TEDx talk on the Future of Work: your help requested

Next Saturday, 27 October 2012, I will be speaking at a TEDx event in London: TEDxSquareMile, The Future of Work: Power to Make a Difference.

Please would you help me with three things.

Firstly, if you can attend or know of someone who would enjoy the day, please encourage them to buy a ticket and come along next Saturday. It’s going to be a great day.

Secondly, I need to settle on a title for the talk. You can see an outline below, and I’d really value your suggestions for an appropriate title. I am talking about how we are about to embark on the third wave of the digital revolution, which will involve revolutionising our workplace practices. I will outline five major shifts that need to take place in the next decade that each have the ‘power to make a difference’ in the future of work.

My current thinking (updated on 17 October) is along the lines of “The third wave of the digital age: Five sparks to ignite a work revolution”.

Thirdly, can you review the overview of my presentation and provide feedback and input. I’d like your feedback on the general flow of the content, and then input into the workplace implications you think I should be highlighting.

TEDxSquareMile: Future of Work, Power to Make a Difference talk overview

A third wave of change is just beginning in the digital age. This is being driven as much by the relentless march of history and the insatiable demands of commerce as it is by the hunger in the human soul for meaning and purpose. This third wave will bring more change, more disruption and create more value than we imagine.

About a hundred years ago, a year or so before he died, Frederick Taylor introduced his The Principles of Scientific Management paper to the American mechanical engineering society. Credited as being the father of so-called ‘scientific management’ Taylor had spent most of his life leading the third wave of the Industrial Revolution. Today, it is our responsibility to kick start a third wave in the digital revolution and usher in a whole new way of working.

Let me explain.

The first wave of the Industrial Revolution involved the invention of the machines that became the symbol of the age: great, steam driven, coal and oil powered engines that brought speed and power to the world. The second wave followed quickly, as these engines were reconfigured, tweaked and customised for different applications in different industries and areas of life. Spinning jennies and power looms in the textile industry; telegraphs and telephones in the communications industry; motor cars and airplanes in transportation; and the steam driving printing press in publishing, are just a few examples.

The third wave of the Revolution came from management theorists. As factories and machines proliferated, it became clear that changes in how people were organised, managed, measured and rewarded could have dramatic effects on their productivity and outputs. Business leaders embraced these new management theories, reorganised their workplaces and reaped the rewards. The most iconic of these was Henry Ford and his Model T Ford continuous production line. He had invented neither the technology in the cars, nor the production line that churned them out. But he bundled them together with the latest management thinking and the rest, as they say, is history.

Most of the last century was very kind to Ford and companies like it. But the last two decades, not so much.

And one of the reasons is that, a century later, we face the same situation again. The first wave of the digital revolution was about the machines that would change our world: computers, PC’s, the Internet, smartphones. That’s been progressing at a breath taking pace. The second wave is about applying those new digital technologies and computing power to every industry and function. This too is happening at pace all around the world. Google are making driverless cars and augmented reality glasses, Apple dominate the music industry, Amazon have redefined retail and distribution, 3-d printing will shake up the manufacturing world, small start ups are disrupting education, pharmaceuticals, mining, entertainment and every other industry you can imagine. But this is just the second wave.

The third wave is the one that generates the most value and brings the most change to the world. And it is only just beginning. The third wave of the digital age will be a revolution in management brought about the technologies of the first two waves.

The third wave is not just about doing what we used to do, but doing it better, faster and cheaper. It is about doing things we haven’t been able to do before. Take Google’s driverless cars as an example of this. — brief story; legal in California now –. These cars will not only soon be legal in your cities, I am certain that by the end of the next decade they will be compulsory too. The reason is that they will reduce accidents and increase traffic efficiency, because they are able to speak to each other. They don’t just allow cars to be driven better and faster, they allow cars to be driven in entirely new ways, and for a whole intelligent system of cars to work together for a better solution for everyone.

That’s the promise of the next decade or so in the future of work: that we find ways to innovate our workplaces, using the technology, the interconnectedness of the world, using our ability to gather vast amount of data and process it in real time, and our understanding of the world, the workplace and the workforce, we need to change the way we work. This will be good for business, just as it was a hundred years ago. It will be good for society and for us as individuals as well.

I don’t have the answers, but I do think I have the questions. There are at least five categories of change we need to focus our attention in the next few years….

At this point in the presentation, I want to go on to talk about five revolutionary issues we need to deal with. This is where I need your help. What would you talk about here? What do you think are the key issues that we need to deal with in the world of work right now?

