ADE MCCORMACK Business, Future Of Work, Human Augmentation, Hybrid Working, Society

There was a sense, at least in the UK, that Covid was under control and we were returning to some sort of steady state ‘normal’. If my gamified journey from Vienna back to London is anything to go by, disruption is just taking off its tracksuit. Luckily after struggling in the lower levels, I eventually unlocked ‘flight mode’.

My reason for travelling to Vienna was to attend the Global Peter Drucker Forum as a moderator and a panellist. An event that had both a physical and digital component, where I was both a moderator and a panellist. I was exposed to many great thinkers and met many interesting people.

It was a beautiful mix of insight waterboarding and human connection. Now that I am on the plane, it’s an opportunity to process what I learnt, which I have broken down into nine themes.

Digital humanism
This was a new concept to me. It appears to be a noble attempt to codify a set of standards for human existence, given that more and more of our lives are conducted in the digital realm. It seems to also cover our relationship with technology. AI of course entered the fray and thus one might say the concept of human digitalism was introduced.

Further discussion is needed on the scope of digital humanism. It was refreshing and uplifting to see that debate live.

Values threaded the digital humanism discussion and cropped up elsewhere throughout the event. The notion of values requirements, sitting alongside functional requirements in respect of IT system development was intriguing. As was the idea that values might be considered a measurable capital asset that would be reviewed post project. Thus project managers would not just to be judged on timeliness, budget and meeting the requirements, but on how they treated their staff and the values impact potential of their deliverables.

New Tech
AI continued to crash the stage. Is it humans versus tech or humans and tech? Is AI actually intelligent? Is your carpet cleaning robot really having thoughts of insurrection? Whether the AI ‘threat’ was overstated was discussed and to a large extent it was felt that that ethical attention should switch from the AI to the underlying data. It was proposed that a United Nations level body is needed to ensure we have a universal approach to this.

Political Tension
I had a very interesting discussion with some executives from Huawei. They, like the rest of us, are pawns in the fight for global hegemony. It was felt that we should all be very careful in respect of our news consumption.

Whilst there are aspects of China’s behaviour that do not sit well elsewhere in the world, for good reason, it would be unwise and unproductive to view it in black and white terms.

It is reluctantly accepted that at the corporate level this fight will impact Chinese corporates looking to expand globally. Thus they will be held to a higher standard than their international competitors. However it should not be accepted that Chinese people living abroad be held personally responsible and thus enduring harassment and violence. In some countries it would appear that some governments are focusing on political capital and thus turning a blind eye to this unacceptable behaviour.

Disruption was neatly dealt with in a discussion around uncertainty. We heard that endeavouring to tackle the unknowable using probabilistic methods was ineffective. A more effective approach was to focus less on strategy and more on situational awareness and tactics.

The inhumaneness of the factory model and the unsustainable focus on growth were highlighted.

It was noted that the business schools and management consultancies will struggle to make the necessary transition, given their investment in the old industrial ways.

Digital Transformation
We were fortunate enough to be exposed to a (c-)suite of leaders who have trodden the digital transformation path and acquired the scars. Refreshingly, humanity and passion trumped technology. Digital transformation is much more than a technology makeover. At the end of the day, a digitalised Titanic is still a Titanic. So a more profound approach is needed. Innovation needs to apply to business models and not just products and services.

Leadership Development
This was a fascinating discussion. The upshot being that if you turn around and no one is following, you are not a leader. Purpose was considered very important, and liking your staff got an upgrade to love. The case was compellingly made. Given the need to respond quickly to threats and opportunities, it was felt leadership needed to evolve from a centralised model to one that is more decentralised / ubiquitous.

Hybrid Working
Hybrid working kept popping up. Questions were raised as to how to move forward in this respect. Why we needed to change the working model of the last 20 months, suggests that some leaders like to manufacture disruption or at least show the staff who is boss. In fairness, some people want to head back to the office.

The key point being that hybrid work should mean optimising the work environment, wherever that may be, to ensure great people do their best work.

The Future of Humanity
I was fortunate enough to moderate a fascinating discussion on the future of work. In our discussion ethics, anthropology, genetics and happiness sparked off each other. We are already well down the road of augmented man, but how this evolves, as tech augmentation is surpassed by biological augmentation, makes the future very unpredictable. The idea that ethics was a fluid concept was argued and that what we deem acceptable will evolve as we evolve.

This was a fascinating event and I would strongly recommend it for those who want to not just deepen their knowledge but do so through an integrated and diverse set of lenses.

Whatever form humanity’s future takes, we need to hold ourselves to account in respect of our relationship with our fellow humans and fellow species. We also need to ensure we protect the platform on which our future relies, namely, the planet.

Discussion is good. It is performance that matters. Until next year, ‘viva la vida’….