Back to The Future
I enjoy reading (and rereading) books focused on the future – especially books that were published over a decade ago that were attempting to predict a future that is by now our immediate past. And there are literally thousands of such books; a quick search on Amazon.com produced over 30,000 books with titles that included the two words “future” and “work.”
Books of this kind can offer almost laughable predictions – primarily, I think, because the authors usually try so hard to say something distinctive – something that will stand out from all those other thousands of self-appointed prophets. Usually they focus on one aspect of their current reality, call it a compelling trend, and extrapolate it out to a totally unrealistic extreme – or they simply turn their personal data-free fantasies into a picture of a utopian future that is dramatically different from today. Indeed, the “art” of prediction is still much more a performing art than it is a meaningful prediction.
But that’s exactly why rereading old books about the future can be so interesting, and so instructive. There’s nothing like hindsight and second-guessing to make sense out of puzzling and/or surprising developments.
All of which is why I highly recommend that, as I have just done, you pick up and reread Future Work, by Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson. This is a book that actually makes sense today, even more than it did when it first appeared in 2012.
Grounded in practical realities, aimed at Practitioners
It is a highly readable tour-de-force discussion about the forces affecting how, when, and where people get work done – and why they make the choices they do. Moreover it’s actually firmly grounded in history as well as in a deep appreciation of the multidimensional nature of work. It should therefore come as no surprise that many of their solid predictions (increased flexibility, increased mobility, increased remote work, increased self-management) not only make sense – but have actually come to pass.
Perhaps even more importantly, this book is written for practitioners, not academics. It is full of practical, tactical advice for both senior executives and front-line managers, and it includes several chapters focused on the ever-present challenge of navigating from the present to the future – how to break free of the status quo and actually create the organizational changes that will produce the compelling future of work that Maitland and Thomson envision.
Future Work was written shortly after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis but before the explosion of social media, before Covid-19, and before the current geo-political battle between authoritarian and progressive models of governance.
I actually find the absence of attention to these complex contemporary issues refreshing, in that this book emphasizes more fundamental and longer-lasting trends that will, in the end, have a far greater impact on how, when, and where people choose to work.
James P. Ware, PhD, Work&Place, September 2022