The Future of Work by Laurie Everett
How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?
When I was in high school one of the most influential non-fiction books that I read was Studs Terkel’s “Working” (which was subtitled, People Talk About What They do All Day and How They Feel About What they Do”). This landmark book provides profiles of the inner work life of hundreds of people in hundreds of different professions from hair dressers to Hollywood directors to auto mechanics and constructor workers and teachers.
“Working” had a profound affect on me as I thought about work, and the basic human factors in what we bring to and need from our work. The one story that stayed with me for many years was called Car Hiker, a profile of Al, a man who for thirty years, parked cars in a garage. HIs nickname was “One Swing Al”, as he could get any car into any parking space with one turn, using one arm. He never missed. He took great pride in this and through the prism of the dailiness of parking cars, knew more about human behavior and human foibles just by observing people in relation to their cars and how they treated the person who parked their car.
Thirty years after Terkel’s landmark book, I found myself completely drawn to MIT Sloan Professor Tom Malone’s book
The Future of Work. The title alone is enough for me to want to dive in and think about what “work” will mean for future generations, and how much the nature of work itself has changed dramatically through the 20th century. Now as the first decade of the 21st century is more than half over, just what is the future of work?
Malone spoke at Sloan’s Back to the Classroom series in 2005, a little more than a year after the book was published. In it he talks about how the cost of communication is the single most influential factor in how we work, from the decision making process to working in global e-lance economies, to thinking about asking more for advice than approval. He cites some interesting examples of empowerment in the workforce and projects an optimistic view of the future.
Malone heads up the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence whose central goal is to address the question: “How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?”
After 30 years, Terkel’s Working still holds up, it’s a great read. I suspect in 2034 we’ll be able to go back to “The Future of Work” and say the same thing.