Subscribe for our latest future of work insights
Our reading room
Welcome to Working the Future's reading room.
Here are our recommendations for some great reads related to the future of work.
The Excellence Dividend: Principles for Prospering in Turbulent Times from a Lifetime in Pursuit of Excellence – Tom Peters, 2018
I’ve always held Tom Peters in super high regard. A quote from his earlier book, A Passion for Excellence, helped nail an interview which launched my recruitment career.
The Excellence Dividend is a high-octane acknowledgement of the commercial turbulence that lies ahead, brought about predominantly by the disruptive nature of technology. Peters presents a wide range of observations and insights around how businesses can remain in the game, each underpinned by human potential to provide competitive edge.
He explores the critical importance of putting people first, so as to fully engage co-workers in the pre-requisite process of change and to fuel innovation. He addresses the need for innovation and for perpetual value-add, and highlights the imperative requirement for both strong and authentic leadership.
Working out Loud: For a Better Career and Life – John Stepper, 2015
For us, this is the perfect rulebook for several audiences. For anyone starting out in business and looking to connect with and learn from others who share similar interests, Working out Loud provides a framework. It’s also an essential read for anyone who feels they’ve reached a plateau in their working life and who wants to develop a more meaningful way of working and contributing to the world.
Since first reading, we’ve been using this methodology ourselves and have built some amazing connections both online and offline as a result, with some fabulous learning along the way.
Sharing, continuous learning and collaboration are key features of success in the future of work, and John Stepper has carefully crafted an approach for achieving this that is accessible to all. The online WOL communities that have built up around this book are genuine, warm-hearted and fully inclusive. It’s a complete joy to be witness to and part of this social movement.
Daniel Coyle spent four years with organisations such as Pixar, Zappos, The Union Square Hospitality Group and the US Navy Seals, trying to figure out what makes for a great culture within the workplace.
Across the piste, he found that three things need to be in place to make way for highly engaged and productive teams: psychological safety, leadership vulnerability and an identified purpose.
Using detailed examples, Coyle makes a compelling case for a new kind of leadership, certainly a leadership style that will be beneficial to survival in an increasingly complex and volatile future of work landscape.
We’d recommend this as essential reading for anyone with a responsibility for organisational culture.
This is a fascinating deep dive into the construct that has been created around the Professions (including, but not limited to, Law, Tax and Audit, Accounting, Architecture, Management Consulting, Education and Healthcare), and how we have traditionally both accessed and gained value from these disciplines.
The Internet and the continuous spread of publicly available knowledge throws a direct challenge to the perceived value of such professions and the advance of automation poses further threat as software will inevitably create efficiencies that undermine the business case for current pricing models.
Richard and Daniel Susskind, through in-depth analysis, shine a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of the professions, presenting a strong case for why and how they will need to pivot and adapt so as to survive in the future of work.
“I’m not thinking the way I used to think…I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article…That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose my thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text.”
I defy anyone not to relate to this statement in some way. Nicholas Carr explores the distribution of information through the ages, from oral, to handwritten to print, through to the internet and the modern information age. In parallel he presents research showing how our brain structures have changed in response to the way that information on the internet is presented. This impacts our ability to think deeply and critically.
Carr writes: “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively.” When we know the skills that will be most valued in the future of work include creativity and critical thinking, this is a stark warning, and The Shallows is a credible and compelling account of the impact of the Net on our lives.
This book is full of great real-world examples of how our social networks can help us to deliver exceptional results.
Many of us dread networking; it conjures images of sleazy and fickle sales people desperately trying to push their wares.
Burkus, however, shows us, through powerful illustrations, just the extent to which we have untapped potential within our pre-existing networks of school and college friends, former colleagues and other people we meet along the way.
This is a great read for anyone thinking about going it alone and wondering how to build a viable business referral pipeline.
"What are people for? Algorithms can do many things, but they will never actually give a damn. People are for caring.”
Wow. Madsbjerg offers up a fresh and alternative view to the dystopia of a future without work. He argues that for too long business has been transfixed by a two-dimensional purely financial and analytical approach, and the singular measuring stick of financial performance. He posits that as business increasingly battles against fickle and “unpredictable” consumers, understanding the context of customer habits and behaviours has never been more important.
This is the battle of “thin” quantitative data (the kind Silicon Valley seems in love with, and the kind that AI is contingent upon) versus “thick” qualitative data. Context is everything he says and is key to competitive edge. Furthermore, it’s the one area where algorithms will struggle to make a dent for some significant time to come, so an obvious area for humans to focus on.
Building on the success of his 2011 bestseller, The Lean Start-Up, in which Ries outlined a lean methodology for approaching start-up business activity and entrepreneurialism, the writer has now applied his learning and experience to the wider corporate sector.
