The Future of Work, Innovation and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

[Note: this article is adapted from a 2018 discussion paper I prepared for an industry partner interested in better understanding the social impact of innovation precincts.]


This article offers an overview of recent research on the future of work and the role of urban spatial precincts in the ‘new economy’. Whilst definitions and use of the term ‘new economy’ can vary, here it refers to the economic transition that has occurred over past decades in advanced economies where knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship have become the dominant sources of value and competitive advantage. …

The emerging human-machine economy and society

A popular image of the future of work views emerging technology as pushing human communities and values to the periphery of the economy. That the convergence of automation, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchains and cryptotokens represents a new technology stack that increasingly bypasses people from routine participation in the new economic system. Sure, people will still design new technology and entrepreneurs will apply it towards solving unmet human needs and wants. But within this new order, notions of values, trust and communities appear as quaint concepts, of fading relevance to the primary economic engine. …

What is power?

Power is the ability to achieve intended effects. In the social world this involves the ability to influence others. Power dynamics are an inherent feature of biological systems, organisms compete for resources to reproduce, adapt tactics, form cooperative and symbiotic relations, and ultimately co-evolve, shape and are shaped by the ecosystem they inhabit. Power is an endemic feature of all human cultures and was historically closely entangled with violence. We can glimpse our evolutionary roots in the structure of most primate societies, where status within a dominance hierarchy is largely determined through violent physical encounters. Social status is then exchanged for access to food and mates. …

Type Human’s purpose is to accelerate the emerging Web 3.0 and decentralising internet paradigm. We believe this is currently the most exciting frontier for innovation and entrepreneurship and humanity’s best opportunity to address many of the current social, economic and governance challenges. In previous articles, we have already discussed how the internet evolved and what is wrong with the current Web 2.0 paradigm, foreshadowed opportunities as we move from Web 2.0 to 3.0, considered how this transition will affect charitable work, and proposed how we might now organise work and govern communities as liquid cooperatives.

This article briefly presents where the Web 3.0 transition began, and why we are so excited about distributed ledger technology. …

Inventions, paradigms and progress

Every so often, humanity invents something that changes almost everything else. From the development of language itself, the wheel, writing, mathematics, printing, railways, electricity, automobiles, computers to the internet, the effects of such inventions spillover to transform the economic and social contexts of their birth.

Inventions require three features to be classified as general purpose: that they are widely adopted, capable of ongoing technical improvements and, most importantly, that they enable new innovations and applications to be built on top of them. They can take many forms — symbolic systems, organising processes or new products — but their discovery enables entrepreneurs to assemble novel combinations of labour, capital and modes of organising that create new sources of value. These combinations unleash new waves of creativity that ultimately transform human life. Once diffused, they become almost invisible, so integrated into everyday practices that we no longer think of them as inventions or technology. …

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This week RMIT will hold a business research showcase organised around the theme ‘is globalisation in retreat?’ Research priority areas within the college will host conversations regarding current or emerging areas of research. My work here is in the area of entrepreneurship and innovation and we took some time to consider how to locate a compelling set of questions from within our discipline. Here’s some thinking on the topic.

First, is globalisation really in retreat?

At first blush it might seem so. If we conceive of globalisation narrowly in terms of a firm commitment to the free flow of goods, capital and people across national borders; a receding nationalism and growing cultural cosmopolitanism; and a gradual policy harmonisation, even political integration across jurisdictions; we might be persuaded to agree with this assessment. For example, there are reports of flattening global trade and rising protectionist sentiments, declining capital flows across borders, and tightening of immigration policy across a number of countries. The heralded trans-pacific partnership was discontinued, we read of the resurgence of nationalist movements across the world, and of course Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have given much energy to the view that globalisation is fraying at the seams, or rather, as the enthusiasts might put it, that national sovereignty is being actively reasserted. …

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Opening at the Startmate Demo Day/Pitch Night in Collingwood on Oct 11, 2017

Last night I attended the Startmate Demo Day, really a pitch night for this 12 week accelerator program. It was wonderful — startup theatre is entertaining, the Collingwood arts precinct is awesome and there were many familiar and friendly faces in the room. It’s quite amazing to witness how the startup community in Melbourne has grown in the past five years. But a conversation afterwards with Kaj got me thinking again about some of the darker consequences of the transition towards a more entrepreneurial society, at least if we don’t adapt our institutions to better support this shift.

Early this year we hosted an event at RMIT exploring some of these consequences, with a particular focus on the wellbeing of entrepreneurs. Visiting scholar Maw Der Foo shared some research and entrepreneur Avis Mulhall shared her experience on the topic. Here’s a summary of the research on the topic. …

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Fricken solar powered paint!

Dr Torben Daeneke and colleagues from RMIT have developed paint that can absorb solar light and convert it into solar fuels which can be transformed into electricity.

You can watch how it works here.

This is very exciting stuff.

I’m a strong admirer of the work of Carlota Perez and her insistence that the next techno-economic paradigm will be a version of ‘high tech-green’, and distributed in ways that avoid the bottlenecks and failure points of hierarchical systems.

Examples of innovation like this paint, when coupled with mass distribution of batteries help demonstrate just how different our systems of energy capture, storage and use are likely to be in the coming years. …

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Image credit: Zandstra

Optimising for yesterday

Just as we shouldn’t drive a car by fixing our view on the rear view mirror, we can no longer lead organisations by looking to the past. I’ve spent the last decade attempting to understand future scenarios regarding work and organisations. This has been critical to make sense of my PhD research that investigated the early culture of Coworking communities in Melbourne. In fact the pioneering wave of Coworkers were at the vanguard of many changes affecting the likely futures of organisations.

Advances in technology, intensification of globalisation, new cultural practices and even shifts in identity are leading to a more complex and less predictable world. Self-organising crowds can now destroy a woman’s professional reputation in the span of a plane ride, help astronomers classify galaxies, or save lives through distributed medical diagnosis. …


Julian Waters-Lynch

Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Organisational Design at RMIT University

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