The Next Big Things in the World of Work

Mindful of the momentous – and rapid – changes in the workplace over recent years, mostly thanks to advancing technology, any self-respecting manager and business leader will be anxiously watching for the next “big thing”.

Silvia Leal, Director of the ICT Programs at IE Business School as well as its Technology and Information Systems Professor, believes that, if business leaders are to avoid being swept away by today’s digital tsunami, they must lead their organization’s transformation.

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Warnings of profound change can’t go unheeded, says Leal. In support of her view, she cites:

Get the Right Training

Leal advises organizations to:

  • Be curious about new technology. You don’t have to be a technical expert but you must know what’s out there and how to make it work for you.
  • Get the right training as soon as possible. Business leaders must understand how technological developments, such as big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and Blockchain, will transform business models.
  • Consider ideas from unexpected places. Be ready to work with unusual partners. This means executives must fully embrace diversity and teamwork. For example, in a precursor to the Internet of Things, Mark D. Weiser in “The Computer for the 21st Century” predicted that computers will become so integrated into everyday objects that they will come to be invisible. In turn, he’d been inspired by “Ubik”, a 1969 novel by Philip K. Dick that presaged the development of organ printing. The technology envisaged has gone far beyond science fiction. It now employs 300,000 professionals worldwide and is forecast to increase fifteen-fold by 2020.

A Good Place to Start

A good place to start research into identifying the new technologies to master might be a recent report by the global consultancy Deloitte, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here – are you ready?”. This report outlines some key practical challenges that organizations are likely to face in coming years.

The report is the result of a global survey of some 1,600 C-suite executives. Its key message is their lack of preparedness for the future – or “industry 4.0” as it’s being called.

The report reveals that managers understand that AI, the “Internet of Things”, Blockchain, and other technologies that underpin industry 4.0 will herald huge change. While being optimistic about the possibilities, they don’t know how to deal with the challenges these will present.

Some 87 percent of executives were confident that industry 4.0 will lead to “more social and economic equality and stability” but only 14 percent were confident that their organizations are ready to make the most of the opportunities.

Only a quarter of respondents were highly confident that they have the right people and skills needed for the future. Yet only 17 percent of them said talent and HR were a priority – even though 86 percent said they were doing all they could to build a better-prepared workforce.

According to Stefan Stern, visiting professor of management practice at Cass Business School and a former FT management columnist, “The Deloitte report feels like cognitive dissonance or, at best, a case of confusion. Seemingly, the dazzle of new technology can obscure business leaders’ vision.”

Human-Shaped Priorities

Writing for FT | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance, Stern says, “As they descend from the mountaintop, business leaders mustn’t lose sight of the human-shaped priorities that underpin business success. These, according to Brian Householder, president and chief operating officer of IT firm, Hitachi Vantara, involve ‘essentially enduring human skills such as supervision, creativity and emotional intelligence’.”

Stern asks, “Survey respondents talk of using new technology to develop new business models but have managers genuinely spotted unmet customer needs? Or are they just playing with some fancy new kit?

“New technology doesn’t magically create viable business models on its own.”

Human Realities

In Stern’s view, if business leaders are to make the most of the opportunities, they should focus on five practical human realities:

  • The customer. If new tech platforms aren’t making things easier and quicker for your customers, why you are developing them?
  • Remember the human factor. New technology can support and enhance what people do but it can’t replace the need for human contact altogether.
  • Create stability despite change. Futuristic visions may excite leaders but disorientate staff.
  • Develop “navigational skills”. In the midst of change, you need discretion and judgment to remain focused on your core purpose.
  • Be curious about, and open to, new technology.Use new technology for practical purposes – but don’t be gullible. Not all IT salespeople’s promises can be delivered.

For further insights from the FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, visit