15 Forces That Will Dramatically Impact Our Future of Work


I’m turning the traditional “show notes” from each episode of the Curve Benders Podcast into more in-depth articles with links, images, and a deeper perspective on each topic. To build on the intro article on Curve Benders and a deeper glimpse into the Future of Work, here are early references to our research on 15 forces we believe will dramatically impact the way we work, live, play, and give in the next two decades:

My goal for this article is for you to get much more proactive in developing a roadmap for your personal and professional growth. I often reference an excellent MBA professor of mine, Benn Konsynski, who always says, “Hear me now, believe me later.” Leaving your personal and professional growth to someone else is like leaving your kids in the hands of a stranger. So why would you abdicate your future to the HR department? They’ve got a lot on their plate, and you can’t expect them to deal with your ever-changing market when HR struggles to keep up with their evolution as an organization.

I recently read a data point that 40% of topline revenue of many professional firms – think accounting, think law – are going away in the next five years because of AI/Machine Learning. How do you replace 40% of a firm’s revenues? If you don’t want to be part of the complacent, long-in-the-tooth skillset that we no longer need, you’re going to have to get more proactive in mapping your own personal and professional growth journey.

Our research has identified 15 forces that are going to impact your next two decades dramatically. Think about these and start asking, “Am I seeing some of these things?” “Where am I seeing them?” “What do they mean?” “How do they impact me?” More importantly, “If I’m observing this is what’s happening, what will I choose to do about it? How can I start incorporating this into my thinking and future growth plans?”

15 Forces That Will Dramatically Impact Your Next Two Decades

Look at the list and make some time for introspection to internalize what this list means to you and what you choose to do with it. Many of these are in your direct control. Others, you’ll have to influence your relationships to impact. Others, yet, many of us have little to no control over:

1. Relationship Strategy: You’ll be shocked if you didn’t hear from the relationship guru on getting much more proactive about your relationship strategy. Almost two decades after I launched a firm and have written a book called Relationship Economics, I still meet business professionals who think of their relationships as haphazard and believe that it’s just something that happens to you. I want you to get more proactive about your relationship strategies, specifically about where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how you will get there. What relationships will you need in your future? What relationships do you have, all the ones you’ve accumulated up until now? How will you connect the dots with value-add consistently?

2. Grit: Angela Duckworth, in her seminal work, defines grit as perseverance plus passion. Grit is having a passion for something but persevering through the ups and downs. If you’ve ever been an entrepreneur and you’ve never heard “no,” you’re kidding yourself, or you’re tone-deaf because most people are reluctant to embrace new ideas, new approaches, and stretch themselves outside their comfort zone.

One of my favorite stories of Grit is the passion and perseverance on display in front of a global audience. Jim Thorpe was a Native American from Oklahoma and a 1912 Olympian. In the picture below, if you look closely, the first thing you’ll notice is that he’s wearing two different colored socks. Look a little closer, and you see he’s wearing two different pairs of shoes. Before his race that morning, his shoes were stolen. Instead of giving up and going home, Thorpe rummaged through the garbage and found two pairs of shoes, one of which was too big, so he wore a second pair of socks so the shoe would fit him. He won two gold medals that day.

How often do we allow our tools to become a crutch? “I don’t have leads.” “I don’t have a tool to do that.” “I can’t get there.” “I can’t find phone numbers.” “I can’t… ” How often do we hear people give us a lack of a PowerPoint “pitch” as a crutch versus merely having a conversation with that valuable strategic relationship? How do I get creative? How do I collaborate with somebody to find the answer? Old school. Grit is evident when you see people succeed despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

3. Mindset: You cannot succeed in the future, going at it alone. You need a mindset that you don’t have all the answers. A mindset that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room. Expanding and extending that mindset in the future will be critical to your success.

4. Diversification: Diversifying your skills, your knowledge, your capabilities, and your revenue streams. Your personal and professional growth should lead to learning, adapting, and embracing a whole lot of new skills, and in the process, it should diversify your revenue skills. So, if I’m a professional speaker and all I do is speak, God forbid we have another 9/11 or the current global concern with the Coronavirus, and marquis organizations cancel their meetings, ban travel, and few people care to gather? That is real revenue loss. Conversely, if I speak, consult, educate, and coach, and I have a diversified portfolio of skills, knowledge, and capabilities, I can adapt to different environments and diversify my revenue opportunities. How about you?

5. Visualization: The creation of PowerPoint also brought on death by PowerPoint. You sit there and be quiet while I go through 178 slides in 6-point font, and I’m going to read most of these to you. Stop it! Most people can’t remember more than three points. So, how do we visualize the most critical aspects to engage and influence them? How do we return to the back of the napkin approach to ideation? Remember those days? Remember sharing ideas with people on the back of a napkin or envelope or some other quick and dirty way to get rough concepts across simply? It doesn’t have to be perfect. More and more people want less polish, less professionally executed videos, and more quick ideas that promote a unique lens or an independent perspective. Take your phone out, capture a message, and send it. So, how do we visualize ideas, perspectives, and initiatives? Mission, vision, and direction. Pictures are a lot easier to understand, internalize, and process “How do I contribute to this?”

