Ask a roomful of people what’s the most important invention of the 20th century, and chances are that the Internet, semiconductors, power of the individualthe combustion engine, or the telephone would be near the top of the list (in the developed world anyway). But there’s a strong argument that the most important invention of the last 100 years is management, or according to Gary Hamel, “the tools and the methods that we use to bring people together to mobilize and organize resources for productive ends.”

The problem is that, since their invention, today’s management practices have barely changed and they are an outdated legacy of the last century. Exponential increases in connectivity, data, and mobile devices – as well as the rise of young people who have grown up online – are fueling unprecedented demand for openness, interaction, participation, and flexibility in the workplace.

Predictably, these demands are crossing into the public domain in a similarly disruptive way. In a hyperconnected world, citizens increasingly expect to participate in government, get information, report what they find, and influence policy. Many governments are seeking new ways to engage citizens in creating new services that improve lives, foster community, and build trust.
Businesses and governments must respond to three trends that are being driven by the increasing autonomy and empowerment of individuals:

A future without layoffs

Globalization, technology, faster product lifecycles, and more fluid financial markets have made employment more volatile for workers and companies alike. As a result, employees face uncertain futures. Meanwhile, businesses face low levels of employee loyalty and must often spend large sums to replace skilled people, if they can find them at all.

These same forces have enabled the rise of freelancers, who are using technology to build their skills, identities, and support networks. This self-organizing ecosystem will interact with companies in a more flexible, project-oriented, and demand-driven way. Models of engagement between employees and employers will emphasize creativity and individual empowerment on the employee side over command and control on the employer side. This means companies must come up with ways to predict what skills will be needed and redefine the leadership, management, and systems required to shape and empower their workforces. If done well, not only will companies be more competitive and agile, but the workforce will be more motivated and highly trained.

Employee-driven learning

Waiting for schools and universities to produce individuals with the right skills for today’s market is not enough. Full-time employees will be a smaller part of an organization, and the majority will be freelancers, partners, and other third parties – flexibly reconfiguring to fit the needs of the moment. At the same time, companies must take a more active role in working with schools and universities and empowering individuals to find practical education with a faster return on investment in a more practical approach.

New levels of citizen engagement

While the first steps that governments take toward openness were citizen self-service and the sharing of relevant information such as road conditions and parking availability, this trend will lead to a future of a much stronger engagement of citizens in their cities and neighborhoods. In the future, services will be broadened beyond those that are purely government driven and will include many third-party services that support a richer community life. Increasingly, that community life will converge in urban centers. As cities compete for people and business, services will become a competitive advantage.

What’s your view? Do these predictions match yours?

To see what noted author and business strategist Don Tapscott has to say about the power of the individual, check out this video.