Thoughts From a Return to the Lecture Trail

During the depths of Covid, I half wondered if I would ever speak again. Then, last month, I returned to doing live events, mostly small. Last week, I returned to the big stage with a keynote and “talk show format” where I interviewed the CIO of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Green Bay Packers at Wisconsin’s Lambeau Stadium.

I’m happy to report that I’m over my jitters about returning to live events. Truth to tell, I’m fired up and ready for more as it’s so fantastic to be able to see the audience and they me and to have this interaction that is so magical and rewarding.

It’s a new world out there. Folks appear hungry for fresh ideas and strategies that address their specific challenges. They need help – we all do – in thinking strategically about the future because the future is arriving faster than ever before. My premise is that there are new rules for leading your career and your company in this new era, and they are just now being written.

After being devastated by a Pandemic few saw coming, it’s as if we’re flying blind towards the next crisis. We are hurtling down the highway with no seat belts, no airbags, no insurance. There have been crashes, each one a bit more serious than the last, and we’re picking up speed.

But there’s no room for despair because there’s too much opportunity that awaits those who understand the new playing field.

Scanning and monitoring change is one way to mitigate the effects of rapid change. The tech audience at Lambeau Field was perfect for tracking trends. Composed overwhelmingly of Millennials and Gen Xers from throughout America’s heartland, the average age was probably 35. Trend alert: Where did all the Boomers go?

During 3rd quarter of 2020, a whopping 28 million Boomers retired, taking their expertise and years of experience with them. Boomers have exited and will continue to exit the workforce in record numbers, signaling a huge demographic shift underway. It’s the Millennial’s world now, except in Washington, D.C. where the average of the nation’s leaders is 79. Go figure!

Demographic change is one of 10 categories of change that you need to monitor to avoid the blindside and get a jump on preparing for the future. BC — before Covid — few of us monitored epidemiological change and it bit us on the backside (futurist Laurie Garrett, author of The Coming Plague, is the exception). like we do technological, social, economic, geopolitical, climate, and other types of change.

To be a good futurist, you need equally to be a student of history as of the world to come. As Churchill said: “The farther backwards you can look, the farther forward you can see.” Just look at what’s happening to what is being called “the future of work.” History gives us a clue for what may be in store.

After the Bubonic Plague of the 14th Century killed off half the population of Europe, there was such a severe labor shortage that serfs walked off the land they’d been tied to for centuries. Serfdom faded.

History is repeating itself as the serfs of our age – the hourly, often unskilled, taken-for-granted labor force is rising up and not showing up. We now know that they are “essential” and this has emboldened them to want more from life than working three jobs to make ends meet.

Just look at how this trend is spreading out to the entire workforce, forcing employers to assault long-held assumptions. Nine out of ten employers are seeing higher turnover; jobs go unfilled meanwhile 10 million people are unemployed. Two out of every three workers are looking to switch jobs. The “war” for talent and for retaining talent, has never been greater.

The challenges of sudden disruption and mega-problems like Climate Change have never been greater. But if we embrace and welcome change, if we let our imaginations loose and use change as a steppingstone rather than a stumbling block, no problem is too big for us, no challenge too great. And at the end of the day, we will be comforted by the fact that we left the world in a better place.