6. Technology: This may be an obvious one, but specifically, what technology will become more prevalent in the next decade? I would highly recommend that you listen to the last episode and review the article on the blockchain technologies that I talked about in browsing, shopping, and payment. Go back and look at some of these sites because this technology is becoming omnipresent. By the way, MIT Technology Review just released its annual list of ten technological advances that they believe will make a real difference in solving important problems. How are you keeping up?

7. Demographics: Demographics are changing – forget red states and blue states. How about blue homes in red neighborhoods? Forget all middle-aged, white guys on that senior leadership team or the board; we’d better add more women leaders. Many organizations are well on their way to demographic, gender, ethnicity, background, and experience diversity. I would submit that the sooner we also embrace the diversity of thought all around us, the sooner we’ll be able to gain unique insights from very different perspectives.

8. The Economy: As we all experienced this past week, I predict that the global economy will become more turbulent. So, how can you understand it? Very few of us can predict it, but how can you become a lot more adaptable? We’ve got a whole lot of fear around recessions, so how do you create recession-proof business models. Can you identify and prioritize a set of recession-proof skills and capabilities? Even if the economy takes a downturn, what will the market need that you could continue to provide? What will the market need where you can add unique value?

9. Storytelling: We believe storytelling is a new leadership competency, conveyed through our work on strategy visualization. Do you remember having a grandfather or an uncle that was a phenomenal storyteller? I have 42 first cousins, and when we were kids, we used to go to my grandfather’s home. Baba Hamrah (in Farsi, Baba means dad and Hamrah was his last name) was one of those masterful storytellers. There was a puppet stage in their attic, and my grandfather, along with several of my aunts and uncles, would put on puppet shows for all the kids. That’s how they kept us engaged and out of trouble for hours!! What if we engaged internal and external stakeholders through stories in terms of sharing our initiatives to get critical projects approved, gain buy-in for significant parts of our business, and get support from leaders to help us along that journey? Storytelling is and will continue to become much more critical in your success.

10. Co-Creation: Co-creation is all about two or more parties coming together to create something that none could have done alone. Something that is stronger, faster, better, and less expensive to co-create with others, often leveraging their unique insights, expertise, or particular assets. It’s not a partnership, an alliance, or an acquisition; it’s genuinely co-creation where the parties have a fundamentally vested interest in the outcomes that are creating together. Since the publishing of my last book, Co-Create, we continue to see the concept flourish in a vast number of organizations across a very diverse set of industries. I believe co-creation will become a much bigger force in the future.

11. Haves versus Have-Nots: Educational competency and capability growth create more of economic divergence, and you’re going to start to see more and more of haves and have-nots: Those that have access to education, growth, technologies, and resources, and those that have not. The key is that those that have must find a way to support those who have not. There’s the social responsibility part. I love this quote (but forget the source) that says, if you’re lucky enough to catch the elevator on the way up, you better also send it back down to help others get to where you are. Haves and have-nots, we all have a fundamental responsibility out of human decency to help others benefit from our success, benefit from that which we’ve learned, grown, and prospered through to help others create similar opportunities for success. Haves vs. Have-Nots also includes wealth distribution. The distribution of income across a population’s households often determines where and how the population will invest in limited resources. The concentration of assets in various communities often determines their propensity for risk and their long-term perspective for safety and prosperity. An individual’s ability to move up from their existing financial circumstances permeates hope and the gap between the top and bottom brackets within an economy drives spending, quality of life, and sustainability of societal structures.

12. Shrinking Planet: I was recently in London for the Thinkers50, a gathering of top management thinkers in the world, and getting those folks on calls and video calls and collaborating has become easier than ever before. I was also recently in Mumbai to conduct a leadership program, and those leaders came from all over the world. It is fundamentally a shrinking planet. So, our access to resources, access to knowledge, access to telemedicine capabilities on the other side of the world has gotten a lot easier. Many predict 5G will accelerate that access. How will you benefit from that reach or access? How will you leverage it to accelerate your learning, growth, and impact?

13. Geopolitics: From Brexit to challenges in Venezuela, the Middle East, and continued human rights protests in Hong Kong, Geopolitics is not going to go away. You need to become more aware of it, understand its impact on various industries, and particularly the ripple effect on your ecosystem – not just your role, company, or industry, but rather the interdependence of policy on innovation, learning, and growth.

14. Black Swan Events: The global impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus), from massive losses in US equities markets to canceled worldwide conferences, sporting events, travel bans, to supply chain disruptions, has created a ripple effect of these often-unpredictable events. Unfortunately, none of us have any control over these events, yet they have a tremendous impact on our personal and professional growth. You cannot ignore them. You’re not going to be able to forecast or predict them, but you better have a plan and think hard about how to respond to them proactively. I believe black swan events are going to continue to be part of our future. How can you prepare?

