Exploring Microsoft Future of Work Scenarios
Exhibit 2: Uncertainties in the future of work and education
The process for deriving uncertainties involves reading literature from a wide variety of sources, interviewing stakeholders inside of an organization, and gathering insights from thought leaders in industry and government. The research process generates a list—in the case of Microsoft, a list of well over 100 items—that engenders discussion among members of the scenario-planning team and is followed by a vote that reduces the list to key uncertainties that the team believes are most uncertain and most critical to the focal question—in this case, what will work look like in ten years?
The key uncertainties that the Microsoft team arrived at were:
|Polarity A||Critical uncertainties||Polarity B|
|Segmented||Blend of work and home||Punctuated|
|Regional/local||Geopolitical and social world||Open/global|
|Rediscovered childhood||Multi-tasking||Old Younger|
|Highly protected||Intellectual property||Open|
|Low adoption/human integration||Self-organizing technology||High adoption/adaptive systems|
|More of the same?||What’s after the Internet||Semantic Web|
|Emerging markets||Locus of innovation, wages, and capabilities||Western-centric|
|Reused and reapplication/nostalgia||Invention vs. reapplication||Innovation and invention/vision|
|Slow and managed||Pace of innovation and adoption||Rapid and fast|
|Distributed||Population and wealth||Concentrated|
|Antagonistic/disruptive||Popularity of the United States||Popular/influential|
|Physical||Money||Digital (integrated metadata)|
Each of the uncertainties reflected a number of questions and dimensions.
The blend of work and home. How much time do people spend at work? At home? Will there be a retreat toward a more rational, segmented view of work, or will people essentially work all of the time, punctuating their day with personal or work-related tasks and activities depending on moment-to-moment choices about priorities?
Geopolitical and social world. Is globalization inevitable? Could regional or local interests outweigh the growing integration of global economies? What could precipitate a retreat from globalization?
Education. Will education be more closely aligned with societal needs to nurture future citizens and future workers, or will there be an increasing disconnect between social needs and the education system so that education becomes less and less relevant over time? Will corporations be forced to take over education as a hedge against business discontinuity?
Multitasking. Will there be a call for active play and the use of the imagination for young people, or will increasingly sophisticated tools and technologies and greater access to mature content force children to get older younger?
Intellectual property. Will individuals, countries, and companies continue to drive the protection of their intellectual property, or will a more communal view of property emerge along with new standards of value? If intellectual property rights do continue to be strong, will protection remain at the container level or become more granular (document vs. sentence or word)?
Self-organizing technology. Will people continue to rely on increasingly sophisticated software to help organize data and make sense of the world, or will they use technology in a more collaborative way, with networks of trusted individuals augmenting algorithms with intuition? Will people accept software that anticipates their actions even if the software is wrong sometimes? In other words, will the efficiency of having software guessing about what its user wants outweigh the annoyance of it being wrong occasionally?
What’s after the Internet? Will there be a new, disruptive medium that will make the Internet look as antiquated as the telephone? Are we looking at more of the same with continued constraint and commercialization of the Internet, or will the semantic Web arrive and unleash new models of value?
Locus of innovation, wages, and capabilities. Will emerging economies overtake the United States, Western Europe, and Japan as the centers for innovation and wealth generation, or will the incumbents stay relevant and reap the benefits of their investments in competitive position and economic dominance?
Invention vs. reapplication. Will people tire of the new and become more satisfied with what works, seeking new applications of existing tools and technologies rather than clamoring for the latest tools, technologies, and fads?
Retirement age. Will people retire when they reach a conventional or mandatory age, or will older people, in need of money and healthcare to support full, healthy lives into their 80s and 90s, refuse to leave the work force, creating a pool of experienced but aging workers?
Decision making. Will rational, engaged, well-informed political leaders use science and learning to make decisions, recovering quickly from their mistakes by adjusting toward improved goals, or will the political world be more influenced by ideology and distrust of reason with individual beliefs and biases guiding decisions?
Pace of innovation and adoption. Will people rapidly acquire new technologies, concepts, goods, and services, or will they take a more leisurely approach to the adoption of new products and new ideas?
Population and wealth. Will the cities continue to be magnets for people and wealth, or will technology release people from geographical limits and let them enjoy the benefits of globalization from wherever they choose to work or live?
Organization form. Will the network organization of the Web overtake entrenched command-and-control hierarchies?
Popularity of the United States. Will the values of the United States be recovered in the eyes of the world with both political and social influences emanating from the US, or will the world increasingly see the American culture and political models as negative and disruptive in light of more balanced or more regionally selfish models offered by other nations?
Business models. Will traditional business models return as people attempt to fulfill more of their needs in local communities, or will the entrepreneurial business models fueled by the Internet create even more novel models of commerce and service?
Connectivity. Will connectivity be truly pervasive with instant access and little or no authentication, or will networks continued to be balkanized by carriers so that connectivity will require individual contracts, available only in certain regions or limited by other boundaries? Data storage. Will data storage be moved to the Internet where individuals and organizations can easily access it from anywhere at any time, or will trust issues arise around access to data and how it is being used, driving a retreat to personal networks, devices, and storage media to ensure the security and privacy of data?
Devices. Will the small, multifunctional device arrive that will act as PC, phone, game device, camera, and media player, or will specialized functions reside in a plethora of computing devices, each with unique capabilities and independent connectivity profiles?
Money. Will money become information, for instance in the form of metadata that feeds loyalty and reward programs so that discounts and opportunities arise from how much information a person broadcasts during a transaction, or does money remain physical, being used as a means of control for businesses and nations in a future of suspicion, doubt, and distrust?
Part of the art of scenario planning involves the translation of these uncertainties into a matrix from which the various scenarios are generated.