The First Principles of the Future of Work

As the great Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, put it, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”. Given that I’m somebody that has existed (nay, thrived!) in this zone of difficulty for the last 25+ years, I thought you might be interested in seeing a little behind the curtain – into how the trick is pulled ... the magic is made!

In that spirit, I present my FOW “First Principles”. There are a million variables in play in any guess about the future, but if you keep these following ideas to hand you’ll be giving yourself a shot at being smarter than the average bear. Or at least smarter than me.

  • Never short human imagination.
  • Human wants and needs are inexhaustible.
  • Nature abhors two things – a vacuum and high gross margins.
  • For every force there is an opposite and equal reaction.
  • Everybody is ignorant - just about different things.
  • A career has two halves – in the first half (c.21-45) it’s 80% offense, 20% defense. In the second half (c.45-70), it’s the other way round. The same is true for the lifecycle of companies.
  • Forget CAGR – think CAGR of unintended consequences.
  • 80% of any given population are sheep. 1% are wolves. 9% are wolves in sheep’s clothing. 10% are sheep in wolves clothing. Figure out who you are dealing with asap.
  • Old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Unless there is a very juicy bone dangling in front of them.
  • Inertia and incumbency are under rated.
  • When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.
  • Cost and convenience trump everything.
  • Nobody knows anything.
  • Winning formulas appear like magic. And disappear like magic.
  • Follow the money.
  • If you understand someone’s vested interest you can guess their next move. The same is true for companies.
  • The demands of capital markets and the demands of the future rarely coincide.
  • The hardest thing in the world is seeing what’s right in front of your nose.
  • Fashion rules.
  • The future of work is not work.

Tip of the hat to Mark Twain, William Goldman (for two of these sayings), Eric Blair, Peter Cunningham, and Paul Roehrig for their thoughts and inspiration.