Ride the Two Curves is a tool that can help us get useful insights to successfully navigate disruptions
“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”Roy Amara, former President of the Institute for the Future
The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has helped organisations and agencies prepare for and shape the future for decades. They do this through a methodology based on four interlocked phases: Prepare – Foresight – Insight – Action. This is a continuum process, with each step feeding into the next one. When we get to Action, we get into Prepare and start all over again.
Over the decades, they have created a toolkit with plenty of tools for each phase. One of my favourite tools is “Ride Two Curves,” and it’s used in the Insight phase. Let me explain how it works, and then we’ll apply it to our preferred topic in this blog, the Future of Work.
Ride Two Curves explained
The Ride Two Curves tool is used to understand better disruptive change and how it will affect our current ways of working, so we can get ready for it. As the name itself indicates, this tool comprises two curves: one symbolizes the current way of doing things, the other one is the new disruptive one.
The secret (and the challenge) is to know when to jump from one curve to the other to make the most of it. Jump too early, and you risk not maximizing the advantages of the first curve while it is still working and not being able to bear the fruits of the second one yet. Jump too late, and you may be, well, too late to the party.
This post opens with a quote from Roy Amara for a reason. He knew that we tend to have a distorted view of the impact of technological or other innovations, overestimating their short term impact and underestimating the long term one. Every time there is an innovation, we think it will change the world in a couple of years, which usually doesn’t happen, so we get disappointed, but we don’t realise it does change the world in more profound ways than we thought, but it takes time. That’s what happened with the internet, the smartphone, the television, and it will probably happen with AI, blockchain, IoT, and Virtual Reality. The Ride Two Curves tool helps us be aware of what is coming, not underestimate nor overestimate it, making the most of it.
Applying the Ride Two Curves to the Future of Work
Let’s now apply this tool to our favourite topic. The Future of Work may be a bit too broad a topic. It would probably be easier and more effective to focus on strands of it (say, remote working, the impact of AI and automation, or the rise of the lifelong learner), but let’s try to apply it to the entire concept and see what we come up with.
These are the steps we should follow:
1st step: From -> To statement
The first step is to formulate an overarching From -> To statement that describes succinctly the phenomenon you are trying to get insights on. In this case, the statement I chose is this:
From an alienating workplace to a Humane Future of Work.
2nd step: Today’s way of doing things
We start with the information that will go at the top of the first curve: what is today’s way of doing things?
There are many things we could highlight about today’s workplace. I would like to add just a few here:
– Command and control, hierarchical and centralized: many organisations today are still following Taylor’s scientific management principles based on a pyramidal organization, with the power and decision making at the top and then cascading down to the rest of the organization. Big organisations managed this way are vast and complex bureaucratic machines.
– Physical presence: until the pandemic changed our lives forever, most white-collar employees in most companies worked most days from the office. Physical presence at the office was expected; the daily commute to work was a normal part of the day. This may change when we get back to some sort of post-pandemic normality, but it is not clear how this will happen.
– Profit-seeking: in 1970, Milton Friedman argued that companies’ sole purpose was to seek profits for shareholders, nothing more, nothing less. This neoliberal credo was strengthened by Reagan and Thatcher’s policies in the 80s, and it has become some sort of dogma since then. But is this true? Is this the sole purpose of companies?
– Work gives meaning: since the 16th, and 17th centuries, protestants have seen work as a virtuous way to achieve God’s blessing. Since then, work has taken a central part in our lives. In many countries and cultures, what you do defines who you are. This hasn’t always been the case throughout history.
– Focus on employee engagement: this is a relatively modern concept, but employee engagement has been a central tenet of people management for the last two or three decades. This is based on the common-sense assumption that an engaged employee will be more productive, effective, and conducive to better teamwork. Employee engagement is the company’s responsibility, who should measure it regularly and then create action plans to improve it.
3rd Step: Today’s Innovations
On the 3rd step, we focus on the start of the second curve, with the innovations impacting today’s phenomenon. Some of the innovations impacting on the Future of Work today are these (most of them are treated in more depth here and here):
– AI and automation: automation has the potential to displace many jobs and not only blue-collar ones. Will we be able to create enough new jobs to compensate for this loss? AI’s impact is not only on automation and job loss, though; it is transforming entire business models.
– Dataification: linked to the previous innovation but with enough relevance to stand on its own, today all possible kinds of data are being measured, quantified, stored, and analysed to bring out predictions by AI. Everything is being dataified, including employees. People analytics has a lot of promise, but will it be able to live up to all the hype?
– Technological advances allowing better remote communication and working: these include the now ubiquitous video conferencing and collaboration platforms, but also Extended Reality technology (Virtual, Mixed and Augmented reality) and avatars, that will enable us to meet others virtually as though we were in the same physical space.
