When work itself is being disrupted


Didier Marlier

February 25, 2016

From Disruption to Engagement

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I remember that, 20 years ago, the think tank advising the Government of an advanced thinking European country, had asked a famous consultancy to help them reflect on ways to reverse the flow of labour intensive work towards cheaper Asian countries.

The consultants had come back with a rather unconventional and counter intuitive suggestion:

  • All residents in the country should be granted, no matter employed or unemployed, sick or healthy, rich or poor a minimal “survival salary” that would cover the two basic Maslow pyramid needs of physiological and safety.
  • That would force the business community to offer interesting and truly value adding jobs to the people who would choose to stay home, if their work were boring, degrading or underpaid,.
  • This would, in turn, ensure that the local economy become based on high value creation and more sophisticated and interesting jobs.
  • People would be entitled to no other social benefits and the calculation of the consulting firm was that, it would be cheaper and far more enriching than the system that was in place.

But advocating this would have required such a political courage and was so far ahead of its time, that the idea was abandoned, without much debate.

Three years ago, when I was discussing with him for an update on his forward thoughts about the world, Gerd Leonhard, the famous business futurist, warned me that: “By the speed at which technology, broadly speaking, is developing, we should expect unemployment levels to reach 50% in the industrialized world. This will of course be totally unsustainable, so we need to prepare ourselves to redefine the notions of work and capitalism!” I remember being shocked by that thought which, did not seem too remote.

Nowadays, the theme of BIG (Basic Income Guarantee) has become mainstream and countries like Finland or the Netherlands are testing it in some regions and Switzerland will hold a vote on it on June 5th. Nobody seriously believes that the mainly conservative and right wing, merit based Swiss population will accept the new concept, but holding the vote is already a success for its proponents.

I am not an economist to be able to predict what could happen if one country decided for such a revolutionary system. Would it see a massive immigration of low skilled and elsewhere unemployed people? Would it be seen as an invitation to “the lazy’s of the world” as some detractors fear? Would it be a zero sum game that would push prices of everything higher and prompt an endless inflationary spiral? What about morals and ethics? Why should people receive money when they blatantly do nothing whilst others are working?

As Gerd Leonhard (for a summary of his thoughts on the “Future of jobs” see here) says, “we can’t actually realise the concept until we also tackle the surrounding issues:

  • Most people still define their value by what they do, professionally and also by how much they earn
  • Capitalism is basically driven by increasing consumption, and stock markets by profits and growth – neither of these traditional paradigms will remain untouched in the near future.”

But still… it is coming. When I look at a country like Brazil, which lived euphoric moments until it too got caught up by the reality of a global crisis , I am shocked by the impact this slow down had on employment. The first reaction seems to have been to cut jobs. And as we all know, cutting jobs means severing domestic spending which will lead to less consumption etc… This is unsustainable!

The role of this blog is not just to share experiences acquired around the world by my partners and myself, to elaborate thoughts on leadership and disruption. It is also to flag new phenomenon emerging. And the news here is that even work itself is being challenged by the Disruption Economy.

Enjoy your ever changing Leadership Journey!


  1. gerson oliveira

    the ethical aspect is that form the heart of the matter.
    for all others, has no doubt that a new balance will be found

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Gerson, yes interesting point. It seems to me that even our ethics of work will be questionned. Take care
      Abraço Didier


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