How Future Technologies enable a Human Era of Work.

Lessons learned from three Female Leaders at The House of Beautiful Business.

Your world and my world. We are all surrounded by future technologies.

Neither you nor I have to be a digital nomad traveling between Chiang Mai and San Francisco to agree we already are in the midst of future technologies. Hence, we are now facing new open questions, such as ethical issues around autonomous driving. Equally, technology developments, particularly with the rise of blockchain and AI, for future urban environments, in media, in healthcare or in education needs us to question the role of humanity. How do we want to transform as humans and how do we ensure to take on responsibility for the society in all this exponential technological progress?

It’s time to ask the right questions in order to shape possible answers. 
At SOULWORX we are passionate about the role of business as a force for good, alongside financial performance. Hence, at the beginning of our journeys with organizations, we like to focus on the core, the soul of the business, before we collaboratively initiate meaningful culture change: Who are you and why do you as an organization exist? What higher purpose are you looking to fulfill? Because at the core of our own business, our Soulworker’s Mission, we look to initiate and enable purposeful, more meaningful and humane, organizations. You could call it initiating good, if not beautiful business. Which brings me to our collaboration with the pop-up community and conference: House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon, where SOULWORX founder and CEO Julia von Winterfeldt gave a keynote on ‘Brave New Work — Humanizing Leadership’, and I was with that equally able to join. As the tagline seemed to suggest:

“If software is eating the world, we might as well have a glass of wine with it.”

the conference was ‘beautifully’ unusual, exceptionally crafted and drew together a highly engaged society of international leaders and visionaries to discuss and have meaningful conversations on the future of business and work, hence the future of humanity.

Let me share with you some of my lessons learned at the House of Beautiful Business.

The Technological Revolution

What I’ve heard both at the conference and in the recent news is that around 50% of all jobs will be replaced by automation and robotics by 2050. Already now in the production sector, certain tasks if not the majority are executed by machines. But make no mistake, it’s not only the blue-collar jobs that are undergoing great change, it’s certainly also the white-collar knowledge workers and the pink-collar jobs of the service industry. From what I know, there are virtual psychologists who perform better and more effective than their human equivalent — and, they obviously never getting tired or bored while listening.

Still, one could argue that human history has always been about change as an evolutionary process; which I agree on. We’re standing at a tipping point, just like before the Agricultural Revolution , which was, as Harari, the author of Sapiens explains it, the beginning of exponential growth, mass production and suffering on the individual level. Or like the industrial revolution, which has further led us to the status quo of workplaces, that feel and look very much like machines rather than human companies. One of the speakers at the conference made the point of ‘the mechanization of work’, which reminded me of one of my first work experiences where I felt like a teeny tiny cog that could be easily replaced to keep a huge, non-transparent machine running.

So now, we’ve entered the Technological Revolution. As far as we connect the dots on a political level; the rise of populism, the increasing gap of knowledge and the unequal distribution of wealth around the world as well as the mindfulness movement that has turned meditation and yoga into a mainstream trend, it becomes clear that it’s different this time. Exponential, uncertain, volatile and disruptive change. Either we keep mechanizing workplaces and ourselves to serve the capitalist pursuit of profits or we choose to remember what makes us human, as individuals and as a society that serves a greater sense of purpose.

How to create a human future today

Throughout the week at The House of Beautiful Business, in every conversation, whether it was around an AI driven meeting assistant, the rise of the freelance market or the digital transformation of the Zürcher Zeitung, one thing became very clear: The future of humanity is at stake.

Yet, especially with this large topic, you could question:

What should I be doing about it? How to shift from a mechanized-driven to a human organization?
Why put purpose before profit rather profit before purpose?

That’s where I’d like to share what I’ve learned from three female leaders who are driving social change today with the help of technology. They all stood out for me, not only because of what they’re doing, but with what intention, frankness and, most important, enthusiasm. For me, they are an essential part of creating a human era of work today already.