Let me give you some insight into the type of thing I have in mind. My first item is the following:

The first question we need to face is the issue of remuneration. Right now, most people get paid for turning up. They’re measured on their inputs, mainly on time spent. We need to find ways to measure and reward people for their contributions, regardless of how long they take to make that contribution. This revolution has had a false start in the CEO’s office. In the past ten years, CEO pay has sky rocketed. In 1975, the average big company CEO in the USA earned about 21 times the average worker in their company. By 1995, this number had jumped to 90 times the average worker. Today, the average CEO earns 231 times the average worker. This is down from 411 times at it’s peak just before the recession, by the way. (I’ll show this chart here). The reason CEO’s can charge so much? Because they contribute so much. Or at least, that’s their logic. So, why not apply that logic to everyone. If CEOs believe we can measure and accurately reward them for their contributions, why not apply that logic throughout the organisation? CEOs have sort-of proved this can be done. It must now just be done for everyone. The first big issue we face then is how to measure and reward everyone for their contributions.

This will lead directly to the second big issue, and that has to do with the where we work.

I’ll then talk about virtual working, working from home, flexibility and “work-life integration”.

But, now, what three other issues do you think I should focus the spotlight on? What revolutions do you think are waiting to happen?

And what should I call this presentation?

Thanks, in advance, for your help.


0 thoughts on “TEDx talk on the Future of Work: your help requested”

  1. Colin Phelps says:

    Congrats on the TEDx invite.

    I love the parallels of history direction and so one of my thoughts would be what did the industrial revolution mean to the poor. Who got left behind? Is there a parallel with the digital revolution and can it be avoided or at least recognised? Another to put it may be around the social conscience of business that was probably NOT (I stand to be corrected) a feature of the successes of the industrial revolution. Concern for environmental footprint etc probably also comes in here.

    Another category of change may relate to the changing nature of government/national boundaries and power. I would assume that business is faced with the similar challenge to the missions movement that while we become increasingly globalised, governments are becoming increasingly paranoid about people moving freely across their borders.

    As for a title call it “The new digital revolution” in keeping with Apple NOT naming the “new Ipad”, “Ipad 3”.

    Don’t know if these ramblings are in any way helpful.

  2. Greg Fisher says:

    Graeme —
    Great stuff — I love the set up. Here are my reactions, comments, feedback:
    I think that the most powerful TED talks are the one’s that focus on things at a fairly personal level. Not necessarily on what the CEO should be doing or what the next great researcher should be thinking about but rather on what the concerned and engaged member of society should be doing. TED talks reach a wide audience (when successful) and hence the more the talk addresses issues that many people face on a day to day basis, the more impact it will have.

    My personal reactions to your talk are ones of excitement and anxiety. Probably more anxiety than excitement. I am anxious because I have invested 15 years in building my career to place where I feel somewhat comfortable and competent in what I do yet your talk suggests all that investment may be for nought unless I can get to grips with how my work environment, the industry in which I operate and the culture and norms around my career might change. I want know what I need to do to respond, what questions must I ask, what skills must I build, what paradigms must I adopt (to save and hopefully enhance my career)
    I am anxious to know about these “revolutions” so I can figure out how I need to change.
    I would focus on how individuals change change to be effective in their careers going forward — the questions they need to ask, the skills they need to master and the paradigms they need to adapt or adopt. For TED, positioning it so it is relevant to every individual in the audience will have the greatest impact. Whether I am a doctor, a consultant, a teacher, a screenwriter, or a manager, theses revolutions will have an impact on my career and that impact will be positive or negative depending on how I decide to deal with them. If I ignore them then the impact more more than likely be negative. If I seek to understand them and embrace them the I may find “gold at the end of the rainbow” Right now I want to know how I can ensure that the impact is positive as possible.

    This might give you powerful framing for this talk that will most appeal to the TED type audience (both in person and online)

    In this vein, I would play off the phrase “The third wave of the digital age” and its impact on each of us in our work and careers in your title. Here are some possibilities
    “The third wave of the digital age: Its impact on your work and life”
    “The third wave of the digital age: Its impact on our work and life”

    All the best. I look forward to seeing the outcome!

    1. Graeme says:

      Excellent insights, Greg. I think you’re right about focusing on the personal implications. I like that. I’m much happier at the conceptual/theoretical level, but you’re right: I need to bring each of my practical application points back to what it means for us as individuals, and what each of us can do. Nice. I like that.

