A lot has been said and written about the new industrial revolution and how it will not only change the way we work, but also the way we live and relate to one another. The First Industrial Revolution saw steam-powered machines mechanize production. The Second Industrial Revolution saw electricity replace steam to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now, a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is underway which is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
As a corollary to the above, a concomitant dynamic change in the world of work will be introduced, which will be shaped by a range of new disruptive technologies and innovations. This would involve processes and products ranging from driverless cars, smart robots, artificial intelligence (AI), nano technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR) for the digital world and 3D printing amongst the few, which beckon the future. These technologies will spring forth significant, seismic, rapidly evolving and long-lasting change to the way businesses will operate in future. Market turbulence will be the new norm and a paradigm shift in the possible approaches to handle this volatility and complexity shall have to necessarily get conceptualized and enunciated.
The 4IR will have a far reaching and faster impact than the previous industrial revolutions, because of the momentum of an overkill of technology that has emerged, particularly post the ghost of Y2K bug being exorcized. The biggest change will be in the way we work and jobs we perform today. It will significantly shift business models in all sectors, increasing the pace of change in job destruction and job creation – including new forms of work as well as skill churn within existing jobs. As such, businesses would need to reinvent their systems and processes and make sure that today’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s skills requirements and deliver on speed, efficacy, and probity using the enormous power of the available technology.
Let’s try to comprehend this context of continual change (change taking place at every given point of time rather than over a period of time) which has emerged. There is a lot of method in above madness. Actually, riding on the crest of disruptive technology particularly of the last decade, it becomes clear that parameters are now seen as no longer sequential but require a simultaneous sense of management. The magnitude of gargantuan proportion and complexity of an equally high order is the logical outcome. In the “world of probability” of yester years, the unknowns were taken as ceteris-paribus and as such, were ignored in understanding the reality. In the “world of possibilities” today, the unknowns far outnumber the knowns and can no longer, therefore, be construed as ceteris-paribus. As such, the theory of probability of known occurrences and predictable outcomes no longer necessarily holds good as this theory cannot work with unknown parameters which by default constitute the order of the day.
However, there is no need as I see, of despair since in “the world of possibilities” if there are billions of possible problems, there are as many possible solutions. Of course, our approach to knowing, understanding and internalizing the diffused wisdom available will have to change. Rather than linear extrapolation, creative thinking and parallel thinking processes will have to be evolved to solve the problems of this unknown and yet interesting world of possibilities.
We will have to make “design thinking” as the basis of our redefining the very algorithm of life and people management given the uncertainties and ambiguities of the emerging world.
New challenges, of course, require new approaches to handle them.
Generally, several ugly and random prognostications are being made about the impact of the emerging disruptive technologies on human life and its system and values. People talk that these emerging technologies will severely disrupt the global labor market with their potential to replace human workers. There are talks about how these new technologies will impact all industries and disciplines and as a result several millions of jobs that exist today will disappear in next few years. However, I am sure that whatever be the outcomes, the power of human competence supported by the enormous power of frontier technologies that have emerged, must also be factored in deciphering the future. Constructive destruction reshaping and improving the human life is an equally logical conclusion to be drawn.
To me, enrichment and enlargement of human potential looks to be a more probable outcome of the interplay of the technologies of the 4IR.
Predictive/consistent/repeatable/standardized operations could be left to the domain of the machines. Human beings and their potential would be better utilized for things requiring creativity and right side usage of brain rather than the machine unlike the logically consistent left one. The prose of life can be handled by machines. The poetry of life would fall in the human domain in the brave new world shaped by the technologies of the 4IR.
While predicting the future and its exact shape and tenor is surely not possible but a more constructive and enriched future can surely be not ruled out. To me, the latter looks to be a more likely outcome.
Given the above, we can now understand and analyze the ways in which the art and science of human resource management will have to be necessarily understood and executed. With linear extrapolation being less effective if not totally irrelevant, the HRM priorities would shift towards inculcating the competence of thinking out of box with the spirit of enquiry and exploration of a very high order. The Newton, Galileo and Columbus spirit has to be recreated in the heart and mind of the people element of any organization. People of tomorrow will have to travel light with no mental baggage. They need to be provided the capability to get the benefit of the past but not be burdened by it in evolving solutions to the new found problems in the world of possibilities. People will have to learn to unlearn and relearn.
While, with the disruptive technology and its necessary adjunct, the system/process agility would obviously be there, agility as a human competence will have to be drilled into the new era workforce. Agility for people would mean being nimble footed – adapting, upgrading, modifying and changing. While, the shelf life of technology has become very short, the shelf life of human ideas has become even shorter. One has to learn to respond in reaction time, given the pace of change. One has to develop the capability and competence to be able to take decisions in a state of semi-dark. That would be the way to work around in a world epitomized by a sense of managing the “dynamic equilibrium” rather than a “relatively static work-order” to which we have been used to in the past.
The technologies of the 4IR amongst others have created a level playing field and the one who finds the new angle in it would alone be moving forward as an imperative to succeed. The old myths and paradigms of entitlement shall vanish. New people paradigms will have to be evolved. Information and knowledge in the “possible world” shall no longer be the domain of the few but as is already seen, be available, diffused all across. As a consequence, conceptually, superiority of position based leadership disappears and gets replaced with diffused leadership in a democratized work environment.
Bereft of all platitudes, new technologies will not only change the physical scenario across work places but will necessarily impact our processes, systems, policies, concepts and above all mental constructs particularly in the domain of people management.
The choice is ours… either to Respond… or to React… to Own the change or be made Redundant by Default.