The new work

All work today can be reduced to just four basic types of jobs, according to Lou Adler. His company identified four prototypical jobs after developing thousands of job descriptions over the years.

Everything starts with an idea. This is the first of the four jobs – the Thinkers. Builders convert these ideas into reality. This the second job. Improvers make this reality better. This is the third job. Producers do the work over and over again, delivering quality goods and services to the company’s customers in a repeatable manner. This is the fourth job. And then the process begins again with new ideas and new ways of doing business being developed as the old ones become stale.

While I am not a fan of job competencies, I think this article can tell us something about the future of work in general. For instance, Gary Hamel identified obedience, diligence, and intellect as industrial/information economy competencies. Today, initiative, creativity, and passion are essential skills for what Hamel describes as the Creative Economy. I view this new creative economy as a property of the Network Era which is bringing about the rise of knowledge artisans. So I began to map Hamel’s essential work competencies against Adler’s job types.

Another factor in the changing nature of work is the changing perception of value. In the creative economy, more value is coming from intangible assets than tangible ones. For example, the S&P stock index in 2009 was 81% intangible assets, up from 17% in 1975. I recently discussed intangibles and organizational dynamics with Jay Deragon, as part of the Smarter Companies initiative. As the Smarter Companies website explains:

Despite its enormous importance today, most businesspeople lack the basic knowledge and tools needed to optimize intangible capital. This leads to blocked learning, suboptimal performance, stifled innovation and stagnant growth.

Learning to better deal with intangibles is the next challenge for today’s organizations and workers. I developed the following graphic to describe the four job types in relation to 1) work competencies and 2) economic value. It appears that an economy that creates more intangible value will require a greater percentage of Thinkers and Builders.

As we move into a post-job economy, the difference between labour and talent will become more distinct. Producers and Improvers will continue to get automated, at the speed of Moore’s law. Those lacking enough ‘Talent’ competencies may get marginalized. I think there will be increasing pressure to become ‘Thinkers + Builders’, similar to what  Cory Doctorow describes as Makers in his fictional book about the near future.

What is relatively certain is that ‘Labour’ competencies, which most education and training still focuses on, will have diminishing value. How individuals can improve their Thinking and Building competence should be the focus of anyone’s professional development plan. How organizations can support Thinking and Building should be the focus of Organizational Development and Human Resources departments. While Producing and Improving will not go away, they are not where most economic value will be generated in the Network Era.

As with all models, this one simplifies reality, but it may be useful for thinking about the future of work.

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