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5 reasons why we live in interesting times -- 2014 update

Posting in Technology
Author's note: This is an updated version of my first SmartPlanet post, from May 27, 2009. It's just as true today as it was then -- perhaps even more so than five years ago.
Clouds over Earth-photo by NASA VisibleEarth site.jpg
 Photo: NASA
 

"May you live in interesting times."

No one quite knows the origin of that statement, though it's purported to be a Chinese proverb -- or even a curse.

But interesting times these are, with seismic changes continuously reshaping the way we work, live, and interact with each other. But these changes didn't pop up overnight -- they have been decades in the making, a convergence of social and technological forces.

Over the past 20 years, there has seen an incredible convergence of technology, sociological and economics trends reshaping organizations and workplaces. Here are five of the most compelling forces at work: 

1) From pyramids to participation: Not too long ago, corporations resembled pyramids in that they had a few individuals in charge on top and the bulk of the organization at the lower levels. Now, forward-looking companies are pushing decision making authority down to employees at all levels -- and even out to partners and customers networked into the core business. 

2) From employment to empowerment: The balance of power in organizations has shifted to the end-user employee. Today's employees carry around portable skills, portable resources, and portable networks that can be quickly applied and adapted to new environments and situations.  If the organization thinks it can no longer afford the services and expertise an employee provides, that employee may be able to rapidly shift that expertise and services to another organization. Now, employees remain connected in real time not only to their co-workers from organizations past and present, but also networks of professionals in their areas of expertise. Opportunities and new ideas for generating opportunities can be quickly shared and acted upon. Blogs, wikis, search engines and the like have transformed our workspaces into one single gigantic virtual workplace. We no longer depend on our coworkers down the hall; we now leverage resources from across the globe. 

3) From "high tech" to "high touch:" This phrase was coined by John Naisbitt some 30-plus years ago, and it rings even truer today. That is, technologies succeed and deliver improvements when they introduce a human element. The rise of mobile technologies and social networking sites illustrate this trend. 

4) From a "busy" to "burst" economy: Anne Zelenka of Web Worker Daily identified the new emerging definition of productivity in the networked age. That is, individuals engaged in the “burst” economy are valued for the their ability to deliver information and insights, regardless of the time and place from which they were working -- versus employees compelled to merely keep “busy," and are judged on their attendance on a 9 to 5 basis. 

5) From vertical to virtual organizations: Organizations and corporations were formed because they made it far more efficient to produce and distribute goods and services far more cheaply and efficiently than individuals. Now, however, its more efficient for many organizations to act as brokers of services secured from other sources. No longer can organizations afford to attempt to do everything on their own -- networks of partners, contractors, and communities can provide targeted services with greater efficiency.Those are just five trends that stand out.

Embracing these trends is smart because today's organizations and their participants are part of an emerging global network that can rapidly deliver information and capabilities, regardless of borders or industry boundaries.

— By on March 29, 2014, 12:00 PM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure