Just call me Cassandra

I’m at the HR Directors Business Summit.  There is a whole stream of content on the agenda about the future of work and how HR can lead their businesses into the future and all that it brings.  According to the pre-event research all this future stuff is on the mind of the HR professional. It’s true that  future of work is everywhere at the moment. The topic has gone mainstream. The bandwagon effect will surely follow.

The future of leadership. Future proofing your workforce. Future skills.  Future of recruitment, learning… all of the people stuff.

Spartacus comes to mind. Only instead of everyone standing up and declaring that they are he, everyone is standing up and saying ‘I know the future of work’.  We are all Cassandra now. Cassandra, given the gift of prophecy, but unable to alter future events or persuade anyone to the truth of her predictions.  But like her, when it comes to the future of work and people stuff, will we be believed, or will we stand and watch helplessly as our disbelieved predictions came true?

I’m mixing up my myths and legends.

Here’s the thing about the future of work.  You can write any old bollocks about it.  I know, I wrote a whole book on the subject with that nice Tim Scott.  And chances are that no-one is going to pick up a copy in ten years, read it and then tell us we got it wrong. Of course if they do, we will look very serious and reflective, and say something sounding terribly wise like ‘that was based upon the world as we knew it then, and was subsequently influenced by factors that we could not reasonably have foreseen’. 

The future of work genre generates many unanswered questions.  First and foremost, even if the predictions are true, can we make the changes that we need to make?  Are we ready to change and to open up our perspectives? When many organisations are so focused on the short term, can we take a sufficiently long term view?  Will the hype ever match the reality?

Borrowing shamelessly from an entirely different debate, I will refer to environmentalist Alan Atkinson, who, when talking about environmental change, says that we are stuck in a Cassandra dilemma.  The trends are there, and a likely outcome can be forseen.  The warnings have been given.  But still, the majority can not or will not respond.  Can the same be said of the future of work?  I think that it can.  There are some people too invested in the status quo.  There are some people who don’t want to change.  There is sometimes a lack of the real commitment that is required.  But you can wave Kodak and HMV case studies around the leadership team all you like, but some places are too stuck in their corporate boxes, still too stuck in the ‘it doesn’t apply to us because’.

There’s a quote that goes a little like this: ‘the future belongs to those that prepare for it today’.  The questions that ocurr therefore are these:

Can we? And will we?



4 thoughts on “Just call me Cassandra

  1. Excellent post, Gemma.
    We seem to be happy for evolution over revolution and are hoping to change the world one conversation at a time.
    I think the challenge is profound. We’re willfully building a VUCA future where disruption is the status quo. But that future is a choice. We don’t have to let that happen. Question is, how much are people bothered? I’d say not overmuch based on what I see at the moment. If we do care enough, we don’t need mindfulness. We need firebrands.

  2. Very much like the fact that you have referenced environmental thinking – those seriously exploring sustainability grasp the challenge of managing emerging and wicked problems as a matter of how we understand and approach learning as individuals, organisations and societies: “Mindful learning is defined by Langer as the continuous creation of new categories, openness to new information, and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective. Mindlessness involves relying on past forms of action or previously establish distinctions and categories.” Jack Mezirow. Guess we need a whole lot less mindlessness.

  3. While short term outcomes like shareholders dividends drive markets many large corporate organisations need to focus on the short term.

    I think people know they need to look to the future but are too busy “doing” to reflect on the future

  4. I think about this (Future of Work) all the time and indeed have set myself up to work towards that future. Like your Alan Atkinson quote: we see the trends and the figures and yet some resist, ignore or denounce. Simon has a point about firebrand and he’s even quoted my strapline of one conversation at a time. Yet I remain steadfast that conversations do and can change the world and we need a combination of storms and murmurs. It’s not either or that will rescue work and create a better future, to quote Simon again, it’s a choice. I’m determined to give people that choice.

    Whatever the method.

    Great blog.

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