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Work – Options and Possibilities

Each of the four identified trends is significant, and they are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. When considered together, they raise many questions, and suggest issues to monitor as the next decade unfolds.  Three of the most pertinent are:

What will global capitalism learn about work from the emerging economies?
For example: Will copyright and patent law be the framework for intellectual property (IP) in the emerging economies? What is the future of full-time employment? (In India only 7% of the labor force has formal jobs.) And, how can incentive systems fairly measure, motivate and reward collaborative work?

Reverse Imperialism? How strongly will the rich economies resist globalization if the export of high-paying jobs becomes more of an issue than the import of inexpensive goods and services? As consumer and corporate benefits have acted as a catalyst, the off-shoring trend of recent years has served both the developed and the developing countries well, but will that continue for much longer?

IP rights in an information economy? IT has reduced the marginal cost of IP to essentially zero. Collaboration in the human genome project and many other bioscience projects (the sequencing of the SARS virus, for example) is demonstrating the power of open access to new information. So, how will incentives for creative work change to recognize these two powerful economic shifts? Will the open innovation movement evolve to a point where know-how and capability rather than pure IP in the traditional sense is the currency? If so, how will organizations monetize collaboration?

The context in which these issues will unfold will be radically, but predictably, different from the past. I believe the most important is the locus of growth. Today, there are over six billion people on the planet, about one billion of them in rich countries. In 2050, there will be nine billion people—yet still only one billion in current rich countries.  E growth will be centered in the emerging economies, where the middle classes are growing rapidly in both number and consumption per capita. The requirements in the developing world for basic products and services—food, health care, housing—will be the world’s largest growth opportunity. Global companies will be seeking to engage these next billions not only as consumers, but as human resources.  They will be inhibited, however, to the degree they bring with them business models and practices from the rich world.

Technology innovation will clearly continue to change the business environment: Software will continue to erode white collar and professional work.  It has already de-skilled many professions—spreadsheets make everyone a financial analyst, i-Phone-based software can now make everyone a solar panel installer.  And robots being developed in Japan help take care of the aged: Automated people-care will be big business.. In one recent study, half an hour with Paro, a robot resembling a fur seal, improved the brain function of Alzheimer’s patients more than an hour of music therapy.. Innovations in preventative healthcare will reduce the very high projections of growth in this industry. Next, workflow automation and smart infrastructure will assume much of the surveillance and coordination work done to keep supply chains, transportation systems, utilities, and security systems functioning.

The technological advancement pattern of the Industrial Revolution will write its next chapter with information technology. Once again, progress will reduce manual labour, save time and increase wellbeing, but will also reduce traditional roles and limit opportunity for some.

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