Leaving The Bay Area

Signals. How do you find them through all the noise? When you do find them, what do they tell us? Many are looking for signals that illuminate the post-pandemic world of work. Will we return to an office in large numbers? Will the future evolve towards a hybrid, more flexible model of work? What happens to real estate? In a recent article, Dan Gentile identifies companies that are Leaving the Bay Area. According to the article, there are 16.3 million square feet of office space in San Francisco currently vacant. The organization sf.citi surveyed companies in January 2021 and found that 63% of those asked plan to downsize or have already downsized their offices. The results of the survey also showed that only 14.6% of companies polled plan to have their employees return entirely to in-person work (signals).

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A Possible Future: Automation Shifts The Economic Paradigm

In exploring possible futures, we give ourselves an opportunity to shape them. With all the existing and emerging science and technology building blocks converging with domains like society, the economy, and geopolitics, predicting the future is impossible. But we can look at possibilities and what they mean to our future. One great recent example was described in an article by Tristan Greene. In looking at artificial intelligence and related automation, Mr. Greene focused on how automation could turn capitalism into socialism. This is not a political discussion, rather, it is following a thread to a logical conclusion. In this case, the impact of automation on the future of work. Mr. Greene said:

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What Does A Recent Trend Study Tells Us About The Future?

Each year the Future Today Institute releases a very comprehensive trend study during SXSW. I just finished getting through this very comprehensive installment. In announcing this year’s report, Founder Amy Webb had this to say:

The cataclysmic events of the past year resulted in a significant number of new signals. As a result, we’ve analyzed nearly 500 tech and science trends across multiple industry sectors. Rather than squeezing the trends into one enormous tome as we usually do, we are instead publishing 12 separate reports with trends grouped by subject. We are including what we’ve called Book Zero, which shows how we did our work. There is also an enormous, 504-page PDF with all content grouped together as one document.

Well, Amy was not kidding, there is quite a bit to digest. The 12 separate reports referenced can be downloaded Here. As I do with each look into the future, I captured some highlights from this year’s trend study. I will start however with an important observation that Amy made in the opening of the report.

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The Future Always Follows Two Paths

In a Post from 2016, I explored the balance required when the forces of innovation take hold. The pace of innovation four years ago was already staggering, and the engine that drives it continues unabated. From that post:

The unabated exponential progression of science and technology has driven a staggering pace of innovation. The building blocks are mostly there, allowing creative minds to combine them in ways that attack the world’s most difficult challenges. Additional forces have emerged to position the next two decades as a period that is purpose-focused and transformative. Innovation itself is no longer the sole purview of business, universities, government, and military, as our connected world provides an ideation and innovation engine never seen before.

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Are Big Cities In Trouble?

The remote work discussion will not go away. There are no shortages of predictions or perspectives regarding the world of work post-pandemic. I continue to believe that prediction is a fools errand, especially in a world dominated by rapid innovation, uncertainty, and a level of Convergence unseen since the end of World War Two. While we may not predict the future, we can continually look for signals – both weak and strong. The future of both work and cities is intertwined. If remote work becomes the standard practice, it has big implications for cities. A recent Article written by Derek Thompson explores this dynamic. This quote from the article represents a signal:

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Extreme Events And Their Chain Reactions

An event like a pandemic triggers a chain reaction. Like one domino setting the others in motion, COVID-19 is shaping a different future. The links in the chain represent multiple domains, and the reaction spans them all. Our challenge is to understand the Implications of these reactions and the way the World may Respond. I looked at this implication/response Framework in the early days of the pandemic. Now, we see signals that may provide more clarity as to possible paths. One domain where signals are emerging is work.

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Accelerating Towards Automation

The acceleration of automation is not a direct outcome of the pandemic – it is simply more visible now. That visibility is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrible several months. The inequities that exist in the world are now more visible. The lack of preparation for a digital future has exposed those who did not see the need. In the case of automation, it was going to accelerate for a number of reasons, but the pandemic will Accelerate the Acceleration. One clear reason that this decade will see a massive investment in automation is the fall in Working Age population. Said another way, it is getting increasingly difficult to find skilled resources.

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Is The Future Of Work A Return To The Past?

For those of us alive today, our core beliefs, the way we live, and our notion of work are rooted in the way it has been for the last 250 years. To us, it has always been this way. When a transformative era emerges, we struggle to imagine a different way of doing things – even when the emerging future is begging us to think differently. One great example lies in the future of work. As we struggle to envision a world where work is no longer required, we fail to realize that History is very Instructive.

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The Future Of The Office And Changing Work For The Better

Can we ever go back to the way things were? That’s the question Manon DeFelice asks in a recent Article that explores the return to the office. The article provides some interesting insights. For instance, about 62% of Americans say they have worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent Gallup Poll. A majority (59%) of those individuals say that remote work would be welcome post-pandemic. One of the concerns often stated about remote work is the impact on productivity. Well, Ms. DeFelice shares results from a YouGov Survey that found 54% of professionals ages 18-74 felt that working from home has had a positive impact on their productivity.

