Business Week's August 20 double-issue had a big series on "The Future of Work," full of surveys and predictions. "In a decade, the average person will have better working conditions. Women and minorities will have an easier time getting ahead. And more of us will be on a first-name basis with someone in India." At least that's according to the poll that kicks off the section. It seems to me that a poll in which 90% of respondents say they're in the top 10% of performers is full of more than just self-esteem.
The magazine has generally become a valuable guide to the new economy (the same issue covers Facebook as a business tool). But the components of this largely utopian package seem more interested in calming senior executives tied to old ways of profit and progress. For example, Michael Mandel reassures them that "The U.S. and the global economies are coming to a crossroads that no one could have anticipated just a few years ago. Globalization and technology together are creating the potential for startling changes in how we do our jobs and the offices we do them in."
Sorry, but if didn't see the last 10 years coming, why in the world should I listen to you about the next 1o?
Dan Rasmus, Director of Information Work Vision and Leadership at Microsoft, is a professional futurist and he isn't impressed either. He pulls apart the BW vision in a four-part critique on his blog, appropriately called The Future of Information Work. "This is a binary futures article. It is about today and tomorrow, and does not do a good job of exploring different futures or the triggers that might cause other futures to happen," he says. "No one related to scenario planning seems to have been involved in this series of articles. Plenty of forecasting and pontification, but not a lot of what-ifs."
But if you need any reason to be cynical, the same issue covers the appointment of Bob Nardelli to run Chrysler for the automaker's new owners, on account of his "fresh eyes and sharp ax." Nardelli earned a good reputation at GE but was fired from the top job at Home Depot after he alienated employees, customers and shareholders—with 100% turnover of top managers—by sacrificing quality and customer service in a suicidal obsession with cutting costs.
The problem with the future is that you probably aren't going to like it. If everybody is always promising you Tomorrowland gee-whizness, they're really setting you up for disappointment. Even if futurists try to warn you about rough waters ahead, you tell yourself that the warning alone is all you need to stay ahead of the competition. You can hire doomsayers, but even if you believe them, you are inevitable let down when things don't turn out to be as dire as you expected. The real future is guaranteed to surprise you, and the only way to prepare yourself is to improve your ability to handle surprises faster and better than others. The best way to do that is to play with as many possible futures as possible without irrevocably committing yourself to preparing for any one of them at the exclusion of any others.