On May 16th, 2018, Gary A. Bolles – Chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University, but also Partner at Charrette LLC and Co-founder of eParachute.com – was in Luxembourg to share his research and knowledge on the future of work. His main focus is on strategies for helping individuals, organizations, communities and countries thrive in the transition to a digital work economy.

With the advent of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Automation, how are these three megatrends changing the way we work? Therefore, how can people adapt? Do they need to be scared of losing their job?

We are inundated with stories of how software and robots are frequently used to replace human tasks, and that’s why there’s currently such a negative narrative for the future of work. We need a more positive narrative that shows how automation can also augment what humans do, allowing people to continually solve bigger problems.

What’s inevitable, though, is that the speed and spread of change means that many workers will need to learn to adapt more quickly than before. And that will take a different mindset than when traditional jobs used to last a long time.


Can you share some related figures about AI and Machine Learning, and concrete examples on how it will change some industries?

We already know where software is performing a lot of formerly human tasks, affecting jobs like travel agents, ad buyers, and retail clerks. We’ll increasingly see analytical software automating tasks like investment advice, legal recommendations, and medical solutions. In many cases, that will free up workers to perform tasks that require uniquely-human skills like creativity, insight, and empathy.

As far as statistics go, most of the information we have about work-related automation focuses mostly on tasks that might be automated, given what we think today’s technology could do. But we’re mostly blind to the new work that our technologies will enable. We need to do a lot more work in this realm, to support a positive narrative about the future of work. And we also need to focus a tremendous amount of innovation on creating those technologies that can super-charge humans in their work.


How important has purpose become in today’s digital and volatile environment? What other aspects are the most important according to the newer generations?

One way we’re very different from software and robots is that we can gain meaning from work. To some, meaning is as simple as the satisfaction that comes from feeding a family and putting a roof over their heads. To others, meaning comes from a deep belief in the reason why you were put on this planet, which we often call purpose. And to many, meaning comes from having a mission to help others.

I think of these - meaning, purpose, mission - as superpowers. They give us motivation to accomplish extraordinary things. And they will be increasingly important as drivers for our work, to keep us focused on solving increasingly important problems, as we allow technology to perform more mundane and repetitive tasks.

From our work with eParachute.com, we know that, in addition to purpose, there are six other factors that affect our choice of work. The skills we love to use, the knowledges we most love having, the work environment that lets us do our best work, the people environment that energizes us most, the geographical location where we do our work, and the way we’re compensated for our work - each of us prioritizes these differently, depending on our values and circumstances.

As to what’s most important for younger workers today, having meaning seems to be an increasingly greater priority for many, and the amount of money seems of diminishing importance. But we should be careful of generalizing, since priorities for each of us can change based on a range of factors. What’s critical is that we are each deeply aware of our own priorities, with work that reflects what matters most to each of us.


How do companies need to accompany their people in an environment which is changing at such a fast pace?

What we call a company today is changing dramatically, and we are seeing a range of experiments with new ways to channel human energy. Organizations need to become far more flexible and open, allowing self-forming teams to dynamically bind around problems to solve. Take a look at manager-less companies like Valve Software and Gore Industries to see dramatically different ways of organizing. Existing companies need to help workers to better understand their own unique skills, allow workers to team together more easily, and - rather than simply laying off workers when they’re no longer needed - commit to what we call “no human left behind” - strategies that encourage workers to continually find new ways to solve new problems.


Finally, what are your three pieces of advice for HR managers - and companies in general - in order for them to communicate internally on how the working environment is transforming?

First of all, HR leaders must become strategic partners of the leadership of the organization. That means delegating the mundane tasks of traditional HR to outsourcers, and focusing on what defines and guides the organization’s processes of channeling human energy.

HR must also commit to helping every single worker understand their own unique capabilities, on an ongoing basis, so workers can pro-actively be as creative and as adaptive as possible.

Finally, HR needs to be a conscientious steward of the aggregate skills of the organization, and continually encourage workers to self-optimize themselves in matching their best-loved skills with the challenges and opportunities of the organization.


Alexandre Keilmann

Photo: Olivier Dessy

This article has already been published in BEAST Magazine #11

Publié le 12 juin 2018