Home Book Reviews Work Disrupted: Analyzing and Planning the Future of Work
Work Disrupted: Analyzing and Planning the Future of Work

Work Disrupted: Analyzing and Planning the Future of Work


As someone with years of experience working with technology and observing its impact on jobs, I read many new books that shed various perspectives on the changing dynamics of work, now and in the future.work disrupted future of work Boston

Jeff Schwartz, founding partner of Deloitte Consulting’s U.S. Future of Work practice, did not necessarily present anything new to me about the future of work in his book, Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work. However, the organization of the book into three parts with the themes of “Finding Opportunity,” “Building Long-Term Resilience,” and “Playbooks for Growth” make it an excellent resource for many managers, executives, and policymakers as they plan for the future of work.

All the non-fiction books that I read are physical vs. electronic. Because those books are mine (vs. being borrowed from the library), I underline passages and take notes in the margin (all in ink). I also dog-ear pages where there is a particularly notable idea or two. When I return to a newly read book and note many creases from folded page corners and notations in the margins, it’s likely that I’ll use it as a reference in the future.

Work Disrupted has an above-average share of dog-eared pages and notes. I like the book and the many excellent points of the author.

One of my favorites is in chapter one. Mr. Schwartz writes that Deloitte Consulting found that “most future-of-work efforts are focused on reducing cost, increasing efficiency, and replacing workers with technology.” He notes that “the opportunities, as yet largely unrealized, are to expand our focus beyond cost, which is important but not the end in itself, to include value for customers and to provide meaning for the workforce and society.”

Too many managers and executives focus on short-term savings instead of investing for the future. If you have a vision and a strategy, it’s up to you to convince the board and shareholders that they need to trust the vision and the strategy. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated tools to cut costs instead of finding better ways to improve service to your customers is a shortsighted approach.

Schwartz writes that the transformations of our economy during previous technology disruptions were linear. Thanks to AI, the current acceleration is exponential, and the current technological advances are more complicated to implement than we realize.

The rise of the gig economy through digital platforms is cited as an opportunity and a foe for workers. A Deloitte Consulting LLP report cited in the book recommends that companies improve opportunities for employees so that they can try out new roles, projects, and locations without quitting.

Companies need to make alternative work a meaningful opportunity. Understanding this need is important given a recent World Economic Forum report finding that 54% of employees at large companies will need to upskill.

Individuals need to plan for many careers, not just one. The average length of employment with a company today is approximately four years. It is estimated that employees will work for an average of 12 employers over their career.

The traditional model of learning a trade or going to college and graduate school and then working through a single career field will not be the model of the future of work. People will “dial up or dial down their focus on learning, work, as well as personal and social pursuits, throughout a 50- or 60-year career.”

Lifelong learning is clearly important for people to continue to advance in their careers as technology eliminates or modifies their former jobs. The author recommends approaches to lifelong learning such as upskilling, reskilling, sliding (exploring career adjacencies), morphing (adding a fresh skillset to open opportunities), and STEMpathy (combining skills in science, technology, engineering, and math with human empathy).

Navigating the changes will not be easy. Schwartz quotes John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at the Xerox Corporation and former co-chair of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, as stating that people must prepare for career changes like kayakers who move from flat water to whitewater. Flat water is calm and predictable. Whitewater is constantly changing and never the same, bringing unpredictable challenges. Brown says that “’it’s far more challenging to train for work in a world that is both dynamic and uneven.’”

Another of Brown’s statements included is “employees at every stage of their careers will need always to be learning with and from others” and that it will be important to “develop skills to connect with others ‘both inside and outside of your own silos, work groups, tribes, and organizations.’”

The author transitions from discussing changes that companies and their employees need to do to discussing changes that need to happen in education. His statement that “We cannot support twenty-first century careers with nineteenth- and twentieth-century educational models” should trigger an “aha” moment for educators.

Among the evolving education models portrayed in Work Disrupted are:

  • The University of Southern California’s Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for the Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation
  • Georgia Tech’s Master of Science degree in Computer Science
  • Khan Academy
  • The University of Everywhere proposed by education writer Kevin Carey in his book, The End of College

To prepare for the changes in the 21st-century workplace, employers and educators need to focus on developing capabilities in employees and students. Capabilities that are context-independent include curiosity, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, writing and argument, the scientific method and statistical thinking, and empathy or emotional intelligence. It is important to note that these capabilities are distinctively human and will take a long time for computer software to master.

According to Schwartz, leadership needs to change its management style and evolve beyond managing employees with highly structured jobs to inspiring and engaging talent in a newer, flatter, and more connected ecosystem. Schwartz notes that despite a 34-year gap between their start dates in MBA programs at Yale and Emory, he and his daughter were educated with the same core curriculum.

The notable differences in our economy over those years are the advances in technology. Schwartz asks if business schools are “preparing managers for the consumer and business world of the last century or the one that we’re accelerating through today.”

