Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Shift: The future of work is already here - book overview

The Shift: The future of work is already here by Gratton, L. Published in 2011 by Harper Collins.

Briefly browsed through this book a few years ago when it arrived at the Ara library. Over the summer, completed a deeper read of the concepts proposed. In part due to the paucity of literature proposing solutions beyond UBI (universal basic income) as a panacea for the implications wrought by AI / robotics / globalisation / neoliberalisation etc. on the future of work.

Generally positive reviews from aidnography blog, management today magazine and financial times. The tone of reviews indicate the book to have a business / organisational management slant.

The book is readable to a lay audience and written in a conversational style. There are 11 chapters plus preface and introduction with 5 parts dividing up the book into themes. Due to the rapid movement in this area of research, the bibliography is already dated. At the end of the book, there is also a ‘follow up’ section with author contact etc., acknowledgements and comprehensive notes for those keen to explore various items further.

The introduction details the rationalisation and the ‘how the book came about’. In particular, the metaphor of quilting is used to illustrate a way forward. The introduction is a caveat in part, outlining the challenges inherent in predicting the future and the ways the used to try to circumvent some of the pitfalls. Two assumptions are used to anchor the various themes, firstly is that generalised skills may not be the panacea, instead there is a need for specialists to constantly ‘reinvent’ themselves; secondly, individualism is replaced by collaboration and networks.

Chapter 1 makes up the one chapter in Part 1 ‘the forces that will shape your future’. The five forces are: technology, globalisation, demography and longevity, society and energy resources. Each of the forces is discussed and extended to provide deeper detailing to make a total of 32. Nothing new in these but the thematic collation is useful. Suggests individuals need to craft their own future by discarding items no longer required, embroidering the items of importance, discovering and collecting new pieces, sorting to prioritise and continually looking for patterns.

Part 2 is made up of 3 chapters which summarise the ‘dark side of the default future’ with the increase in fragmentation as we experience our world in sound bites, facebook likes and random wanderings around the web. Of importance is the effect on how we learn and progress as our lives becomes challenged by having to deal with a deluge of information and expectations. Our concentration to allow for the building of mastery is compromised, our capacity to observe and learn is reduced and the opportunities to ‘play and create’ are removed.

The flip side is the isolation individuals then feel as actual social interaction declines. In part due to the erosion of ‘the family’, the neighbourhood/ village, and opportunities for ‘easy friendship’. The economic consequences of exclusion through the rise in the ‘new poor’ is covered in chapter4. There is a widening gap between the haves and have nots due to a shift to ‘the winner takes all’ syndrome and the celebration of the individual.

Part 3 then takes on a proactive slant with ‘the bright side of the crafted future’ Each chapter proposes a solution. These include, co-creation, social engagement and micro-entrepreneurship.
A series of narratives gives life to these three chapters. The examples provided are contemporary and describe live, as it is now, for many. In summary, these three chapters discuss how the forces can be used to make life better and how individuals need to be aware of how to leverage off the forces, instead of being overwhelmed by them.

The fourth part spells out ‘the shift’. Each shift is defined and extended. The shifts are: from shallow generalists to ‘serial maser’; from isolated competitor to innovative connector; and from voracious consumer to impassioned producer. Here, solutions offered are argued through. Firstly, it is important to build deep mastery in a discipline, but the caveat is to ensure the discipline has potential for future career development. Deep mastery requires investment in time and effort to attain. Affinity, passion, and resilience are important. Serial masters constantly ‘rework’ themselves by sliding and morphing’, as work shifts and mastery increases. Then ensure there is an emphasis on connecting with others, organisations, etc. and making use of technology to crowdsource, network and self-market. Importantly, becoming a ‘producer’ / crafter/ maker so one becomes a contributor, not just a consumer.

The last part consist of a series of ‘notes’ which summarise the recommendations to targeted audiences. The notes are to children, CEOs and governments. In conclusion, the book advocates for individuals to be proactive and to take control of their working lives. However, agency on the part of workers is fraught with social / economical / political obstacles, sometimes difficult for individuals on their own, to navigate or get around. Therefore, some support may be a key to empower individuals to think through, plan and realise goals to ensure they are able to continually adapt to the challenges.

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