The future belongs to the learners
When it comes to the work of being human, we human beings are a work in progress. Our capacity to learn, unlearn, and relearn sets us apart from all the creatures with whom we share this planet, but too many of our actions ignore the fact that we do, in fact, share this planet. We are its tenants, not its landlords, and for those who will occupy it long after we do, the future of our work will become the history of theirs. The ecosystem in which we live and grow older today must evolve to become the one in which we thrive and grow deeper tomorrow, where technology and humanity combine to secure and sustain harmony with our natural world. Artificial intelligence must join forces with the power of natural intelligence so that is not just smart-- but smart enough.
The future is unpredictable, but it is not accidental. The future of work may defy definition but it is still ours to shape, and shape it, we must. We’ve made an unprecedented investment in how our people learn, how our people teach, and most of all, how our people connect to the ecosystem around them to drive our business forward. We’re constantly looking around, and ahead, to equip our people for the future of work— not just what we think we know about it, but all that we know we can’t possibly know—and need to be ready for, nonetheless.
I read a neat quote recently about the question of whether the proverbial glass is half-empty or half-full —it said to pour the contents into a differently-shaped glass and celebrate that it’s all full! In that sense, if you agree with me that daydreaming is not a distraction but an essential life-skill, then allow me to share my recent daydreams about what that future might look like:
A day in the life of the future of work:
- 6:00 am: I wake up in the morning, not through an intrusive alarm, but through the gentle ruffling of my ‘smart pajamas’ (programmable wearable tech), with my digital twin VK1 combining ambient lights, natural birdsong, and holographic projections to debrief me on my most important news for the day: weather and headlines, urgent messages, the whereabouts and well-being of my loved ones who choose to share, the new restaurant opening this week.
- 6:30 am: The messages in my inbox actually have draft replies that have been pre-authored by my digital twin VK2, that I get to modify, discard, or send. Thanks to that, email no longer dominates my waking hours.
- 7:00 am: I check my design for the day— the presence of a UBI (Universal Basic Income) allows me to design my working lifestyle very differently; my compensation and benefits now correspond to a tailored combination of professional work, periodic re-skilling, and community service.
- 7:30 am: The rain is falling hard outside, so I decide to join a holo-gym dance class with my best friend, instead of us going all the way to the gym this morning. This teacher is excellent, and there are people from 8 different countries in my class.
- 8:45 am: The songs are still playing in my head after we’re all ready for the day; an autonomous vehicle gets the kids to school (they’re going on a virtual field trip to the Great Wall, so they’re bursting with excitement) and then drops me off at my favorite shared ecosphere workspace.
- 9:30 am: There, I have several holographic meetings (so cool that Teams works in 360 holo now) and some whiteboard sessions where we all stand around and draw on the same table. These assignments are difficult and some deadlines are particularly urgent, so I spend part of the time in a drop-in-pod where I can really concentrate for a few hours. I gratefully get help from 3 tele-teachers-on-demand to help me finish it all on time.
- The professional work I currently do comes from one major employer and 3-5 minor employers—all of these coexisting synergistically as a bundle. I have chosen to perform in different capacities for these different roles and assignments. Connecting them all is the 8-year blockchain of my ‘impact’, ‘contribute’, and ‘growth’ ratings, which have been strong and therefore open lots of new doors for me professionally. These different roles leverage my latest mix of creative skills, robotic programming proficiency, and mediation/negotiation expertise.
- 11:45 am: Just before lunch, I meet my counselor (and often I interact via text with his digital twin); he is not my manager, since I have different people to whom I am accountable on the different projects. My counselor is the ‘common thread’, helping me as a coach, sponsor, and mentor all in one. I discuss a challenging situation with one of my customers and he helps me do an instant role-play simulation that really prepares me well for the upcoming sales conversation.
- 1:00 pm: I have a quick tele-medicine appointment just after having lunch with my friends; the workspace pharmacy thankfully has my medicines ready in minutes afterwards.
- On some assignments, I am either an expert, contributor, or lead; on others, I am one of the designated apprentices, retooling myself completely.
- Every five years, I go on a six-month sabbatical and earn a new professional micro-degree, so I spend some time researching options for my next ‘ed-venture’ that’s upcoming in a year.
- 2:00 pm: I also study hard for my practical exam—this will be my third attempt at passing, which is not uncommon or shameful for an apprentice, as long as the results get progressively better with each attempt. I shake my head thinking about how schools used to function, and how grades were often tragically confused with results and intelligence, instead of being used solely for progress and personalization.
- 5:00 pm: I end the day with my current service projects: two hours spent on sustainable farming in my own neighborhood, and another hour teaching math to a bright class of 3rd graders (who happen to be half a world away) just starting their day.
- I feel such pride and fulfillment from my community and teacher service—they also make me eligible for amazing extra health benefits and training rewards I could never have otherwise. I also love working for employers who care so deeply about the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) of financial, social, and environmental results.
- 8:00 pm: Our family ends the night with a great sci-fi immersive movie, one in which we’re part of the story; it’s the most fun workout I’ve ever had—and educational, too!
- 11:00 pm: I decide to sleep under the stars tonight, so VK1 renders a beautiful scene complete with the Northern Lights. More work, service, and learning awaits tomorrow!
Paradoxically, imaginings like these suggest that the future of Learning and Development is not so narrowly about linear learning or development. Rather, the future of L&D as I envision it is to create the experiential conditions in which our 95,000+ people in 180+ countries can and DO reinvent their skillsets and mindsets, and continually reinvent their roles in the direction of our shared business purpose and their passions. These journeys to create new capability determine how we create new technological and environmental possibility. The work we do today to build a Quest for Easy learning ecosystem, a teaching-learning culture system, and a high-powered business system all contribute to building the future of work, and the future of us at work. These aspirations are made real through our operations.
Human beings continue to work on being more human, and on securing a more sustainable kinship with the only planetary home we know. We must thrust our hands into the soil of our earth, literally and figuratively, to plant good seeds now that generations long after us will harvest. What we know will change, and what we learn will change it.
Time and again, the future —and the future of work— belongs to the learners.