The Talent 2025 conference that took place a few weeks back gathered an audience of high ranking HR people from a wide range of organizations. I presented to them my vision of collaboration in 2025 (which will be discussed in a later article).Bob Johansen, former president and board member of The Institute for the Future (IFTF, Palo Alto, Calif.) and current distinguished fellow gave the talk prior to mine, speculating what things will be like 10 years from now.

Let's look at what Johansen predicted and what I did, and where they overlapped.

Johansen’s strategy is to look for “signals” which will indicate future trends.I look for trends which will predict behaviors.For a trend I may need to see multiple data points moving in the same direction.A signal on the other hand is picked out of a great deal of “noise,” but Johansen has been able to discover trends with just a few signals. That is why most predictions start with an identified signal.

Signal: HR Has Been Operationalized

Johansen's first admonition to the HR executives was to “be bold” to change the HR mindset (which has gotten you to the bottom rung on the corporate ladder). HR is the bottleneck at the top of the bottle. Transformation and change require courage, but also must show results. As an HR person you have to “own” the change -- localize it, connect with others about it, understand and help your leaders understand the societal implications of this change.Rather than HR think of it as “Human Resources,” make it a much more “human” sounding process.After all, people are the most critical resource in any organization.

One of the best questions to ask in any work area or process is “what will disrupt me?” In the Human Resources area I believe most of the disruption signals we are seeing are from “digital natives” (those who are 18 or younger in 2014). They will disrupt pretty much everything, not just HR. As Terry Kelly, CEO of W.L. Gore said, “focus on the next generation of leaders, not on today’s leaders.”

Here are some recommendations of skills future leaders will need:

  • The Maker Instinct
  • Commons Creating
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Smart Mob Organizing
  • Clarity -- understand where you are going, but be flexible about how you get there
  • Dealing with Dilemmas -- hard problems to solve, and you can’t solve them too soon or too late
  • Immersive Learning -- it’s uncomfortable, but the way to learn today and in the future
  • Bio-empathy -- apply the rules or mechanisms of nature to business
  • Quiet Transparency -- no more “rock star” leaders -- they are just a bigger target
  • Humility -- respect for what both you and others have done

Johansen's new book “The Reciprocity Advantage: moving from competitive advantage to mutual benefit partnering" delves into these leadership traits in more detail. He writes about how to apply them to deal with the future, and how to become the leader you need to be to deal with the future.

Signal: Maker Movement

If you've ever attended the Maker Faire, which happens every spring in San Mateo, you understand what this signal is. There are hundreds of Maker Faires today, in New York, Paris, Detroit and even at the White House. Makers are from any age group, but many of the most innovative makers today are in their teens.It’s like a science fair gone wild! There are directions attached to each thing made, explaining how you can make it yourself. The focus is on sharing and improving something rather than hiding it and then springing it on the market the way most companies do today.

We are starting to see clear signals of this from industries.Elon Musk, the charismatic and future thinking CEO of Tesla just announced last week that all Tesla patents would be made public. Musk is running Tesla more like an open source software company than a traditional car company. Howard Shultz, the innovative CEO at Starbucks just announced that their employees can attend an online university with Starbucks picking up the tab.

People at Maker Faires are building robots, sculptures for Burning Man, solutions for dealing with Global Warming, new battery technologies and often software. Here is where Johansen sees a fork in this signal: the Maker instinct in software is generating Hackathons (an event where teams of people come together to build new solutions to a difficult problem in a 24 to 48 hour sprint). While Makers are modifying the Xbox One game controller for those with Muscular Dystrophy, others are having a two day hackathon about Bluetooth LE and are documenting everything for those who come after.

Here people are sharing tools for Making, such as creating a basic grammar for Making (a Wikipedia for making).Making is about getting the crowd involved. GitHub is a great example of this. As a distributed group of people can use this software to collaborate, review and manage code for open source or private projects.Other signals from the Maker area are: 3-D printing, building human-centric supply chains and revolutionizing learning (i.e., extreme or social learning).

Signal: Task Specific Work, Freelance Work

More and more jobs today are untraditional. We are moving into a period where you create your job. There are services available today that support this Freelance economy like Odesk and Task Rabbit. I found the woman who built the latest iteration of my website on Odesk.Task Rabbit helps you find someone to do your “to-dos” for a price (e.g., someone to pick up your dry cleaning). One of the most commonly requested tasks on Task Rabbit is to assemble IKEA furniture (for anyone who has tried, the small fee is worth it).

If you are thinking these are just part time jobs, look at what Uber and Lyft are doing to disintermediate the taxi and limousine businesses. A great example of this is a long taxi line for pick-ups at the airport. Instead of an interminable wait, you go online arrange a ride on Uber and two minutes later you are on your way home. Johansen noted that although many people use these freelance services as a source of part-time work, Odesk has a programmer as one of its members, who makes $135,000 a year (an average programmer in Silicon Valley makes $80,000 - 100,000 a year), so many of these freelance jobs can pay as well or better than traditional employment.

Human task routing is the social part of the IoE (Internet of Everything). As this grows we will see many fewer traditional jobs and roles, and more ways to make a living (I have been a freelancer since 1989 and have created my own jobs quite often). There will be new economic models (reciprocity has higher margins), but the transition -- as we already can see -- will be very messy. A good example of this is if you are a freelancer and work for one client for more than half of your income, the IRS considers you an employee. As is happening in many places today, the laws and policies can lag behind the technology by many years.