First, Christine Gould, founder and CEO of Thought For Food, an organization that empowers the next generation of changemakers, the Millennials, to develop innovations for the food and agriculture industry. The global initiative focuses on young people whose attitude towards life and work she described as the following:

“They think and act out of openness, collaboration, a beginner’s mindset, entrepreneurial methods and a strong sense of purpose.”

As a foodie and Millennial Activist, myself, I couldn’t agree more on her experiences and perspectives. To me on the one hand, Christine and TFF pave the way for the next generation of leaders who are solving societal challenges with and through the help of modern technology. On the other hand, they’ve created a global platform where individual potential is being fostered and further developed by bringing together like-minded people. That’s what a human era of work is all about to me: Bringing out individual potential as part of a collective — the art of co-creation.

The second female leader that touched me deeply was Anne Kjær Riechert, co-founder of ReDI — a School for Digital Integration for refugees, based in Berlin and Munich. What they have created within the last two years out of what started as an instant reaction to the ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, is more than impressive. Not because of the fact, that through their tech-focused education programs 50% of ReDI students have found their way into the German job market, but because of the natural understanding of inclusiveness. Standing up for diversity and integration in times of fear. Connecting for a mutual cause. Empowering through the basic need of personal development, hence educating future skills for a changing workplace. For me, ReDI is rising a colorful flag for hope and a beautiful, human future: Giving people a chance to develop their talents to find access into societies — the art of education.

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Last but not least, it was no one else than Gemma Mortensen, who held a charming fireside chat with Julia von Winterfeldt. Holding multiple prizes and honors for her work in social change, Gemma was responsible for the global projects of the digital platform before now co-founding the organization More in Common. In a recent research on the rise of populism, she shared that there are in fact differences in the traits of the conservative and the progressive mind. Aiming to bring differences together instead of observing an increasingly growing societal gap, Gemma believes in creating experiences that give space for exchange and using technology as a catalyst for social change. It sounds so simple, but it’s true, if we want inclusiveness, we need to start communicating with each other. And as she shared, it could be a random act of kindness or making contact with your neighbors. What I could sense from Gemma is both a strong willingness to serve the purpose of inclusion, but also an honest vulnerability and scepticism towards today’s organizational structures and accelerating technological progress. She takes every aspect of societal development into consideration to create a human era of work. And that starts, like she said, with the understanding of basic human needs, the diversities of attitudes and the empathy for each other — through the art of experience.

Start asking the right questions

All three women have taught me how work can have a meaningful social impact that puts humanity before technology and the eco-system before the ego-system.

However, in many workplaces of the world we’re far away from creating the beauty of human futures. So, I can only encourage each and every one of you to both reflect on your attitude and share out your thoughts. Because a step towards a positive change starts with yourself.

And I need to remind myself that all the time as well, because I don’t find it always easy to, for instance, open up to people I don’t know well, speak about my insecurities or wild dreams of the future. Overcoming my very personal experiences of distrust and fear to turn them into something constructive, meaningful and worth being.

The House of Beautiful Business has shown me an alternative way of opening the space for exactly these conversations and allowed us humans to be human. Also, to put in context with the rise of AI again, I’d like to quote Martin Wezowski, Futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network. He said, that exactly because of a future world of work, where technologies will merge into our lives seamlessly, we’ll eventually have more time to do human things. To actually return to what we, as humans, are supposed to bring out, which are our individual gifts — the art of creativity.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Where can I overcome my ego and find a space for the art co-creation?
Which experiences do I find worth sharing and what can I learn from others, to contribute to the art of education?
How I can help break down social barriers through the art of experiences?
What are my gifts that I’d like to bring out for a higher purpose through the art of creativity?

I believe it is time to ask yourself and each other these questions. It is time get involved. To create space for co-creation, reinventing education, meaningful experiences and endless forms of creativity. So, go ahead and take time to reflect and take action. Start advocating for something that matters to you, make others part of it and become a changemaker yourself. Just like the three female leaders, whose stories I shared with you.

Creating a human era of work is up to me, you and us as citizens of the world.