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A Job Guarantee

As I continue to research the societal factors that influence our future, I’ve explored broad topics from Government Deficits to Modern Monetary Theory. A Job GuaranteeMost recently, I’ve looked into something that lies at the heart of many societal ills; unemployment and underemployment. That journey led me to my most recent book titled: A Job Guarantee. I just added a book – written by Pavlina R. Tcherneva – to my Book Library. Ms. Tcherneva is an American economist of Bulgarian descent, working as associate professor and director of the Economics program at Bard College.

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Robots And The Future Of Work

The phrase “The robots are coming” is often repeated these days. What does their arrival mean for the future of work? That question has short term implications, and the potential for profound long-term impacts. Ask around and you get vastly different perspectives on the question. We seem as polarized on the topic as we are about anything these days. A very good perspective was provided recently in an Article authored by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet. The article explores the possible changes to work as robots become a common feature in the work environment.

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The Emergence Of New Commerce Centers And More

I had the opportunity to join the Dan Proft Show this week for a wide ranging discussion that covered the pandemic impacts on urbanization, immigration, inequality, retired workers, and the emergence of new commerce centers. Listen to our short interview.

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The Far Reaching Implications Of A Shifting Work Dynamic

In an earlier Post, I explored the possible implications of COVID-19. As with any look into the future, we know a series of dots will connect to shape it. Looking at the pieces in isolation fails to identify the potential paths. The world of work is a great example. Whatever happens in the context of work has an obvious ripple effect into multiple domains. The visual below captures some of that those ripples:

Work Ripples Across Domains

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30 Top Experts Describe The Things That Will Change Forever

This recent Article describes those things that will change forever according to 30 top experts. Before I dive into that, a significant word of caution. In an Article authored by Rob Walker, he states that most post-pandemic predictions will be totally wrong. While he stresses that thoughtful speculation about the future helps us cope with the present and identify potential challenges and opportunities, history tells us that most predictions will be wrong. In looking back at predictions post 9/11 and the great recession, Mr. Walker provides supporting evidence for this statement.

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A World Without Work

I Just finished another great book. This one is titled A World Without Work authored by Economist Daniel Susskind. A World Without WorkThe author explores a phenomenon that we have discussed many times over the centuries: Technological Unemployment. Drawing on almost a decade of research in the field, Susskind argues that machines no longer need to think like us in order to outperform us, as was once widely believed. The book describes a world where more and more tasks that used to be far beyond the capability of computers – from diagnosing illnesses to drafting legal contracts, from writing news reports to composing music – are coming within their reach. Mr. Susskind tells a compelling story to support his conclusion: the threat of technological unemployment is now real.

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Jobs will be very different in 10 years

As many focus on the future of work, various different perspectives are presented. A common theme is emerging: Jobs will be there, but they will be very different within the next decade. This recent Article draws three conclusions:

  • In 10 years time, 50% of jobs will be changed by automation – but only 5% eliminated.
  • 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills.
  • Young, low-skilled and vulnerable people – all need help with up-skilling.

Several critical points are made by the World Economic Forum article:

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Societal Impact of the Millennial Generation

A changing of the guard has been in motion for some time. In 2020, Millennials will be the dominant workforce on the planet. The five generations in our workforce introduce a leadership challenge, alongside disruptive forces swirling around society. Five GenerationsThe truth is that millennials are likely the generation tasked with solving this broad set of societal challenges. This recent Forbes Article says it well. The challenges likely facing this generation include: technologies like AI, shifting business models, the implications of near zero marginal cost, the resources of the planet, the nature of house ownership, transportation, healthcare, work, education and families.

Fundamental questions about Why and how we Educate will have to be addressed for the first time since the introduction of high school. Additionally, this generation will have to deal with an Aging Society. As Michael Gale – the author of the above article – describes, one in four millennials are already directly managing a parents’ ill health on a daily basis. The added burden of college debt could create additional obstacles to success.

There has been a negative stigma associated with this generation. However, they are not the problem but part of the solution. As 72% of the Global 2000 continue their digital transformation journey, millennials offer a perspective that helps realize intended outcomes. The Forbes Article describes five things that you can do to enable this –  take a look.

The Hybrid Job Economy

The notion that a renaissance man is more important today than ever is presented in recent Research by Burning Glass Technologies. Perhaps the best renaissance man of all time was Leonardo da Vinci, who was highly esteemed for his broad knowledge of many fields. The research concludes that we must all become more da Vinci-like in our careers. Said another way: learning a single skill in isolation has a short shelf life. Learning complementary skills becomes critical in what the research describes as a hybrid job economy.

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Wages are flatlining around the world

The World Economic Forum focused on wages in a recent Article that described a new Report from Hays, the world’s largest specialist recruiter. They highlight another year of change ranging from the tensions rising over trade relations between the US and China; to the uncertainty around Britain leaving the European Union; to the increasing levels of scrutiny against ’Big Tech’ and the ensuing debate surrounding privacy and content.

The IMF forecast a slowdown in global real GDP growth due in large part to the fear of the unknown. The Global Skills Index developed by Hays tracks the trends facing the global labor market. Here are some of the key findings:

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