How will the “Global Brain” – the collective, hyperconnected capability of human talent around the world – change the future of work? In what is called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, much of the focus has been on the impact of technologies such as “big data” collection and storage, data analytics, automation and artificial intelligence on the knowledge economy. Less emphasis has been placed on how technologies are improving the productivity of the Global Brain and enabling new operating models for solving some of world’s biggest problems.
While the gig-economy has had significant impact on more routine tasks like transporting people, coding software, accounting and clerical services, it is only beginning to unlock excess capacity and capability in more knowledge-driven activities. Its importance in professional services, for example, is growing, but with current usage models largely limited to the occasional hiring of freelancers as a marginal complement to in-house professional capacity and to phone calls with outside experts when trying to understand unfamiliar territory. For many institutions, talent management and deployment are still following the outworn paths of the internal “staff knowledge directory” and searchable digitized records of past work.
And yet, companies, governments and NGOs increasingly struggle to gain access to the right talent and knowledge in an ever more complex and competitive world. Traditional hiring and talent development programs cannot keep up with the flexibility and speed demanded by the pace of change, and organizations are finding it difficult to carry the broad range of expertise on their payroll, let alone organize them into functional teams to solve complex problems that require collective creativity and intelligence.
For these reasons, the pressure to make collective human talent more productive is increasing - not just incrementally but by orders of magnitude. The conflict between increasing specialization needs and utilization requirements is driving the search for new ways of deploying talent within organizations but also across organizational and geographic boundaries. Knowledge-focused organizations will have to find new ways to work with the global community of knowledge at large.
To utilize the full productivity potential of the Global Brain, the organizational forms of knowledge work will dramatically change, making use of technology-supported developments that have evolved over the last number of years. These include the emergence of global talent markets on unprecedented scales, the ubiquity of global video communication and collaboration tools at zero marginal cost, distributed ledgers that create transparent validation of capabilities and value, and artificial intelligence to capture and organize the collective power of distributed creativity and knowledge.
Professional work, especially resolving complex business issues will be done in a different way and in different organizational structures if compared to the legacy way of working. Here are four ways the Global Brain is transforming how knowledge work will be done in the future:
- The number of brains solving a problem is increasing by 10x.
In our own project work, the number of professionals working together on a single project is 5-10 times higher than that of legacy project organizations while the underlying number of total person-hours is similar. Granular specialization requirements require cutting up complex issues into smaller and smaller constituent components, with each component worked on by dedicated specialists with experience in exactly that issue, and the components then synthesized into a comprehensive solution and set of conclusions.
- Teams are decentralized and global.
The large team size and the range of specializations required is forcing the future knowledge enterprise to reach beyond its institutional boundaries as it will not have all the required talent in-house. Thus, typical project teams will no longer bound to the limits of a particular organization; they will be assembled on a global level with the required specific expertise wherever it can be found. Project participants can be individuals, teams and institutions, depending on the particular issues to be solved. Collaboration of these kinds of teams will be done mainly online, using electronic communications and video conferencing. The future knowledge enterprise will become totally comfortable with this type of interaction since it will not be possible to bring true, granular knowledge to bear in any other way.
- The structure of teams is more complex.
The organization of distributed professional work will reach new levels of complexity, reflecting the above trends. Technology will support the organization and management of global virtual teams and provide the collaboration infrastructure for online work. New forms of “micro-contracts” (being the equivalent of micro payments that are already prevalent in a substantial portion of E-commerce) need to be developed and put into place as collaborating specialists will typically work only on small slivers of an issue that correspond to their particular expertise.
- Value creation and capture is meritocratic.
Individuals and organizations participating in the gig-economy will develop and document their set of credentials in a totally different way. Individual capabilities and contributions to projects, along with their personal networks, training and education will be recorded in an open distributed ledger paving the way for a truly meritocratic system, where individuals contribute and are compensated fairly for the value they bring without regards to race, gender, politics or geography.
The changes in the organization of professional work will have a profound impact on the way the knowledge enterprise of the future will be organized; it will look very different from the way large institutions are currently structured. Most importantly, the future knowledge enterprise will be smaller and bigger at the same time than current organizations: a smaller number of professional core staff will work in, and manage the, collaboration of a much larger number of independent individuals, teams and organization on the outside.
What do these developments imply for the professional individual of the future? First and foremost, the future of work will be the “ultimate meritocracy” as only expertise will count and as the collaboration in the form of micro-contracts requires only a short-term commitment by both the knowledge enterprise and the participating individual. The work required will flow to where it can be done at the best value - the right combination of quality and price.
As all participants in the new knowledge economy will be continuously evaluated as to the value of their contribution for each project sliver on which they have worked, a new professional meritocratic structure will evolve. This new structure may shatter some of the existing, long-standing relationships that were based more on tenure and less on performance, but it will also provide new opportunities for those who do well. And, people at the beginning of their professional career, regardless of their location, will find it much easier to enter the knowledge economy and thrive within it since the classical hurdles of capturing long-term employment contracts do not exist.