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The Future of Work for Companies

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We've shifted to a world where collaboration and connection are replacing hierarchy and bureaucracy. The outdated "Alpha" notion of management has given way to the modern era of "Beta" leadership. This is the world I document in my new book, The Fall of the Alphas.

We're already seeing this take place as some companies take the lead in thinking about how, by giving up top-down control, they can actually get more work done. Consider Topcoder.com, which holds company-sponsored tournaments where programmers from all over the world compete to solve real-life problems. And then there's Medium.com, a company founded by some of the same people who created Twitter, that is experimenting with the notion of doing away with managers all together.

This trend is not limited to smaller companies. Apple, for instance, works with more than a dozen companies to build its iPhones. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lily used prizes and competitions to expand its innovation capabilities and even spun out an entire company called InnoCentive that now helps other companies do the same. Proctor & Gamble has created a program called "Connect+Develop" which enables it to partner with dozens of other companies to create new products.

As companies continue to innovate in ways like these, it's clear we'll begin to see more and more changes in the nature of how we work and lead. Consider that just 71 companies survive today that debuted on the original Fortune 500 list in 1955. More recently, household names like Circuit City, Blockbuster and Polaroid are now used as cautionary tales of how complacency can lead to extinction. Here are some examples of what the future of work in Beta organizations could look like:

Increased Connectivity and Social Technology
The changes wrought by the Digital Age will continue to radically reshape our notion of what the workplace is and how we even go about working. Technology will break down geographic and personal barriers in amazing new ways. The traditional office could become obsolete, while home-based video connections become the new norm, and new virtual worlds offer innovative opportunities for collaboration without the limitations of the physical world.

Companies as Communities
As work is assigned at flatter and more individualized levels, our notion of a company will also begin to change. What today's companies provide -- salaries, benefits, education and security -- will change. In tomorrow's Beta companies, salaries will function more like incentives while benefits will be more like menus where not everyone will have access to the same options. Education will really be a function of apprenticeship and mentor programs. Because Beta organizations will be flatter, every individual regardless of their age will have opportunities to influence change and the direction of the organization. Beta companies will become more like holding companies where people will move in and out, or choose to stay on for a longer period.

Increased Partnerships
Even how companies behave will change dramatically. Beta organizations will take strategic positions or strike partnerships with other organizations that create mutually beneficial relationships. Alpha companies used to acquire companies and try to assimilate their culture into their own -- not realizing that they would erase the special sauce that other company had in the process. When Cisco paid $590 million in 2009 to purchase Pure Digital, which made the outrageously successful Flip Video camera, it had high hopes that the acquisition would fuel the company's growth by helping paving the way into lucrative consumer markets. Yet, just two years later, Cisco announced it was shutting the Flip Video camera unit down and would be laying off more than 500 workers. The new Beta way of operating is exemplified instead by an organization like Yahoo, who bought Tumblr with the intent of letting it be run independently and preserving its culture.

It's Just the Beginning
The Beta approach will lead to the creation of entire ecosystems where partners, customers and even competitors will find themselves working side-by-side to solve problems and open up new opportunities for growth. The new Beta leaders will be leading and following depending on the role they play. The diversity of these teams will also be crucial in that they will be representative of their customers in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and nationality.

I talk about the rise of this new kind of organization in my book, The Fall of the Alphas, and what the future will look like. I know that the paradigm is shifting under our feet. Tell me what you see happening around you and let's start a dialog about what the future of work will look like for you. We know it will be different than it is today and, as the old adage says, fortune favors the prepared.