  3. Reg says:

    I also like the general direction of your talk, but I agree with Greg that a personal dimension is essential. Keep in mind that while you are completely at home with the digital revolution – and specifically the various social networking forums – many leaders are not. By that I don’t mean that they are not totally computer-literate, but that many still cannot grasp how those networks can serve the purposes of their company. I’m one of them! I leave the Facebook and Twitter stuff to my lower levels of management and find it hard to see how they truly add value to the education industry at my level of management as CEO.

    Having said that, I would hope that somewhere in your third wave you would help leaders to accept inevitable change in education. While I don’t foresee the on-campus experience vanishing for younger people, there is no doubt that pretty much ALL post-grad and older generation education is going to take place online in the future. Do modern CEOs understand this, and are they willing to accept those qualifications on the same level as “real” universities? Do they understand how much in-service training can now be done this way? Have they grasped the value of better-qualified staff, who can upgrade qualifications while remaining on staff?

    Just a few thoughts.

  4. Brendon says:

    how about – sorry I didn’t recognise you you don’t look like your avatar

    I believe that one of the key questions is how people build trust in a virtual engagement. Many people rely on face to face, reading the other persons body language and nuance of speech. Much of this can be lost in lower fidelity communications, both for the person speaking and the person listening. a major drive needs to be a new way to engage emotionally in a set of media that all too often is impersonal and (ironically) detached.

  5. hi graeme,

    my views on the ‘soft issues’ of the current workplace revolution are documented here. i hope this helps.


    best wishes,


    1. Graeme says:

      Awesome. Thanks Laurence.

  6. Paul Adlam says:


    Sounds and looks really exciting. It is a subject that will enthral on the day.

    I agree that there needs to be a more personal section that will be relevant to the majority of the live and streamed audience. I would suggest that you talk about where will new jobs be created in this next wave. For me it is currently difficult to know where work opportunities will lie for future generations……..there can only be a finite requirement for data analysts!
    This is a theme that has had to be addressed in the past and has many parallels with the Industrial Revolution that you refer to. There has been much talk in the past of only working three days a week because of technological advances, but all that has happened is that we now cram 36 hours of work (domestic included) into our day. That is of course if you have a job!
    In the 19th and early part of the 20th century the biggest sector of employment was being “In Service”. I believe that this will return with the 3rd Digital Wave. Those that are in employment will require more back up to cope with the huge amount of information that they are subjected to and the requirement to respond quicker and quicker. This will lead to a growth in personal companies that can cover all of your requirements from managing your email to cutting your grass and an increase in home and work staff that will be effectively servants to the working person. Thus a return to being “In Service”. A clip of Downton Abbey now springs to mind-:)

    Another subject that you may wish to address is a topic that I know you are extremely well versed in: The Aging Population or more exactly where, how and why will people carry on working if it is the norm to live to at least 100. Not sure how this is linked to the Digital Age as such, but it does fit well within the parameters of the days general theme.

    As for the title: I like your suggestion. It is short, to the point and has a nice ring to it. If you wanted to make it even more “catchy” you could perhaps call it ” Riding the 3rd wave of the Digital Age”

    Best of luck, I am sure you will be brilliant and if I can get out of cramming 48 hours into my Saturday I will see you there.

    Best regards


  7. Emma Pearson says:

    hi Graeme and other contributors
    excellent ideas from all. Definitely agree with the need to make it personal – “what can I be doing”. If theme 1 is remuneration; theme 2 is “where we work” and how we integrate all aspects of our lives – does this include people increasingly wanting meaning in their paid work too?; there’s also the challenge of ; theme 3 could be a continuation of conventional aspects of where one gets work experiences – e.g., with technology, is travel required, are expat assignments needed to the same degree (with the often negative consequences on dual careers); I like the education theme mentioned above, in terms of a challenge of getting around not only what higher education looks like, but the ongoing need for continuous education throughout careers and making that simple, seamless, virtual where possible; there’s maybe less relevance for a Square Mile audience, but the interest in empowering women in developing economies is compelling (see Strategy & Business by Booz Allen – “the Third Billion” – which is about tying countries’ growth directly now to empowering rural women); …

    Title? Riding the 3rd Wave of the Digital Age – and staying afloat

  8. Hi Graeme,

    Great framework for your talk and if I was in London next weekend, I’d definitely be there! Will be sending good intentions.

