March 11 , 2016

How to adapt to the transformation of work

by Point-of-view

Industrialization transformed the relationship between workers and their tools. The industrial tools became so large and expensive that workers were no longer able to own them. The capital-intensive industrial era created the dichotomy of employers and employees, and led to centralized management and manufacturing facilities with predetermined working hours and time cards.

“In the industrial age, organizations outlived workers. Organizations came first, and people served the organizations. Now, in the creative era, the workers’ careers will outreach the boundaries of organizations, profoundly challenging our way of thinking,” says Esko Kilpi, an expert in knowledge work and digital transformation.

New technology – the ever-increasing processing power of computers, accessible through cloud services and smartphones, for example – makes it possible for individuals to interact with each other, voluntarily, to create value utilizing platforms and apps with the mobile devices they own themselves, outside large corporate groups.

“This creates unprecedented possibilities. Some things are becoming much easier than before and some things are becoming possible, perhaps for the first time. The vibrant start-up culture proves this point.”


Graduates today will most probably end up working in new ways and in job types and specialties that didn’t even exist when they entered the lecture halls for the first time. Kilpi believes it is likely that the current industrial age ideal where people are experts in one field will be replaced by expertise in two or three fields. It’s about time that we started making the lifelong learning mantra, which we have been repeating for a long time, into a reality.

“This will be a challenge for our educational systems as well as companies’ skills development. We need to be able to access education quickly and easily, and at any time of our lives.”

Kilpi also points out that the new opportunities of the network economy bring new responsibilities. Companies will not manage their employees’ long-time careers any more.

“Individual workers need to become their own HRD professionals. We are each responsible for constructing the narrative of our working life: knowing what to contribute, when to change course and how to keep engaged.”

“The world has never been a more networked place, and yet education and workplaces focus on individuals. Computational social science has proven that behavior can be caught like a disease, merely through exposure to other people. Perhaps intelligence can be caught from others in the same way? With every interaction, the whole network potentially becomes smarter and more able, and gains knowledge.”

An excellent metaphor can be found around the corner: a street with several small shops selling antiques.

“If a new antique shop opens in the street it will, of course, be a competitor to the shops that are already there, but it is nevertheless a welcome addition, as the more high-quality shops there are on the street the more customers who are interested in antiques will visit the street and the more related services will emerge. The most valuable thing for the network partners may be the access to the network where joint value and knowledge creation is happening faster than it is elsewhere.”


In this environment corporate structures should turn to facilitating networks and interactions in them. Kilpi states that the on-demand model will undoubtedly enter new areas, challenging existing business models. For example, the maker movement – a DIY culture in which individuals and small-scale entrepreneurs utilize new technology and communal workspaces to create unique objects and products – and the associated phenomena, such as crowdfunding, are already getting stronger, and are affecting the manufacturing industry.

Up to now it has not been easy to do things in a new way in Europe. And economic growth that is lagging behind that of the USA and China is not a sufficient reason for the slowness to make changes.

“Money is not the issue, but the removal of constraints: whether society offers individuals and companies the opportunity to do things in another way or whether regulations make things so rigid that it is just easier to carry on as before,” says Kilpi.