In part a reflection of his time spent working as a consultant to GE, Ries has written The Start-Up Way as a detailed roadmap for established corporates who wish to become agile in order to both innovate and respond to the volatility of the modern commercial landscape.
As before, he strongly advocates for customer insights and feedback loops lying at the heart of any innovation success – something that we feel would be of benefit more than a few of today’s 'set-in-their-ways' corporates (mentioning no names, obvs!).
Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT, specialising in how people relate to technology. In Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle explores how younger cohorts, our 'digital natives', interact with and communicate using technology. It’s both terrifying and fascinating to read her observation that communications technology and social media have already marginalised the perceived requirement for face-to-face contact and communication. The implication of this is a loss of ability to read facial expression and empathise with other humans. The ability to think critically, or solve complex problems is also radically compromised by the growing challenge of constant distraction, or inattention.
To the first point, this explains in part the growing frustration that we hear among employers that millennials don’t seem able or willing to communicate effectively face to face. To the second point, when we know that the jobs of the future are contingent on our human ability to apply deep focus and think critically, we’re left wondering whether or not the creative capacity of the human brain has already been irreparably damaged by the very technology that we are told could supersede us unless we remain relevant. Super sobering!
A must-read for anyone wanting to remain relevant in the future of work.
Coyle draws on neuro-scientific research to show how synaptic connections are formed and strengthened in the process of developing new skills and how deep practice builds myelin, which acts like insulation tape in the brain to reinforce learning. The book shows how learning and skill development can take place at any age, but beware, it also takes time, dedication and a long-term view.
For those committed to the notion of lifelong learning (and frankly, we all should be, given the vulnerability of so many jobs to the machine), Coyle’s work is an excellent overview of the science behind the effort.
Ross served as Senior Advisor for Innovation during the Obama Administration and spent significant time researching and defining what he perceives to be the emerging growth areas for industry across the next few decades.
Unsurprisingly, these are underpinned by technology and cover areas including robotics, genomics, cryptocurrencies and block chain, cyberwar and cybersecurity, big data and smart cities.
For the conscientious, it gives an idea of where future career opportunities will emerge, and serves as a useful guidebook in imagining what life and work in the future will look like.
University of Pennsylvania Professor of Psychology Angela Duckworth has chosen 'grit' as her specialist area of interest.
She defines it as the mix of passion and perseverance towards achieving a longer-term goal. It is, simply put, the ability to keep going, in spite of potential setbacks, in the pursuit of a larger objective. Given the increasing fluidity of our work and commercial landscapes, we think this is an important piece of work as it provides research behind what it takes to stay constant and committed towards a higher goal.
Duckworth’s work is worth keeping sight of as we all attempt to stay on task and focussed towards excellence and mastery in the future of work.
London Business School Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott have taken a close look at global longevity statistics and modelled them against current UK pension arrangements to show that because we are all living for longer, we will all have to work for longer.
Their book also shows what a much longer working life might look like, enabling us all to vision how life in the future might look.
In some regards, this isn’t the sort of book that would naturally fall into our Future of Work basket. We do, however, consider it relevant and important. The author, Johann Hari, a self-confessed long-term sufferer of anxiety and depression himself, has undergone an exploration of some of the underlying causes of depression in the 21st Century, suggesting along the way that not all forms of depression are simply attributable to genetic defects and therefore treatable by medication.
The book proposes that, in fact, many causes of anxiety and depression are due to a lack of human-to-human connection and a lack of wider purpose and meaning in life. At a time when our sense of community and belonging is being eroded by mass consumerism, growing elitism and inequality, an increasing obsession with instant gratification, and an endless race to be seen and heard online, Hari has bravely, and rightly, in our opinion, suggested that perhaps meaningfully reconnecting with one another could go some way to mitigate the mental ill-health epidemic that is sweeping the developed world.
This is a 'must-read' for anyone involved in workplace health and wellbeing and for anyone looking to build a more cohesive and engaged workforce.
This is a fascinating read for anyone who suspects that the way we run businesses today is no longer working.
Laloux has mapped ways of doing business through the ages and alights upon the Teal Organization as the evolutionary next phase of doing business. Teal consists of self-managing teams, made up of individuals who are actively encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, all focusing on a business purpose that is in constant evolution.
For those disenfranchised by the current way of doing things in the corporate world, this is hugely insightful stuff, underpinned by the success stories of real businesses (including both for-profit and not-for-profits) who have adopted Teal with significant commercial success.
Fully Connected explores our innate human desire for human connection and interaction and how the digital age is causing disruption as more and more communication takes place online.
Hobsbawm argues, rightly we think, that both online communication and information overload in the digital age are having detrimental effects on our health, and proposes that face-to-face communication is essential for good “social health”, using the latest developments in neuroscience to underpin her thinking.
