Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The era of YOU: personal choice, knowledge, and power drive the future

--the Big Ideas series continues

I've believed for a couple of years now that there are three intersecting trends in technology, business, and society that form a framework to make sense of the emerging future. Big Ideas.

The first two are relatively simple to express: that we are decoupling the devices we use from specific uses, applications, and data--that they are becoming stateless; and that the vertical, hierarchical elements of business and IT are being deconstructed into component services that can be deployed more flexibly and repurposed in new ways.

I have to confess, although I’ve had a sense of the third idea, expressing it in a way that has the power of the first two has been a challenge.  It’s partly about the way the internet and social networks are changing our sense of what a community means. It’s about the increasing ability of end users in enterprises to choose and deploy their own technology solutions.  It’s about the flattening of power structures in business and the increasing power of consumers to interact with businesses.   But none of these by itself expresses the big idea; each of these trends is a part of the bigger concept:

Technology is enabling individuals to know more, in more places and situations, and have increasingly powerful choices about the way they live and work.

We are entering the era of you.

This article is the first in a series about that idea.  Parsing that big introductory statement into an “ecosystem of the future,” in which the implications become more understandable and more actionable, where specific ideas become visible as part of a larger trend, will guide the articles to come.

Since this site is largely about the intersection of business with technology and society, I’m planning a major emphasis on what this means for business.  Based on my research history and analysis of what I’ve observed, I’m coming into this part of the big ideas series with some specific ideas to explore:

--Business primarily operates in “communities of place,” working in largely common places face-to-face. and mostly highly capitalized.   I believe this will be changed by communities of interest--enabled by social technologies.  It’s not just remote work, that’s simply a segment of the idea; it deals with the emergence of business communities, collaborative efforts at many levels of planning, managing, and executing business goals.  Typical of new business communities will be the ability to form, scale, and disband quickly, operate at low inertia and high speed, and succeed with much lower levels of capitalization.  This creates low entry barriers for competitors of established businesses, and is likely to mean major disruptions.

--Business also operates largely in “communities of hierarchy,” in which the predominant metaphor is “command and control.” I think this will, and ought to, be challenged by flatter organizations--with fewer layer of management--to enable agility, that take advantage of the new social models, and respond to demands of a workforce rapidly evolving in its expectations of speed, personal choice, and flexibility.  

--In an ironic twist, corporate IT departments, long yearning for acceptance as a valued business partner, will achieve that end by largely disappearing.  Services-enablement and flexible sourcing of most infrastructure and technologies result in business/technology roles that are neither all line-of-business nor all IT, but both at once.  The overall effect, and the most important implication, is the movement of power to choose and implement technology ever closer to those who use it.

--The nature of work is changing, and along with it the nature of what a career looks like.  More generalist/business analyst roles, more service definition and management. More distributed teams, flexible work assignments.  Less lifetime-with-one-employer.  If you’re a specialist, your career continues, but you are far more likely to work for a specialized services provider, who delivers your talent as part of its own economy-of-scale-powered enterprise.  In the age of you, expect powerful changes in expectations from employees regarding personal and technological satisfaction.  Employees will find lower barriers to move freely among different employers.

--As always, we’ll consider what business could rise as a result of this trend, and which businesses and business models might be endangered.

As we build out the stories of the biggest ideas shaping the future, then comes the chance to hold them up side by side to think about where things are going. I think this is exciting work, and I hope you'll follow and contribute to the discussion.

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