15. Volatility: Every one of the previous 14 forces leads to instability. And volatility, by definition, impacts our mindset and behaviors. Very similar to the impact of the stock market volatility as fundamental in the overall business ecosystem (think of the effect on credit, consumer behavior, funding, and competition), so does broader volatility in our lives. We tend to move from prudence to anxiety, we invest less in ourselves, and implied volatility shakes our confidence in that personal and professional growth journey forward.

Iteration, Innovation, and Disruption

When you think about what’s important in your journey, imagine a stairstep. Using the stairstep in the image below, think about iteration, which is doing the same things better. Do enough iteration, and you’ll stumble into innovation, which is doing new things. Dabble enough in doing new things, and you’ll stumble upon disruption, which is doing new things that make the old ones obsolete.

Are you iterating enough? Are you trying to do the same things better? Are you testing new ideas? Are you encouraging your organization to do some new things? A mentor has driven into me: if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. The fear of failure is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for most of us to try new things because only when you try new things will you come across doing new things that make the old obsolete.

How many of you remember carbon copy? I know I’m dating myself. Remember how we used to put that piece of paper in-between two sheets? When my kids didn’t understand what “CC” meant in emails, I said, that’s “carbon copy.” They asked, “What’s that?” I explained how “we had this sheet that you would put between pages, and when you wrote on the top one, it would copy what you wrote on the bottom one.” To which the kids replied, “Why? Didn’t they have printers back then?” Thankfully, our intellectual horsepower has moved our society beyond carbon copy paper. Yet, if you were in that carbon copy business, what are you doing now? How did you transform your products, services, skills, or business model?

Faxes. How many of you still fax documents? A few years ago, a neighbor’s tree fell on my detached garage and completely demolished it. My global insurance brand at the time asked me to fax them information. Are you kidding me? Who uses a fax machine anymore? When I say that in my keynotes, people look at each other, as apparently more people do it than you’d think. What happened if you were a fax machine manufacturer or supplier? Surely you saw the overwhelming trend of scanning and email documents. If so, how did you adapt? If not, why not?

Extrapolating forward, many of you have seen 3D printing. Most of us don’t have 3D printers at our desks, but how about 3D printers at service bureaus like UPS Stores, Office Depot, or FedEx Offices? So, when you need a part, you can simply purchase the material and the file for it, you send the part file to a print/service bureau, and they print that 3D part for you, regardless of the material. Many have access to this functionality today; it will become dramatically more prevalent in the next few years.

The key is to push yourself to continually iterate, look for opportunities to innovate, and intentionally explore opportunities for disruption.

Want a fascinating example? Check out Amazon Go’s use of machine learning and algorithms to eliminate the need for grocery store checkout lines and registers. I can’t wait for this technology to become mainstream. Think of all the places where we have to wait in line. What a complete waste of time! God help any of us who have to go to the DMV or the post office. I love the technology of just using an app to figure out what I’ve picked up and then charge my card as I walk out.

Who holds the advantage in the future?

Those individuals, teams, and organizations who have creatively developed the ability to adapt will always have the upper hand.

In episode 12 of the Curve Benders podcast, I interviewed David Hutchens about the future of storytelling. Lin Wilson, our creative director, is also a future guest, where we discuss visual thinking and the critical need to simplify the complex, make ideas easier to understand and internalize, and, most importantly, fast and agile to act. How can you reduce the complexity, create clarity and tell a better story in your realm of responsibilities? Empathy and thoroughly understanding our target audience is critical in storytelling. Who are you trying to engage, what’s your desired outcome, and what story do you want to tell to be remembered and repeated?

One should think visually while exploring problems with empathy towards the consumer of that value. How do we use design to focus on the right issues when we formulate potential solutions? How do we execute with speed and agility in building version one, which is always better than version none! I see way too many organizations work on creating something perfect, and either they miss the opportunity, or their end-consumers get frustrated and go elsewhere because they’ve lost that window of immediate need.

Final Word: The X-Factor

Our research also points to a defining certain X factor at both Co-Creation and Curve Bending: speed and agility – how quickly can individuals, teams, and organizations move? One of my clients has strategically prioritized “decision velocity.” How fast can we make a decision and act? Even if it’s in the wrong direction, can we quickly learn and pivot?

Remember playing dodgeball when you were a kid? When that ball was coming at you, did you stand still and let the ball smack you in the head? We all moved; we pivoted and dodged the ball that was coming at us. So, when you’re facing those inevitable opportunities and challenges, be willing and able to pivot quickly!

I highly encourage you to go back and listen to this episode again. I hope you’ll continue to come back and learn from these podcasts.

In Episode 4, I’m going to dive deep into Curve Benders and answer questions like who are they, where are they, how do we find them, and how do we become one? I’m looking forward to sharing interviews of fascinating people I’ve discovered that are thinking about the future of work and how you can start to map out your own personal and professional growth journey.

Thanks for your continued interest in my work and I look forward to your comments,


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