The Future of Work and Other Summer Readings

This week, I will keep my column short and devote it to discussing a few books that I have read over the past couple of months. These books will fuel your creative juices, maybe get you a little angry, or at least motivate you to look at what you do differently. They are all written by well-known authors who have explored similar topics before. What is interesting to me, though, is that every one of these books is centered on people and talent, and how talent will be used, organized, or deployed over the next few years. The Future of Work by Thomas Malone Most everyone who works in a corporation participates in discussions about work, hierarchy, org structure and leadership. These topics are so intertwined with how we think about organizations that to imagine one with no hierarchy, with people taking on multiple roles at different times, and with no defined leadership. Yet, this is what Thomas Malone discusses in his book The Future of Work. He predicts that we will move to much less centralized organizations as we move into this century. He discusses how technology has already reduced the need for central structures and opened up the possibility of decentralized communities and organizations defined by markets. Along the way he discusses the future of work and workers. He advocates defining jobs much more broadly and allowing people to cultivate new skills through experimentation and discovery. “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” he says, in order to foster the creativity and innovation that will keep organizations competitive. If you have time to read only one book as this summer draws to a close, consider this one. It is easy to read and filled with solid research (Tom is a professor at MIT) as well as thought-provoking ideas on the future. The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent, by Richard Florida A second book, which directly affects all of us who make talent acquisition or development the center of our work, is Richard Florida’s latest. Florida writes that the U.S. is in danger of losing its competitive edge in talent. Historically, we have attracted and educated a large number of the world’s greatest scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. We have also provided a cultural, political, and economic climate that allowed them to live here and flourish. But all of this has changed as the world has become more global and economies in China, India and elsewhere have become strong enough to lure many of these people. At the same time, we have made America much less friendly to these creative people in the aftermath of September 11th. Florida provides excellent statistics and research into what is happening to the talent that makes up the creative and entrepreneurial core of all of America’s newest and most creative organizations. He discusses the need to build a more creative society and to rejuvenate our educational and political system to ensure a continuing supply of creative people. Who Really Matters, by Art Kleiner This is another fascinating book by Art Kleiner, who asks why decisions that seem logical, useful, and practical often do not get made and decisions that lack focus or logic get made instead. He argues that this happens because every decision is affected by the needs and desires of a group of “in” people whom he calls the “core group.” This core group is the only one that really matters in an organization. If you understand and have the ear of that group, you can be more successful than if you don’t. This has many implications for recruiters. Who really makes hiring decisions? Who really decides what the corporate culture is? Who really decides who gets the higher title or salary? Kleiner would arguer that it is someone from his core group. All of us have felt this, but he puts it into a wonderfully written, entertaining book filled with stories and examples that will cause both delight and despair. The above three books are just a sampling of the dozen or so books that I have run across over the past few months that I think are worth your time and effort to read and think about. Let me know what you think about any of these books or suggest one you have read yourself. Hope your summer is going well.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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