– Blockchain: many people still don’t realise it, but this might be one of the most impactful innovations in this list. Apart from the rise of cryptocurrencies, which is what it is more known for, blockchain will allow us to conduct smart contracts with 100% trust and safety and no intermediaries.
– Lifelong learning: the innovations above are all technological, but there will also be societal and lifestyle transformations and innovations. One of the main ones will be the necessity to keep learning and reinventing ourselves. The more and faster society changes, the more we need to learn and adapt to make the most of new opportunities.
– Purposeful companies: some investors, consumers, and employees don’t want companies that focus only on profits; they want to invest, consume from, and work for responsible and purposeful companies. Big corporations and small companies alike have responsibilities towards all their constituents, not only their shareholders or owners. This is a trend that is gathering momentum.
4th Step: Tomorrow’s way of doing things
In this step, we populate this second curve’s rise with how we will be doing things tomorrow. How will our businesses scale to make the most of the innovations and changes described in the previous step?
– Distributed organization and decision making: the organization of the future will be less centralized, both geographically and in terms of decision making. Organizations will look more like networks than pyramidal hierarchies, and decisions will be made as close to the field as possible.
– Flexible working arrangements: we will be more flexible about where, when, and how we work. This is already happening, but it will be accelerated in the next few years.
– (Fair) gig economic: online platforms allow consumers to get in touch directly with another person providing a service, bringing about the “uberization” of many industries. This brings the promise of a better service for consumers and the rise of entrepreneurship amongst those seeking to connect directly with consumers. The problem is that in many cases, these platforms have been used to exploit the gig workers. Will we be able to find a fairer way to do it?
– Demand on some competencies: as more and more jobs requiring repetition, data analysis, etc., get automated, competencies like creativity, abstract thinking, emotional intelligence, and AI literacy will be more on-demand. The leader of the future will require new competencies to be successful in the new world.
– Purpose and values: companies able to articulate an attractive purpose and live their values will attract talent, consumers, and capital. They won’t be looking only for profits, but they’ll rake more profits than the companies without a clear purpose.
– Working Learners: the future worker will be a Working Learner. She will constantly be learning and will be paid for producing, of course, but also for learning new skills and knowledge.
– Less work? This probably won’t happen in the next decade or two, but it is still worth considering. There is a question mark here, as nobody knows what will happen, but if the predictions of some economists and futurists about automation are correct, we are going towards a future with much less work available (many other thinkers think this is rubbish and new jobs will be created, as has always happened in the past). The jobs that will disappear are those routine and boring jobs nobody wakes up excited to go to, so this is not necessarily bad news, but it will require deep social, political, and economic reforms.
5th Step: Residual assets
At the bottom of the first curve, we plot the residual assets. These are the current assets that will retain value and will still be relevant in the new paradigm.
– Hybrid working models: regardless of the remote working revolution caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the most likely outcome will be a hybrid model where many employees will work some days from the office and other days from home, a café, co-working space, or a smaller satellite office. Offices will be dedicated to social interaction and creativity, so they should be designed for it. They will probably be more fun places than today.
– Employee Experience: employee engagement will still be important, but it is giving place to employee experience as a more relevant concept. The workplace strategy and design, the leadership style, compensation and benefits practices, the content of the work, autonomy, and psychologically (and physically, of course) safe environments are factors affecting the employee experience.
– Work as meaning: work will remain as an important source of meaning and purpose for a while, probably for decades, but there will be some upheavals in the job market as more and more jobs get automated, new jobs are created, and not everybody is able to master this transition.
– Profits will still be king: purposeful companies will be more successful, but profits will still be important. They will be critical, but they won’t be the only thing that matters.
6th Step: Strategies
Finally, and this is the most important step of them all, we end the exercise by brainstorming strategies that can help us transition from the first to the second curve. For example, we could try to incorporate innovations from the second curve into our current practices.
Continuing with our example, we could use AI to get better people analytics to focus better on our employee engagement and employee experience. Blockchain protocols can be used to implement smart contracts that allow companies to focus on their purpose beyond profits, by, for example, improving the traceability of products to ensure their sustainable credentials or by enhancing once again the employee experience. VR can be used to improve remote working or the learning experience of the lifelong learner.
There are many possible combinations; the strategic possibilities are endless.
In this ever-changing world, tools that help us get some clarity on what is going on are always useful and helpful. Ride Two Curves falls in this category.
This is a practical and visual tool that allows us to navigate transitions between shifts or disruptions better. It can be used to analyse broad phenomena like the future of work and evaluate the changes in an industry, focus on the disruptions caused by a specific technology, or define the strategy for a particular company.
Why don’t you give it a go and try to apply it to your industry, sector, or company?