    Since you’ve introduced the Industrial Revolution earlier, my suggestion is to build on this theme as you discuss other coming revolutions, one of which is a swing of the pendulum toward a more feminine (or right-brain thinking, if you prefer a different term) way of doing business.

    For the past 250 years or more, and ever since the Industrial Revolution, Western society has embraced an imbalance of masculine energy (or left brain thinking).

    A discussion about masculine and feminine _energy_ has little or nothing to do with societal concepts about gender differences or sexism, chauvinism and prejudice (your BIC article springs to mind). Rather it has to do with predominant characteristics and behavior typical of each type of energy. The anatomy of our physical bodies gives some clue as to what these differences are:

    Masculine energy is outward-thrusting, directed, focused, goal-oriented and productive.
    Corresponds with linear, left-brained thinking, and with doing.
    Characterized by exertion and forced penetration.
    Structures and organizes the environment.
    Focused on a single project at a time with the objective of outer world productivity. Laser beam-like, completely focused. Often unable to see the bigger picture or engage in systems thinking.
    Intent on competition, erection, conquest and destruction: skyscrapers, bridges, super-tankers, space shuttles, drilling for oil, mining, war.
    Characterized by Logic, Reason, Sensibility and Cause & Effect thinking (if this, then that).
    Limited by the known world.
    Relies on measurement, proof, engineering, architecture and science.

    Feminine energy is inward-drawing, creative, process-oriented, unstructured, and procreative.
    Corresponds with big picture, right-brained thinking, and with being.
    Characterized by repose and willing absorption.
    Conditions and cultivates the environment.
    More concerned with generating inner world atmosphere and possibility, radiant in many different directions at once. Understands systems thinking and the inter-connectedness of all things.
    Intent on cooperation, nurturing and improvement, creation and yielding: nursing, education, support services, community building (particularly family).
    Characterized by the Il-logical, the Un-reasonable and the Non-sense. No specific linear Cause & Effect thinking.
    Inspired by the unknown world.
    Relies on intuition, instinct, emotion and feelings, metaphysics, noetic science and spirituality.

    At the level of the individual, there has already been a steady shift from masculine energy to feminine energy. It started with the alternative health movement, which only made a mainstream appearance in the West around 50 years ago. Ayurvedic medicine, acupressure, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism, naturopathy and others are now widely embraced as viable alternatives to Western medical practices.

    The swing gathered further momentum with the rapid adoption of Eastern and esoteric traditions in the West. Shamanism, Astrology, Gnosticism, Anthroposophy and even the more recent ‘Law of Attraction’ craze are further signs of individuals questioning our masculine energy-biased world. The desire is to explore the unknown world – a world where proof, measurement and science is satisfyingly absent.

    Clearly there is a significant grassroots shift underway in the hearts, minds and souls of millions of consumers. But the front pages of newspapers and the evening news are not reporting this shift. For them, it’s business as usual. Advertising executives are blissfully unaware of this shift, and continue to force-feed unwanted products down the throats of increasingly aware consumers, achieving less and less of the desired outcome. The corporate world is largely unaware that scientists, philosophers and meta-physicists have already laid the foundations from which inspiring social structures may soon develop, changing forever the way we think about life, purpose, business, growth and wealth creation.

  9. Jeremy Farrell says:

    (Graeme, on where and how we work, I blogged on this and the 7 day workweek here http://wp.me/p26fjC-3a from my hotel room in Riyadh – proving its own point)

    I work in an environment in which my workplace is wherever I am connected, and that is almost anywhere, anytime – as you will be pointing out. I am managing a project in Europe where the work week is Mon to Fri, and on a team in Saudi where the work week is Sat to Wed. So when am I ‘off’?

    I think one of the trends at a personal level is the opposite of personal – the de-personalisation of the virtual workspace, and the devolving role of management.

    My colleagues and I do not really have traditional management, because we live in different countries around middle-east and Africa, and our manager is in Hungary. Instead of having a manager, I have outputs, 80% of which are quantifiable and 20% are qualititative. Our line manager is more of a coach, with ‘management’ being provided by the project manager of whichever project I am engaged on. My relationships are temporary, limited to the team on a project I participate in. Once again though, I might never meet my project team, even on a 9-month project.

    Like the ‘Hollywood’ model, I may collaborate with some of the same production team and Director again, but others may never work on the same movie as me again.