Schwartz proposes using design thinking to improve learning by employees as well as using design thinking in the curriculum of business schools. Entities cited that include design thinking in their processes are an innovative employer model at Nestlé and an innovative educator model at the business school at the University of Toronto. He stresses the need for future leaders of businesses to be able to build and lead through great teams.

In Part III, “Playbooks for Growth,” Schwartz writes about items that individuals need to accomplish to stay on the path toward lifelong learning. Borrowing from Carol Dweck’s Mindset research, he creates seven key mindset shifts for individuals. These individual mindset shifts are:

  1. Develop a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset (keep learning).
  2. Plan for a long and winding career with multiple chapters (be adaptable and build relationships).
  3. Hone the mindset of a team player rather than the solo star (develop your personal capabilities to lead, participate, and support your teams).
  4. Race with the machines, not against them (coding skills, data management skills, and the ability to build algorithms will be critical).
  5. Nurture capabilities to be an explorer by leveraging your curiosity and love of learning (invest in continual learning).
  6. Own the longevity dividend rather than endure decades of retirement (choose employers where learning and work are highly integrated).
  7. Exercise agency whenever possible versus waiting for our communities, society, or companies to come up with the solutions – take charge of your future (find your next new thing; don’t wait for it to come to you).

Schwartz also developed seven key mindset shifts for business leaders. These business leader mindset shifts are:

  1. Create value, meaning, and impact – moving beyond cost reduction and efficiency as the main goal.
  2. Focus on redefining work as the way forward, not just redesigning jobs.
  3. Leverage the entire open talent continuum from full-time workers to freelancers and crowds, along with virtual and digital workplace options.
  4. Build super minds, super teams, and super jobs; invest in capabilities for a resilient workforce; and move beyond a narrow focus on skills and reskilling.
  5. Develop the agility to lead in whitewater conditions in real time, shifting from leading in still water in linear ways.
  6. Adapt a symphonic C-suite mindset that integrates leaders, people, teams, and AI, rather than focusing on functional silos and technology alone.
  7. Co-create and partner with the workforce by leveraging the role of talent markets and platforms – moving beyond the traditional approach of managing work and workforces as prescribed administrative functions.

The last chapter in Work Disrupted is “Set New Agendas.” Like the mindsets created for individuals and business leaders, Schwartz develops seven key mindset shifts for citizens and communities. These citizen/community mindset shifts are:

  1. Reimagine the social contract and public institutions to reflect evolving values and priorities in our work, education, and lives, recognizing that the world is changing.
  2. Update legal and regulatory frameworks for work and jobs to reflect the realities of the 21st century, rather than their roots in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  3. Review public investments and tax policies to reflect changing policy and political priorities for investment in education, training, and infrastructure.
  4. Develop transition nets, not only social safety nets, to support ongoing job changes and education for working adults throughout multichapter careers and longer, more varied lives.
  5. Refresh the foundation in K-14+ education with a focus on the range of skills – soft and hard – required for success in a rapidly evolving work and career landscape.
  6. Commit to workforce development and education to reflect lifelong learning and work transitions through longer lives.
  7. Address the ethical concerns the future of work raises and engage in dialogue and reform at all levels.

Each of the 21 mindset shifts has a list of actions recommended by Schwartz for making it happen. Rather than list them, I strongly suggest that those interested in reading Work Disrupted review them as they read the recommendations.

While interviewing thought leaders, Schwartz asked for insights regarding the challenges arising around the future of work. Some notable ones are:

  • The hard part is the cultural transition – “How do we create an educational system that teaches people to be curious rather than teaches them to obey as we did in the industrial age?” (Louis Hyman – Cornell professor)
  • “If nothing else comes out of the coronavirus crisis, it sure has to bring us to nationwide, high-quality broadband.” (Anne Marie Slaughter – CEO of New America)
  • “I think the big skill deficit in the labor market is actually more of a soft-skill deficit.” (David Deming – economist and professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education)
  • “The international best practice cited for managing lifelong learning is France’s Individual Training Accounts Program. Employers contribute to an individual’s training account which is portable. It allows them to leave employers, bring the account with them, and pursue education throughout their career.” (Susan Winterberg – fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government)
  • “We should reward better people who are teaching our children or taking care of people.” (Erik Brynjolfsson – professor at MIT Sloan School)
  • “Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose. Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them.” (Larry Fink – BlackRock CEO)

Lastly, Schwartz recommends that we start to implement these recommendations and changes where we live. Communities can serve as laboratories for innovation. Reskilling programs can be developed and tested in each community. We can reset local agendas as a precursor to resetting national policies and programs. Starting locally may be easier and quicker than approving and implementing national policies and programs.

It’s my belief that Work Disrupted is a worthwhile read for executives, managers, and policymakers. I could see it being distributed to execs and managers as a pre-reading requirement for an offsite retreat to discuss the future of work. Instead of sending out a stack of books or copies of chapters and articles from multiple sources, you can send out this book, which has a lot of information in 10 well-organized chapters.

I like the book, I like its organization, and I like the recommendations. If we are going to prepare our citizens and our workforce for the future, everyone should read and keep a copy of Work Disrupted on his or her desk.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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