A solid counter-argument to this year’s mainstream idea that AI is the way forward.
This is our 'go-to' book choice when anyone ever asks us about further reading around the future of work.
Professor Gratton teaches at London Business School and is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. She succinctly nails the various aspects of the future of work, showcasing the topic as multiple themes in convergence, and not just this year’s hot potato of innovation in automation and AI.
She also shows us the very likely societal impact of the future of work and gives illustrations of how we might future-proof ourselves to adapt to an altogether different work landscape of the future.
Hess and Ludwig have studied a vast array of research and evidence to create an outline of the personal characteristics and traits that will drive success in the future of work.
Most thinking around the future of work points to an altogether different set of personal skills and attributes required in our increasingly disruptive business landscapes, and this book substantiates those requirements with some well-presented ideas and the latest in psychological research.
This is such a great book. It charts the emerging quest by workers to achieve more transparency, trust and opportunity to learn/grow, and supports the idea that if businesses don't work hard to embrace this, they will lose in the war for talent.
As a parent, I think the UK education is well overdue an overhaul; we need to be showing our children that it's OK not to get things right first time, because this is where true learning takes place.
We also need to help our kids fall in love with learning and help them see all the wonderful things that a love of learning can bring right the way through life.
This is one of our favourite books in recent years. It shows, through vast amount of psychological research, how, when we go out of our way to help others, good things happen.
In the rich make-up of society, there are 3 main profile types: those who give, those who take and those who match. It might be logical to assume that the most successful profile type is a matcher, but Grant disproves this time and again with fabulous real-world stories showing that not only are we hard-wired, as humans, to want to be helpful, but also that authentic helpfulness reaps rewards in so many different ways.
Deeply influential thinking when considering the future of work.
As founder of the World Economic Forum, the not-for-profit organisation “committed to improving the state of the world”, we like to think that Klaus Schwab, even without his academic credentials, knows a thing or two about economics and the state of the global commercial landscape.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides a detailed picture into the impact that exponential technological advance is likely to have on us societally, and not least on the relationship we have with our workplaces. In spite of the risks posed to our employability generically, Schwab argues that “talentism” is “one of the most important, emerging drivers of competitiveness”, holding that people will always lie at the heart of commercial success.
This book succinctly captures the pace at which technology is transforming both our homes and workplaces. Significantly however, Leonhard challenges the current lack of debate as to whether these technologies actually act in our best interests and also questions what we, as humans, are potentially sacrificing as we adopt them and whether society actually benefits in the longer term.
Whilst clearly a technology enthusiast, the author also takes a sensitive and humanitarian approach to the various ethical dilemmas posed by the mass adoption of new and emerging technologies.
This is a great read for anyone interested in building a more solid understanding of both the opportunities and threats posed by a more technology-dependent future.
This is a really insightful delve into not only the technologies that are coming to eat up the workplace but also a forward snapshot as to how the social and economic consequences may unfold.
Ford’s book gives a much better understanding of the various technologies, the names of which are often interchangeable within the realms of popular press.
He goes as far to look at universal basic income and the pros and cons of the various iterations and options available. A very sobering, but nonetheless necessary, read.
A great read providing well researched insight into what we seek from our workplaces, over and above financial remuneration.
As Pink points out, many modern workplace remuneration schemes are no longer fit for purpose in an age where competitive edge requires increasing amounts of “out-of-the-box” creative thinking.
He provides detailed explanation of what generically motivates humans, and why.
A delve into the influence of the unconscious mind and how intuitions are formed.
Gladwell surmises that if acknowledged and harnessed, our split-second thinking and response mechanisms can work in our favour as a powerful evaluation tool, often outperforming our well-considered logic and reasoning.
Drawing on compelling research in both psychology and neuroscience, Gladwell offers up the idea that gut instinct usually has a significant basis, even if as humans, we are less than able to explain ourselves.
This book provides a well-structured insight into the various factors that are contributing to the mass disruption of our workplaces.
From technology through globalisation to the evolving expectations of younger generational cohorts, Meister and Willyerd succinctly nail both the factors driving change, the changes themselves and also, perhaps more importantly, some key insights as to how business and HR leaders will need to adapt to ensure that they remain competitive in their efforts to attract and retain the best talent for their businesses.
This is a deep dive into the psychology of trust, detailing how and why we trust.
Rachel Botsman shows us how trust in society is evolving and how our trust in, and therefore dependency on, technology is pervasively becoming the new normal.
Trust is however an integral part of what makes us human and this raises some key dilemmas. How is trust being manipulated by technocrats? To what extent will distributed trust technologies anonymise humans? Some serious ethical conversations need to take place if we are to ensure that trust itself does not become subject to commoditisation.