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2014 Predictions: What Side of the Future Are You On?

Here’s two very different sayings about the future. The first makes the case for effective prediction as something like blunt force trauma:

Any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous. — Jim Dators

I always hope that the ideas I offer about the future will have that sort of cataclysmic, zen-enlightenment, lightning clap of emotive force, but the reality is that a lot of the future turns out to be a sequel to the echoing kabooms of the past. And so I find this seemingly circumscript but deeply enigmatic statement just as compelling:

The past is the new future.

That line was offered up by the science fiction author, John Crowley, in one of the most wonderful articles about futures thinking I've read in a long time.

My wife recently said to me, The past is the new future. She is given to remarks of that kind, full of vatic force yet requiring mental application on my part to make them useful. The sense I make of it is that instead of growing clearer as we probe it, the future has grown dimmer, less solid, almost hard to believe in, but the past has continued to expand rather than shrink with distance: the actual things we did do have gained rather than lost complexity and interest, and the past seems rich, its lessons not simple or singular, a big landscape of human possibility, generative, inexhaustible.

So I will teeter between these extremes, looking ahead to 2014, willing to be ridiculous in the cause of cracking people's heads open, but realizing that there's still a great deal to pull out of the baggage of the immediate past.

I will tag my predictions, not group them, because that is the first of my predictions.

Tagging Will Displace Grouping

#tags, #work management, #groups, #AI

A blog-to-blog and Twitter discussion I had with Chris Messina in 2007 led to his proposal of Twitter "channels" which I immediately dubbed "hashtags." He was searching for a means to distribute tweets to a defined circle of contacts when I suggested that tags are better at indicating the topic of the information they are attached to.

Now that tags appear in TV ads and billboards, my sense is tagging has become mainstream. It is increasingly being used in three ways: to signal the context, community and content of a message.

I predict that tagging will become more prevalent in social tools in 2014, and will begin to displace defined groups as the principal means to defining context and ways to share. Instead of defining a project or group and then inviting people to join, people will characterize themselves and their interests by the tags they use, put in their profiles or see in the updates of the people they follow.

In order to make this scale up, vendors will have to start using advanced algorithms or artificial intelligence to route the appropriate messages to each person. It's not about filtering things out, it's about folding things in.

Remote Work Still a Dividing Line

#remote work, #autonomy, #results first, #3rdway

The conflict about remote work — is it a sensible policy that can be effective and sustainable, or does it destroy group cohesion and engagement? — will continue to be a dividing line between different camps. My sense is that this marks an inflection point between different eras of work.

The industrial era came first; the modern Coase-defined corporation of electricity, assembly lines and hierarchical command and control. The rise of computers in the '70s marked the second way, with the superimposition of an information age into the classical workplace and the emergence of entrepreneurial business culture with its characteristic flattened hierarchy, consensus management and a collaborative culture — where a great deal of time and effort is expended in building a collective vision of the company, its values, and how the collective is supposed to work as a whole to accomplish the shared mission.

These two are fading. The first way is pretty much gone in the Western world, aside from small businesses, and even there software is eating the world. The second way is the dominant mode of business across the developed world, and its premises and prejudices are taken as gospel by most contemporary managers.

The third way has only recently emerged, around 2005, as we moved past the first era of the web and the rise of the social, mobile and cloud-based web. Today's workforce is always on, working wherever and whenever, and increasingly autonomously all or most of the time. But the third way of work will take another five years or more to become dominant, and we'll continue to see those in the entrepreneurial camp saying they have to have everyone in the office, while those that have moved past to a model of autonomous and cooperative work will reply that it simply doesn't matter.


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