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The Future of the Future: Boundary-less living, working and learning

This article appears in the issue January 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 1]


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Competing in a billion-mind economy means totally rethinking how you live, work and learn. That applies to you as an individual as well as to the organizations to which you belong. In the enterprise of the future, living, working and learning environments are converging in an unprecedented way.

Where we’ve been

In the last century, those environments were intentionally kept apart. Family issues were left at home and almost never discussed at work, at least not outside the lunchroom. The work environment was designed in linear, assembly-line fashion. You worked your way up the ladder. You watched your vesting and your leave balances accumulate, just like frequent-flyer miles. Not much changed as we moved from the industrial age to the information age. The same factory production mentality was applied to software, healthcare, legislation, litigation and just about anything that could be boxed and packaged into a system.

Learning took place in a classroom, sitting in desks that made an economy class window seat on today’s airlines look like the back of a stretch limo. You would read Chapter 1 the first week and answer the odd-numbered questions. Then on to Chapter 2. At the end of week 3, you would have a unit test on the first three chapters, and so on. Everything was arranged in sequence. You took biology one year, chemistry the next and then physics, because that’s how they were arranged, in alphabetical order. When you completed enough courses, you graduated.

Where we are

Fast-forward to the knowledge age. More of your work takes place at home. More of your learning takes place at work. For those who still commute, family life is becoming more closely integrated with work life. That shows up in benefits ranging from on-site dependent care, to health and wellness programs, to counseling services, to scholarships for employees and their dependents.

Universities are helping to change the office into a learning environment, by offering evening classes in the same conference room as the morning staff meeting. Or on the same desktop, laptop or PDA as your virtual staff meeting. There is growing demand for courses on learning how to learn, dealing with novelty and creative problem solving.

Today’s knowledge workers have a boundary-less mindset. Bosses with an assembly line mentality will not get their phone calls returned. The growth of "e-lancing" and other trends show that work is migrating to the worker, rather than vice versa. And knowledge workers are much more discriminating about what they do, and for whom they do it.

You can live, work and learn virtually anywhere: at the office, coffee shop, airport lounge or beach house. For me, it’s my car. The same goes for my friend Chris, who drives a Pontiac Vibe. His front passenger seat folds down into a table, and a 110-volt electrical outlet is built into the dashboard.

The bottom line: Organizations can no longer focus strictly on working, while ignoring living and learning. Neither can you, as a knowledge professional. The enterprise of the future must bring all three of those areas into balance.

Living means loving what you do and finding fulfillment in it. Working means doing what you love, in a way that is both challenging and rewarding. Learning means continually making new discoveries and putting those discoveries to work, both personally and professionally.

In essence, you and your organization, and your extended network, are now co-dependent. Your ability to grow is limited if your organization and network aren’t growing. Likewise, if you aren’t growing, you are inhibiting the growth of the organizations to which you belong. Think brain trust, as opposed to assembly line.

Where we’re going

Meeting the intellectual and creative challenges of the 21st century demands using every ounce of creativity available. That means building and sustaining a creative environment for yourself, your employees and your family. As a knowledge worker, you need time to think. To innovate. To experience. To create. And you can’t do it in offices designed for a bygone era, loaded with stress, distractions and interruptions. The same goes for neighborhoods. That’s why environment is more important than ever, on all fronts.

Here’s a quick exercise. Start putting together a list of old, worn-out industrial-age baggage you can shed. Albatrosses that are dragging you down, holding you back, stressing you out. Draining not only your productivity, but your creativity as well. Hint: Look around for any junk food, both physical and mental.

Now ask yourself this question: Has the growth in your well being kept pace with the growth in your paycheck? You will always need money, but maybe not as much as you thought. In a knowledge economy, there are many different forms of capital, including relationships, knowledge and your own personal brand. In the final analysis, it all boils down to this: What does your work-life balance sheet look like?

Based on the answers to those questions, look at how your living, working and learning environments need to change. Then start whittling away. Better yet, go ahead and put an axe to your cubicle (figuratively speaking, of course)!

After doing so, you may pick up your boarding pass to the enterprise of the future. Welcome to World 3.0. 


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