    As I become more accountable to my project manager for quantitative Deliverables, I am less reliant on my manager for motivation and direction. I say she ‘coaches’ because she still does the same kind of work as me, but has been doing it for longer. She will get feedback from my project manager, and coach me on soft-skills or technical skills in response.

    In addition to this so many of our business and HR processes are now centralized in the cheapest country with most proficient or trainable staff, that my manager doesn’t deal with general HR management issues. So, what does she do? She coaches.

    If I don’t like her coaching style I ignore her and look to others for formal or informal virtual mentoring and coaching, and deliver, deliver, deliver.

    So to me, managers of the 3rd wave also have to be competent practitioners unless they want to become irrelevant. They have to be skilled coaches. And they need to know how to help select self-managing individuals. They cannot do this on their own and have to rely on a virtual selection team, where she has the final say.

    Managers have to forget about managing in a direct-and-control model, and provide guidance, coaching and even emotional support – re-personalizing the virtual workplace. Planning, Organizing, Leading and Controlling move to the project managers.

  10. Annalie Killian says:

    I think the flexible workplaces thing has been talked about ad nauseum but the deeper underlying issue is that the design of jobs and design of how work is organised, and therefore organisation design, is still tied to the Industrial Age production model and teams are organised hierarchically reinforcing old models for the flow of authority and power as well as information. Then there is the reward and remuneration systems that help in turn to reinforce the old order. I am constantly scouring the world for examples of large corporations who have reinvented organisation and work design in line with the disruption of new business models where margins are disappearing and which requires much greater flexibility, agility and speed which demands in turn greater agency and empowerment of workers. There are hood examples in small agencies and start-ups, but not at scale….the domain of large corporates. Corporations may need to deploy several modes of org design “under one roof” but that gives rise to different styles of employee contracts and industrial relations challenges. Would that suggest that maybe they should be broken up instead of one large company with uniform standards of employment conditions into fit for purpose structures, held together as a network instead of an entity? My personal view is that in a hyper-connected networked economy, old structures of scale are unsuitable where speed and agility matters. Maybe you can talk to these questions? They are the very questions I am seeking answers to for the next Amplify Festival (3-7 June) of Innovation and Thought Leadership that I founded in 2005 and which is now the largest corporate learning and innovation platform in the Southern Hemisphere. The 2013 theme is addressing business model disruption and the Future of Work.

  11. Graeme says:

    Thank you everyone for your excellent advice and help. I now have just a few days to make sense of this all, and produce a talk worthy of the TED stage. I’ll let you know when the video is available. Hopefully, you’ll see your influence on the talk! I won’t mention it in the talk, but this “crowdsourcing” of my content is in itself a picture of what the new world of work can – and should – be. Thanks.

  12. Des Hugo says:

    Dear Graeme
    My recent short study at Harvard was looking at the future of learning, pertaining to education at school level and beyond. The themes were the digital revolution, globalisation and mind, brain and education. Some of these strands might be of interest to you as you prepare your presentation.

    Globalisation considered the new global learner skilled and ready to reflect on past, present and future. Should a new form of cosmopolitanism become an aim of education in global societies and perhaps the workplace – real or virtual?

    The digital revolution – although empowering is challenging as ‘access is unequal, information is overwhelming and can be of dubious quality, and digital environments invite ethical and unethical behaviours’. However, it gives rise to neomillenial learners who can access and filter information digitally while collaborating across barriers of culture, language and space and yet capitalize on opportunities for digital inquiry, political connectedness and creative expression. This transformation of education at school level must impact in the workplace – and create a lifelong learner who can be immersed in these interfaces.

    Recent research in biology and medical faculties are shedding new views on the nature of learning across the human lifespan. This information is guiding development of new transformative learning tools – personalising learning from child to adult. It is worth considering in the work place as it reflects brain-based understanding of the relationship between cognition and emotion, life-long learning and universal design, being the personal virtual learning.

    IDEO the innovative design organization – use collaborative workplace learning which delve into three phases to generate, share and integrate knowledge.

    It is worth watching the you tube piece from IDEO The shopping trolley design, it demonstrates this emerging, collaborative way to create, design and work.
    I love this as it validates the Reggio approach to creative thinking in collaborative settings!

    Best wishes

  13. John Burgess says:

    The original content for the talk sounded good, if you can manage to incorporate the ideas expressed above coherently (I’m sure you can!) it bodes well for the talk to turn out as excellent. I look forward to hearing when the video makes it online so I can appreciate it.

    Good luck.

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