What’s up in 2017?


From the Brave New World of employee monitoring, big data and Robotic Process Automation, to more micro trends such as: business coaches and solopreneurs, plus some evolving trends in leadership.

Employee monitoring – a dystopian idea – Use it for good not evil

Human resources media wrote recently about the “wearable technology that can spy on you.”

Basically, a company called Humanyze (what is it with weird spelling?) has developed “sociometric badges” that employees can wear, that monitor everything from heart rate, activity, sleep and stress levels. There is even a microphone that can monitor your tone of voice and who’s talking to whom. Like a fitbit on steroids. These are already reportedly being used in a major UK bank and part of Britain’s NHS. Humanyze says they are not intended to spy but to provide data that can help drive productivity and employee wellbeing.

By mining that data, you can actually get very detailed information on how people are communicating, how physiologically aroused people are, and can make predictions about how productive and happy they are at work,” Ben Waber, CEO at Humanyze told The Times.

A whole lot of futuristic novels and movies just came to mind  – 1984, Brave New World, Gattaca and the Divergent series. Clearly this technology has many legal, ethical and moral implications. Who’s using it, for what purpose, who owns the data, how long is it kept, who has access? A veritable minefield that we will continue to grapple with as technology evolves. US Professor Adam Moore was one of the first to start writing about this back in 2012.

Robotic Process Automation – RPA

This is what my previous blog on future work was describing as one of the big three factors to shape jobs of the future. We are at the first wave of this now. In the first instance, any part of a job that is repetitive, routine, rule based and high volume can be given over from a human to RPA – which is a type of software. Leslie Willcocks, (Professor of technology, work, and globalization at the London School of Economics), hopes that RPA “can do repetitive stuff more quickly, accurately, and tirelessly than humans, freeing them to do other tasks requiring human strengths such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment, and interaction with the customer.”

At the doomsday end of the response, is the fear is that we will eventually have large swathes of jobs taken by RPA and robots, without having filled the gap with these other more interesting jobs requiring higher order thinking, reasoning and creative skills. Mass underemployment basically.

Automation is now “blind to the colour of your collar”, declares Jerry Kaplan, a Stanford academic and author of “Humans Need Not Apply”, a book predicting huge upheaval in the labour market. We have of course faced similar challenges before with the advent of machines in factories, the invention of personal computers and ATM’s for banking. As this debate plays out, interestingly, techies tend to be more pessimistic and historians and economists more optimistic.

Hibernating in your home office

And if this world of big brother and RPA is all too much for you, then you can use some of the same technological advances to become a soloprenueur. Of course you will have to cut through marketing wise to get clients, which is why you may need a business coach. The increase in the first accounts for some of the growth in the second. Small Business Lab, a UK forecaster argue, that due to “the growing complexity of business and the rapid pace of change, coaching will become even more common as more small and medium businesses seek help on working through complex problems quickly”.

What’s up in leadership thinking?

In the leadership world, I predict a bit of a swing to what Herminia Ibarra calls “outsight“ in her book “act like a leader, think like a leader.”  This contrasts with “insight”, which is heavily focused on in most leadership programs. An insight focus asks; “what are your values, purpose, and strengths?” Ibarra flips this, arguing that experimentation and external feedback are required in order for reflection to be of use to you.

Probably more Neuroleadership – though I’ve noticed that some are fans and others are skeptical. A client emailed me recently to ask; “isn’t this just the same stuff that’s been around for a long time + brain scans,” (his language has been sanitised).

And to finish on a positive note

Positive Leadership, a natural extension of positive psychology and positive education, which has now been embraced by many schools, will continue to grow as a school of thought and practice. It is the study of  “what elevates individuals and organisations (as well as what challenges them) – what goes right in organisations (as well as what goes wrong) … positive leadership has an affirmative bias”

I think we can all use a dose of that as we grapple with some mind-boggling trends and their organisational and societal impacts.

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