The connected world of the net is changing everything. Knowledge is no longer linear. A Wikipedia page about fuel dispensers (gas pumps) has around 100 hyperlinks that connect to pages on everything from the coefficient of thermal expansion to the history of Florida. This hyperlinked writing style is an example of what Weinberger, in a video about the power of the Internet, calls filtering forward. With no page limits and seemingly endless information, why not add connections that readers can explore? Weinberger (2011) suggests that this open, unbounded structure of information will become the dominant form of knowledge, leaving traditional books behind. Inevitably, networked knowledge and hyperlinked thinking will change how we do business, how we work, what we do, and what we need. Will it also change how we lead?
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Gartner (2010) predicts that several workplace changes will occur as organizations adapt to a connected environment. For example, the growing use of contracted technology solutions is changing how we do business. Enterprise resources are moving out of organizations and into the Cloud. My university uses cloud solutions for key business functions such as human resources management and online course delivery. While these solutions come with a loss of control, Gartner (2010) says this “hyperconnectedness” to external solutions will only intensify as cloud strategies position organizations to be competitive in tomorrow’s world.
Enterprise solutions are not the only resources that are relocating. Workers have a forwarding address too: “My Place”. Team members of the modern workforce may not have an office, or even know each other well. As the nature of work becomes non-routine, Gartner (2010) predicts that agile teams will come together quickly to solve problems, and then dissipate. Several employees at my university already work virtually. Teams collaborate across the net, using text, images, videos, and exchanging files and data. How we work is changing, and leaders need to find new ways to help teams work effectively. Thankfully, tools are available to help leverage workplace connections. One example is Slack, a popular tool that was reviewed favorably by blogger rd2dochazen. Slack has a rich set of Apps that link to everything from Asana (workflow management), to GitHub (code management), to GoogleDrive (cloud file storage), to Uber (get a ride), all from within the Slack environment.
Sometimes the net changes what we do. An example is found in the book Leading Digital (Westerman, Bonnet, & McAfee, 2014). Pages Jaunes, a French “Yellow Pages” company, recognized that their business model was being disrupted by digital technology. Printed directories are obsolete—you can find a plumber faster on the net. Guided by a visionary leader who saw the need to adapt, Pages Jaunes reinvented itself as a successful online connector of customers and businesses. In today’s fast-paced world, leaders need to look to the future. My university will continue to educate students, but courses will be different than they are today. Even now, virtual reality is being considered for course design, and data scientists are creating real-time assessments of student learning.
As the nature of the workplace shifts, so does what we need. Millennials (people born 1982-1995) recognize that the work/life divide is vanishing, one of the reasons they will choose jobs that pay less but are more socially rewarding (Gallup, 2016). Millennials do not want leaders who tell them what to do, they want leaders who coach them and empower them (Gallup, 2016). And now Gen Z (born 1996-now) is entering the workforce, the first truly mobile generation. Gen Z cannot imagine an unconnected world. As a university leader I think about my team, yet I also reflect on what students—the workers of the future—will need.
This dizzying array of changes comes with advice for leaders who desire to help their teams and their organizations. Panetta recommends consulting Millennials about technology and collaboration, and Glassdoor’s chief economist Andrew Chamberlain suggests integrating data science with human resource management to better align worker and organizational needs. Weinberger advises leaders to be open, constantly anticipating what may come. And, insightfully, Jon Husband proposes using Wirearchy—an organizing principle generated by connections and collaboration—to foster the creation of social and economic value in a system that connects people and technology.
Fundamental to all of this good counsel is openness, agility, and awareness. If the net is changing everything, leaders will be ready for change. We are reminded of Ignatius Loyola’s description of the ideal Jesuit: “living with one foot raised”—always ready to adapt by exploring new ideas and embracing new approaches (Lowney, 2003). Some aspects of how we lead will disappear; others will remain the same.
Gallup. (2016). How Millennials want to work and live. Washington, D.C.: Gallup World Headquarters.
Gartner. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com
Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Westerman, G., Bonnet, D., & McAfee, A. (2014). Leading digital: Turning technology into business transformation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.