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Five ways in which the world of work will change

1. No more 9 to 5
2. Productivity will be closely measured
3. Cogs will become redundant
4. The winners will be the linchpins
5. Work will become art

SETH GODIN, Regus Business Sense (April 2010)

Business guru and author Seth Godin spelled out some of the ideas in his new book, Linchpin, in Regus Business Sense online magazine recently.

The next decade, Godin says, will bring some radical changes to the nature of work. All our jobs are about to change in very fundamental ways – and we therefore need to rethink the nature of our skills to ensure that we stay relevant in a digital world that is globally connected and “always on”.

Godin outlines 5 ways in which work will change (shown in the box). Let’s consider them in turn. First, the standard 9-5 office job will soon be no more. Godin thinks neither the office part nor the 9-5 part can survive for long. Powered by cloud computing, mobile devices and widespread affordable broadband connectivity, people are going to work from where they like, when they like. Physical offices will be used to retain social interaction and occasional meetings, rather than as workplaces.

The second change will be the opportunity to measure individual workers’ outputs. If your work is related to your machine, your boss will be monitoring your log-in details and quite often the nature of your outputs. That is the flip side of freedom from the office workplace – you may be measured in ways not necessarily pleasant.

The third and fourth points are crucial. Godin asks you to work out whether you are going to be a ‘cog’ or a ‘linchpin’ in the new world. Cogs – people who just clock in, do a routine job and add little value – are going to find themselves automated, reengineered and outsourced out of a job. “Instruction-following” work like this will move to where it can be done cheapest.

Linchpins – the people who really make the difference – will take centre-stage. Businesses will outsource most non-essential jobs and will spend most of their energy developing key personnel. Linchpins, in Godin’s words, are people who “invent, lead, connect others, make things happen and create order out of chaos.” They are the people who create genuine value in an organisation, around whom things revolve. They are the people who come up with new ideas, who organise others, who find better ways of doing things, who unleash the energy of others.

Linchpins need not be CEOs, mind: they could be engineers, designers, salespeople, programmers – whatever. They are the people who make a genuine difference, and who therefore become extremely valuable to an organisation. The winning organisations of the future are going to be the ones with the most valuable linchpins.

The final point is about the nature of work. Godin asks us to imagine the real work of the future as art – the act of highly passionate people who use their imaginations to create something of meaning for others. This is exciting stuff: it suggests that the mundane routines and repetitive processes of the industrial age are going to be behind us, and that the winners of tomorrow are going to be those who are unusually motivated and unusually imaginative.

To some extent, this has always been true. The world has always been shaped by a small minority of highly motivated original thinkers. What Godin is pointing out is that technology is about to exacerbate that phenomenon. It should make us all think. As an individual, do you have the repertoire of skills and an attitude that is going to make you a valuable linchpin? And as organisations, where are we putting the money: into fancy office space and old-world structures, or in attracting top talent and installing cutting-edge technology?

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