Lynda Gratton’s “The Shift” – part 1 review

I’ve been reading Lynda Gratton‘s book The Shift and have a few observations now I’ve read the first two sections. The book is engagingly written and I particularly liked her use of the quilting metaphor to illustrate the subjectivity/ partiality of the construction of the scenarios used to generate a series of future personas. Also, of course, the digital assistants she describes appeared a step closer with integration of Siri on the iPhone 4s.

However, I found a few things I would take issue with in the book. While ICT appeared to be pervasive, and the benefits and oppressive tendencies of that, yet there was no mention of the potential for the surveillance society and what that might mean for the world of work. But what really struck me about the future scenarios was that the war for talent appeared to be over and the corporations won. The role of ICT is critical here as this gives corporations access to vast global talent pools – exceptional talent becomes less exceptional in effect. How members of the workforce may interface with organisations can vary greatly – as virtual workers, as free agents the impression in the book is very much of increased competition for work regardless of talent – not least in cost where work is parcelled up for bidding wars between freelancers through virtual platforms like oDesk. Lynda Gratton’s solution to this is for workers to develop “mastery” which I hope is further developed later in the book. So far mastery is described as the outcome of 10,000 hours of practice but if so, how does that level of input correlate with the perceived pace of change? This leads me to think that “mastery in what?” is a more subtle and nuanced question than first appears and does and should include aspects of adaptive capacity. Or are we back to notions of icicle shaped skills profiles – depth in a number of similar or linked areas to enable career switching?

Finally, the notion of cognitive surplus was treated in a partial way – digital assistants were there to enable workers to expand their cognitive surplus yet the specifics of the persona’s described suggested that these assistants were there to render the exponential growth in cognitive load manageable. Not, therefore, to generate surplus for creative and self-actualising activities as to ensure the workers are focused on working – the illustration of Jane’s fragmented world was not one that seemed to illustrate an abundance of cognitive surplus.

Anyway, I hope to complete the book fairly soon and post some more reflections.

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