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Thomas Malone on the future workplace

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It could be argued that the social business movement is less about the social technologies pushed by various technology vendors as it is about the very future of how we work.  There seems to be a growing appreciation that the kind of shifts advocated by those technology vendors are less about the technology as they are about the cultural aspects of our work.  They’re about the behaviours that define what we do and how we do it.

Central to understanding all of this is I think the unification of the various elements of social business.  It involves getting facilities managers who are looking to efficiently utilize office space talking with the employee network mapping organizations.  It’s about getting open innovation advocates talking with social learning folks.  There are a multitude of forces effecting the workplace at the moment, and many of them are aligning around common principles.

The video below sees Thomas Malone, director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, talk to Strategy&Business about what he sees as the future of the workplace, and it’s pleasing to hear him talk about many of the things discussed on this blog over the past few years.

For instance, he begins by talking about the rise in employee freedom and control over the kind of work they do within organizations and the way they go about that work.  It’s a topic I touched on last week, as there are a number of studies from the open innovation world that have explored what motivates people to participate, and that level of control is usually at the top of the list.

In terms of the size of this shift, Malone compares it to the introduction of democracy and its impact upon government.  Heavy.  He suggests that this shift is increasingly inevitable because, for the first time, organizations can enjoy the economic benefits of huge scale, whilst also providing employees with the means of staying small and local.

An interesting aspect of his interview sees him talk about the competitive advantage that derives from having a happy and engaged workforce.  Despite numerous reports highlighting the incredibly low levels of employee engagement, I sense that we’re not quite at the point yet where companies are losing significant market share to a rival because that rival has an engaged workforce.

We’ve seen in the auto industry for instance, a fundamental shift towards lean manufacturing after Toyota began significantly taking market share from Detroit because of that more efficient means of production.  I’m not sure we’re quite at that level yet with social business.

I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments, both on this premise and on the interview itself.



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