The world of work has changed beyond recognition in the last decade and continues to change at warp speed.
Today, we find ourselves in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution and we’re beginning to understand that the transformation it brings is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. In order to understand why this era of change is so different, we need to take a quick look back:
The 1st Industrial Revolution (1IR) took place from the 18th to 19th centuries and was all about using steam and water to make producing things easier. It changed societies from rural to industrial. Think water wheels and steam engines.
The 2nd Industrial Revolution (2IR) took place between 1870 and 1914, just before World War I, and used electric power to create mass production. It was a period of growth for pre-existing industries and expansion of new ones, such as steel, oil and electricity. Think telephones and light bulbs.
The 3rd Industrial Revolution (3IR) started during the 1980s and is also known as the Digital Revolution, with electronics and information technology automating production. Think personal computer and the internet.
The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) started around 2010 and is building on the 3rd. It represents new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even the human body. The underlying basis for 4IR lies in advances in communication and connectivity rather than technology. Think AI, robots and the Internet of Things.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum describes how 4IR is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterized mainly by advances in technology;
“What’s unique about this 4th stage is that it doesn’t change what we are doing, it changes us.”
Add to this that, when compared with previous industrial revolutions, the 4th is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country.
At times, due to its speed and disruption, 4IR can feel like an age of chaos, a period where entire industries are collapsing. While big companies with deep budgets were best placed to take advantage of the new technologies of steam, electricity and computing, the 4th Industrial Revolution levels the playing field. For the first time in history, company size and heritage is no longer a strong indicator of future potential. The result is a new landscape of global superbrands that didn't even exist a decade or so ago - AirBnB, Netflix, ASOS, Snapchat, Deliveroo, Uber…
We are all experiencing a transformation of the entire world of business. New rules of play are needed in order to survive and thrive. The systems and skills that worked in the past won't work today.
A new set of skills are needed to win
Businesses thrived in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Revolutions by being consistent and reliable. Suddenly, these two qualities are no longer enough.
In the 4th Revolution, survival depends on agility and adaptability. In 4IR, nothing is stable. Change is rapid and brutal. Staying agile and relevant is a priority for every business.
In today’s world, we can rely on algorithms, automation and electronic communication to drive the efficient, reliable and predictable parts of the business. But to build a competitive advantage in 4IR, a new set of skills need to be the priority. Skills that ensure the business remains agile.
The businesses that thrive in 4IR are those train their employees to cultivate qualities that have never been more critical: empathy, collaboration, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, constant creativity, and - perhaps above all - resilience in the face of relentless change.
This is not a look into the future. Recent history shows us how a lack of innovation, agility and insight - not efficiency or automation - has been the downfall of some of our most high profile companies. Blackberry, HMV, Toys R Us, Blockbuster, Woolworths… The survival and success of these companies depended on entirely human elements - innovation, insight, creativity, problem solving, adaptability. The need for human skills has never been greater.
The future of work is all about people
4IR shifts everything we know about work. Advances in communication and connectivity have changed everything. Anyone who has typed an email while out for dinner with friends, or while crossing the road, or while sitting in the park with family knows that the modern way of working is very different. And yet, all of the foundations that have been laid and cemented over the previous three Revolutions still define how we operate.
4IR is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The speed of change is ruthless, it isn’t waiting for business to catch up. Change needs to start now. The new business rule book is about up-skilling people to be brilliantly human. Leave the robots to do their bit. Make sure your people are powering your business forward.
Without a workforce, a business is nothing. Today, the performance of that workforce is more fundamental than ever before in driving business success or failure. It therefore makes sense in order to thrive, it should be treated not as an overhead that needs to be controlled, but as a vital investment that needs to be nurtured. Every business needs to truly embrace the thing that holds the power to make it great - its people.