The Shape of Work to Come

by Sep 1, 2017Cornerstone content, Work

Home » Living Money » Work » The Shape of Work to Come

Work serves many purposes, from bringing in an income
to heightening self-esteem. Your challenge is to find and do
great, world-changing work that provides financial and personal satisfaction.

‘How’s work going?’

‘Its okay, but it does get in the way of the rest of my life.’

Its a common question, and the answer may be apocryphal. However, it does stimulate some serious thinking about the nature of work. Importantly, it highlights its role in your life and financial plans.

The nature of work has changed over the years. This evolution reflects humanity’s needs and wants as well as technological advances. Look back only a few centuries to Work 0.0. Then, work was community based. People worked to satisfy basic needs for food and security. So work was primarily agrarian, construction and defence. The reward for work came in the form of community security and through the barter economy.

Work revolutions

New steam technology, iron and textiles drove the First Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. It prompted the migration of work from the countryside to the cities. It opened up a fundamental shift from satisfying basic human needs to giving people what they wanted. Workers understood they were providing greater value in satisfying wants rather than needs. As a result, the concept of working for a wage became common.

The development of electricity, oil, steel, telephony and the internal combustion engine triggered the Second Industrial Revolution. This took place during the fifty years preceding the First World War. In particular, electricity led to mass production and the birth of brands. Work continued to satisfy consumer demand for basic physiological and security needs. Furthermore, it now satisfied the demand for the love and belonging that communication, entertainment and brands could provide. Consequently, the service sector also grew and again helped to provide consumers with experiences as well as products.

The power of 0 and 1

The Third Industrial Revolution, the Digital Revolution, started in the 1980’s. Digital technology ushered in the personal computer, the internet and information and communications technologies (ITC). Consequently, work moved further towards the provision of general and information services. Data became a raw material. It could be manufactured, adapted and delivered as ‘content’ or value added information in digital form. Digitisation proved to be a godsend for the banking, finance and entertainments industry. In contrast, it became a curse for the bricks and mortar retail sector.

This was also the era of deregulation in sectors ranging from finance to publishing. It is probable that both digitisation and deregulation led to the collapse of inner cities, the rise of home working and the decline in the social benefits of work.

The future of work

The Digital Revolution has morphed into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is marked by breakthroughs in robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology and the management of ‘big data’. Consequently, robots are replacing humans in manufacturing and artificial intelligence is replacing humans in professional services. The outcome of this revolution for work is as yet unclear. However, it is perceived by many as a threat, not a benefit.

It is arguable that we are now seeing a Fifth Revolution. This is the Sustainability Revolution. The name has been coined by Al Gore and David Blood, Chairman and Senior Partner of Generation Investment Management (GIM). It forms the centrepiece of the first GIM Sustainability Report. This revolution is a global response to calls to protect our environment. It will also generate large numbers of new work opportunities in its own right. These opportunities will increase significantly as demand at the household level for sustainable living and management of resources increases.

Why do we work?

Work serves a number of purposes. First, you probably work to balance your personal income-expenditure equation. Work / income equals or exceeds life / expenditure. Wages are the reward for work, and wages help you to live the life you aspire to. Getting the balance right is not easy, as reflected in the opening quote of this post.

But money is not the only reward from work. The workplace can provide powerful social benefits and is often the birthplace of long lasting relationships and friendships. This does not, of course, deny that the workplace can also be the preferred arena of the bully, or that workplace stress can destroy relationships.

Work or great work?

Most importantly, work is the vehicle that enables you to do great things, things that change the world.  In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, ‘your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.’

All those industrial revolutions have provided the money, communications, transportation and knowledge to enable you to do ‘great work’, work that both satisfies you and makes the world a better place for those you connect with. The work you do may be helping to fulfil mankind’s basic needs more efficiently and sustainably than in the past. It may be helping others on the route to a more comfortable and secure life. Arguably, it is providing them with the wherewithal to improve their own self-esteem, to feel part of a community they may not have even known existed or to engage in experiences that enable growth and personal development.

Finally, the most valuable work you can do is probably work that satisfies the desire for meaning in the people you connect with.

Punishment or privilege?

So, is work a punishment or a privilege? How you answer the question has a significant impact on what you route to personal and financial freedom looks like.

Arguably, you have far more opportunities today to see your work as a privilege. In the pre-war era spending all day doing the same repetitive task for a few coins would certainly have made work seem a burden, even a punishment.

So, if robots are taking over the work place to do all those repetitive jobs, and if advances in technology and communications are opening up vast numbers of roles that never existed before, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It depends to a large extent on your attitude. If you think the world owes you a living then you are probably not going to be too happy. However, if you see the world as a place for unparalleled opportunities for finding and doing great work that profits you and those you connect with, then you are probably half way to the goal of personal and financial freedom.

Be exceptional, not average

Bernadette Jiwa hits the nail square on the head in her blog. She draws a strong conclusion from a discussion of average and exceptional work. ‘What takes something from average to exceptional is surprisingly simple and consistently hard to do. The attitude of everyone who touches the product and creates the experience is what matters most in the end. When the people who make, serve and sell things believe and act as if it’s a privilege to do the work, they can’t help but create better experiences.’

The logic is irrefutable. Treat your work as a privilege you enhance the lives of your clients. You simultaneously add meaning to your own life.

Finding ‘great work’ takes hard work

And here is the important point. Great work does not land on your doorstep. If you are lucky enough to be born with a calling then be truly grateful. For most, though, its a hard fight to find your own ‘great work’, the work that defines you and provides you with that route to personal and financial freedom.

To quote Steve Jobs from his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, ‘If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.’

Similarly, Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorp, talks about the sacrifice and tough decisions that go into finding your own ‘great work’ and suggests that you achieve this by doing something you are passionate about, something that makes other peoples lives better and which is appreciated by those you connect with.

The shape of work to come

And this of course has a significant impact on the shape of work. Jobs as we have known them will not exist. Great work needs a form of entrepreneurialism and flexibility the older generations in particular are not that used to. If you are part of a younger generation you won’t be job hunting. You will be opportunity hunting. You will be chopping and changing between self-employment, creating partnerships with your friends to find and bring to market the solution to a problem you have come across, and spending your own time and money on research and personal development. Of course this has implications for your cash flow and the structure of your personal finances.

So work will form an important part of The Living Money Blog and our posts on this theme will reflect your struggles, not simply to find work and earn an income but also how to find and do great, world-changing work that provides financial and personal satisfaction.

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