowl and win that champagne but know your needs before you go shopping.
Mentoring is a great idea and doesn’t need technology but can technology help? I saw an app where mentors and mentees can connect without any need for human mediation. It’s a lot like Tinder (but not too much like Tinder).