Signal: Google is Hiring Famous Geneticists on Aging

Google is not only making driverless cars, but they have hired famous scientists who study aging and life extension. Why is a browser-based search company doing this? Because Google believes they can build a platform for anything.

Why didn’t General Mills look at aging and life extension -- a natural area of research extending from their food background? Perhaps it is because they see themselves as a food company (over 100 years old) and not a platform company. Google is working on driverless cars and life extension because Google sees itself in the business of information, connections and platforms.

Signal: Hacking and Hustling

This is where the energy is today for Digital Natives. In one event, coding teams had to rap their solution to the judges (interesting way to challenge team dynamics). Just like the Boomers rebelled against the establishment in the 70’s and changed our society dramatically, so will the digital natives.

When I started in the software business it took about $5M in venture capital to start a software company (mostly true for the millennium software bubble companies), yet today there are many new ways of funding. Oculus Rift (virtual reality 3-D goggles for gaming) was initially funded on Kickstarter for over $2M. Protonet (start-up of the year in Germany for 2013), which created a low cost server, ran their second crowdfunding campaign on the German platform SeedMatch and was able to raise the million dollars they needed in 89 minutes.

Another, more personal example is a collaboration start-up I know of got funded for $1M three days after their graduation demo from their incubator. Things are moving faster -- you can’t take nine months to evaluate a start-up, or the opportunity is gone.

Learning Opportunities

Signal: People are Over-Connected 

Where can you get away from it all: no e-mail no wifi, no TV? When can you be disconnected?

In the Netherlands, the Nestle coffee shop offers a free no wifi zone (they block signals for 5 meters). A hotel in Japan offers rooms with no wifi, no TV, no phone … and you pay more for these rooms. There are digital detox retreats (like AA for digital media). You know we need them when 11 percent of those in a recent survey said they checked email during sex

Everyone has to decide how connected they want to be. When I am writing, I don’t look at email, texts, the phone, etc. as I find them too distracting, and unproductive. So I set aside certain parts of the day (first thing in the morning before exercise) to look at all of these different communication sources and maybe once more later in the day.

Signal: Gameful Engagement

Linda Stone of Microsoft Research did an interesting survey of Digital Natives a few years ago. She got back a startling answer to the question “What percent of the time do you spend online?” The consistent response from the 13-year-olds was “did not understand the question!” This gives a good idea about how connected Digital Natives are, they don’t see themselves as disconnected, but are always connected.

By 2024 Digital Natives will be very frustrated because Boomers and Gen X have not left their jobs. Because of better software, they will be able to see who is rich and who is poor. And they will have global reach. This is a very potent combination for disruption on a global scale (look at the disruption hackers are making on business today).

Digital Natives don’t listen to or watch commercials. To reach them, you have to ”gamefully” engage them. Schools are not ready for these Digital Natives, many of whom will enter college this fall. They are “extreme learners,” i.e., they are at the center of their own socially supportive learning ecosystem. They can take classes online from the very best professors (Harvard, Stanford, etc.). Digital Natives learn socially through their networks, so this type of learning is very natural to them. Their educational experience is very different, and learning will accelerate and diverge in dramatic ways.

Johansen believes that the Digital Natives will leapfrog the Millennials (20-30 year olds) in the job market.They see the Millennials as the “debt generation,” weighed down with huge school debt, many of them with no hope of ever repaying it.The great opportunity for Boomers and Digital Natives is cross-generational mentoring: Boomers can share their experience, while Digital Natives can share their technology expertise.However, while Millennials and Digital Natives are comfortable communicating with each other online and in social networks, they are poor conversationalists in person (F2F). However, there is enough overlap that these mutually beneficial exchanges can occur.

Signal: Marketing Will Disappear

Showing a Digital Native something in a commercial (which they don’t watch unless they are interested in the product), is ineffective. They want to play a more active and social role in learning about products or services they want to buy. Watching is passive, so to connect with Digital Natives you must engage them in a game.Linda Stone calls this “emotionally laden attention.”

One of the best ways to do this is through a story, with the Digital Native as the protagonist. This kind of experience helps them to see themselves and act as leaders because they control the world around them in these learning stories. Johansen postulates that in 10 years most leaders will be gamers. You must respect that your audience consists of people who have their own personal cloud where they are deeply engaged all the time. Being behind on this trend today can actually be an advantage, as you can leapfrog those who are still selling in obsolete ways.

Signal: 'In This New World You Have to Give up Control to Gain Power'

There is a lot more transparency being driven by Digital Natives (Edward Snowden, though a millennial, is an example). This transparency will help drive massively scalable mutual benefit partnering, or reciprocity, which Johansen sees as the new competitive advantage (Reciprocity Advantage). Organizational structures will have to change (and some are already changing now). Hierarchies only work well in slow moving markets, or as I say “in stable environments.” Our environment today is anything but stable! Speech and gestures will make new, better and more transparent interfaces, with more focus on the interface than the device. In the next decade, all leaders will be gamers (and my Mom said nothing would come of my playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid ...), and everyone will have their own personal cloud where they are deeply connected.

It is important to have a strategy today that incorporates the digital (everything) as well as Digital Natives.Companies that do this will have the ability to leapfrog those that came before, so being behind today can actually be an opportunity for market leadership.

Title image by xuanhuongho / Shutterstock.com