Unless we test new work models now, we will not be ready for the demands of the future. Trying out new management structures while we have time is better than trying to make a quick shift during a crisis. Change management today means practicing change, not waiting for it to hit you on the side of the head. Smart companies don’t wait for change, they constantly experiment in anticipation of change. Whether it’s climate change or a new market demand, chance favours the prepared company.
The fundamental nature of work is changing as we transition into the network era. Creative work is beginning to dominate industrial work as we shift to a post-job economy. The major driver of this change is the automation of routine work, especially through software, but increasingly with robots. Valued work is in handling exceptions, dealing with complex problems, and doing customized tasks. The products of this work are often intangible. As a result, our industrial work structures need to change. Organizations have to become more networked, not just with information technology, but in how workers create, use, and share knowledge.
The workplace of the network era requires a different type of leadership; one that emerges from the network as required. Effective leadership in networks is negotiated and temporary, according to need. Giving up control will be a major challenge for anyone used to the old ways of managing. An important part of leadership will be to ensure that knowledge is shared throughout the network.
Learning is a critical part of working in a creative economy. Being able to continuously learn, and share that new knowledge, will be as important as showing up on time was in the industrial economy. Continuous learning will also disrupt established hierarchies as no longer will a management position imply greater knowledge or skills. Command and control will be replaced by influence and respect, in order to retain creative talent. Management in networks means influencing possibilities rather than striving for predictability. We will have to accept that no one has definitive answers anymore, but we can use the intelligence of our networks to make sense together.
The shift to the network era will not be easy for many people and most organizations. Common assumptions about how work gets done will have to be discarded. Established ways of earning education credentials will be abandoned for more flexible and meaningful methods. Connections between disciplines and professions are growing and artificial boundaries will continue to crack. Systemic changes to business and education will happen. There will be disruption on a societal level, but we can create new work and learning models to help us deal with this next phase in human civilization. The statistician George Box wrote that, “essentially all models are wrong, but some are useful”, and we will never know which are useful unless we try them out.