With more than three decades helping organizations around the world prepare and shape the future, Bob Johansson, Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and author of 10 bestsellers, talks about the future of work. Break down the purpose, its importance as AI and ML speed up compassion and empathy, and enable greater flexibility and agility to be achieved when planning for the long term. But as a futurist, Johansson is always in a position to state that he and the others at the IFTF are not fortune tellers. “The way you evaluate a futurist, does our foresight stimulate your insight,” he says. “So we’re not here to predict; we’re here to provoke.”
In one of his bestsellers, Full-Spectrum Thinking, he practices “in the office,” the way we work, rather than the offices where we work. “What’s next is what we call officeverses,” he says. “The world of any time, any place.” Given that remote working remains a pressing issue even after nearly three years in beta testing, the work around possible solutions is becoming increasingly complex over time, with some intended for a full return to the office while others has forged the company’s future on the remote model. So the question remains that when and why do you want to go back to the office.
CIOs, CEOs and other top executives should be in the business of cultivating the community, across the spectrum of choice, including purpose and outcomes. “This really is the future of diversity, equality and inclusion,” he says. “We think of it as a spectrum of belonging.”
This echoes some current sentiments, for example, particularly around D&I, but the discipline of success lies not only in thinking 10 years ahead, but in taking it back to the present to progress – a A model that has given IFTF a consistent track record. To predict the future successfully. “I think the most important thing for IT leaders right now is the ability to think about the future,” he says. “So if you can look 10 years out and work backwards, that will help you develop your clarity, but control your certainty.”
So whatever your model for longevity, the question you should be asking is whether you have lived up to your forecast.
Johansson spoke to Tech Whisperers podcast host Dan Roberts during the CIO’s recent Future of Work Summit about the art of predictability, and staying agile through transitions that test the balance of humanity and technology .
Here are some edited excerpts from that conversation. For more details watch the full video below.
On the purpose of offices: Amidst the COVID-19 shutdown, people were asking, and are still asking, when can we go back to offices. As we do our research, though, the basic question to begin with is why there is an office. What is the purpose of the office? It is applying full-spectrum thinking to the question. Not only for CIOs, but for heads of real estate, HR and most importantly, CEOs and top executives, what is now under pressure is what we should be talking about the most. The basic question is all about purpose and intent, and the spectrum spans from the individual to the collective. Next is about the result. So if purpose is about intention, then outcome is about results. What results are you looking for? And here the spectrum runs from profit—like shareholder value—to prosperity, which is really thinking big about stakeholder value. So the result is now particularly important and really interesting in the business sector. You see more businesses asking for not only shareholder value, but stakeholder value. What effect does a company have on society at large?
On compassion: When you think about digital and IT people, we went from a world that was largely analogous to a world that is almost exclusively digital. But we are going back to a world that is digitally compliant, with things like big data visualization. It’s not a full circle because we’re not going back; It’s like a spiral going out. But the more digital we become, the more we have to think in full-spectrum ways at different levels of probability, not just/or. So another spectrum is cultivating the community. This truly is the future of diversity, equality and inclusion. We think of it as a spectrum of belonging.
On agility: How can we choose a more stable organizational structure and become more dynamic and responsive? I teach at the Army War College and I get to meet three-star generals and talk about strategy and leadership. And in the military, they say that if you want to be agile, flexible, and shape-shifting, you have to be clear about where you’re going and be flexible about how you get there. I have no military background, but I was in Army graduate school with a group of Deloitte senior colleagues and some CEOs the week before 9/11. And he introduced this idea, the VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. I became curious because it is a very good starting point for understanding the next decade. I have converted VUCA to a positive and I have realized that looking 10 years ahead, volatility comes into sight. So while vision will be disproportionately rewarded, uncertainty leads to understanding, complexity leads to clarity, and obscurity leads to agility. So this is a really positive VUCA: vision, understanding, clarity and agility. For me, that is the foundation of leadership. I think the most important thing for IT leaders right now is the ability to think about the future. So if you can look 10 years out and work backwards, it will help you develop your clarity, but control your certainty. Because I can assure you, this future—this VUCA world—is going to reward your clarity of where you are going, and how you get there. But the same future is going to punish certainty. And here’s a temptation – whether in the IT sector or in engineering – to go for problem-solving. Go for the answer you already know. And it can get you in trouble at times. So you want to be clear that you can’t be sure. And we have to learn to thrive in that world.
On metrics: It’s been said a lot that data is the new oil. And there is some sense in which it is correct, but it is not just data. It is human judgment using data analytics and context and making decisions. The good news is that we have all these tools for data visualization and the amount of data – about our own bodies – to help us make healthier choices. The bad news is that we don’t know what to do with all the data. So in a real sense, it’s not just big data, it’s analytics, visualization, and more tailored ways of engaging with data and coming up with more full-spectrum ways. The data is really important but it is going to be data in the sense of the spectrum of choice, not in the sense of being the answer. Because often the deeper you go into the data, the more complex it becomes. The best leaders I know are saying that you ultimately want to make decisions with 60% or 70% of the data that you had. That you can’t wait until you know that what you are doing is right.