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?



The Bandwagon Effect


It goes something like this.

There is a shiny new exciting thing
Being done only by the sexy, exciting few.
We collectively ‘ooooh’.
It becomes the stuff of conferences speeches, case studies, webinars.
The bandwagon builds. We all want it. It is just what we have been waiting for.
It becomes imitated, mainstreamed, best practiced.
You can’t not have it. Otherwise, like, what are you doing?
A few people raise a few questions, suggest a few flaws.
Experts abound. Gurus offer to help you understand it, implement it, embed it.
It gets a conference all of its own.
Everyone adds it to their LinkedIn skills profile.
We’ve all seen it. It’s all over Twitter, LinkedIn, Slideshare.
Links and shares abound.
It starts to become a bit boring.
The critique starts in earnest. Then come the jokes.
Erm hello, are you still doing that? It is so yesterday….
And then look! Here is a new, shiny, exiting thing.
I’ll have that, instead.

Recognise anything?

The term bandwagon, in the way that we tend to use it in every day speech originates from American politics. According to the font of all knowledge (Wikipedia) it was first used in 1848 when a popular circus clown used his bandwagon and its music to gain attention for his political campaign. As he gained success with his method, other politicians all wanted a seat on his bandwagon. The negative association that the phrase came to embody arose as, when he became more popular, others wanted a seat on the bandwagon just for the sake of it, without really understanding what they were aligning themselves to or associating with.

We now use the phrase to refer to a type of groupthink. The general rule is that the more people come to believe in something, do something, join something, the more likely it is that others will then do so. The probability of adoption in increases, as everyone hops on the bandwagon. What we don’t always stop to do, is consider the evidence. Understand the why. Understand if it works for us. We all want the shiny thing. We all want to associate ourselves with the best, the winners, the cool kids on the block.

Jumping on the latest HR bandwagon? I am guilty as charged. Are you?